Strike up a conversation with a stranger at your next conference
I’d like to say my foray into the art of the “stranger chat” was part of a well-devised plan, but in truth, arriving solo to a design conference at a Las Vegas casino doesn’t leave a person with many options. Making my way across the slot-machine flanked walkway to the grand ballroom, I set out to solidify at least one authentic human connection. And be damned, I wasn’t leaving the conference without it.
Like many necessary things in life, striking up a conversation with a complete stranger at a conference is not guaranteed to be pain free. A few memorable misfortunes of mine are proof of that. On one occasion, I found myself misunderstood for a fan by an aspiring thought-leader and having to play along to avoid prolonging the discomfort. Another time, unable to reconcile how the man lecturing me on home electrical systems had wound up at a graphic design conference, I realized I had made my way into an entirely different conference next door. And later, trying to start a conversation in line for coffee with the ever cliched opener, “Are you a designer?” I was met with an earnest “Hell no! Design is self-entitled bullshit.” To which I scrambled in vain to find some other common ground.
But don’t let this deter you. While I can’t advise a catchall solution to find fast friends at a conference, I can vouch for the practice. Sure, some chats may inevitably be awkward, but others might prove fruitful. Like this one conversation I struck up with a complete stranger at a conference that landed me this very job writing about why you should strike up a conversation with a complete stranger at a conference. And surely that counts for something.
After high school graduation, my friend’s mom made a few of us personalized cakes to salute our college plans. While the other cakes boasted frosting emblems from well-known East Coast institutions, mine sported an inconclusive kangaroo – indicative of the uncertain future following my one way ticket to Sydney, Australia. But beyond the questionable value of learning how to incorporate ‘heaps keen' into my vocabulary, my time in Australia taught me that working abroad can help clarify your interests and force you to seek out the resources necessary for a fulfilling career.
Stepping away from the country you grew up in can help you discern your true aspirations from those you have acquired by default. Growing up in Los Angeles, my understanding of the working world largely revolved around the film industry. Although the theater geek in me would like to believe I could have made a passable actress, gaining exposure to different industries abroad led to a career better suited to my interests and, let’s face it, aptitude.
Starting from square one in a foreign country forces you to proactively seek out the support and information necessary to flourish. When I first moved to Sydney, I didn’t know many people or much about the local design industry. Joining a design meetup group helped me build relationships and learn which studios were doing interesting work so when it came time to find a job, I was able to find the right fit.
If you are considering moving abroad for work, the key is to not sweat the small stuff. I’ve spent precious energy fixating on the number of suitcases to bring or the feat of securing an affordable beachside apartment (side note – they don’t exist), but In the end the details don’t matter. Set a date and do what you can before boarding the plane, but most importantly – make sure you board that plane.
SF design week blog – interview with Fabricio Teixeira
How to infuse diversity and inclusion in design
I got the chance to speak with Fabricio Teixeira, co-founder of the largest Medium publication on UX and author of "The (frustrating) User Experience of defining your own ethnicity", about infusing diversity and inclusion in design.