the future of design

Austin designers embrace the future in free annual event series

Austin designers embrace the future in free annual event series

A wooden sign sits outside the Austin Design Week Hub.
Austin Design Week connects designers across disciplines and even non-designers who want to learn during the week's 80 free classes and talks. Photo by Dusana Risovic

Everything is design. As much as the future is happenstance, it needs to be designed or eventually designed for.

This year, Austin Design Week adopts the theme “futuring,” acknowledging the action of creating the future — instead of simply waiting for it. From November 8-12, attendees are invited to 80 free events across Austin and online, taking form in the shape of panels, classes, workshops and mixers.

“We chose this term ‘futuring’ as this idea [that] we’re not just changing or evolving, things aren’t just happening around us,” says ADW co-founder and co-organizer Danielle Barnes. “As designers and as creatives, we can help design the future that we want to see. That might look many different ways. It’s not just one single future; it has a lot of different places that it could go.”

In its sixth year, ADW is expecting more than 2,000 attendees. The goal in 2016, its founding year, was to represent the diversity of the design community, inviting cross-medium collaboration and sharing tools among artists and designers without gatekeeping.

True to that vision, it was scheduled to coincide with and make room for other creative events in November, including Creek Show and the Austin Studio Tour (back then known as the East and West Austin Studio Tours). This year, even though there is no official partnership, the ADW organizers considered potential time conflicts with the Austin Studio Tour while scheduling.

“Our hope is that November can be this larger celebration of the design and creativity in Austin,” says Barnes.

Collaboration is the lifeblood of Design Week. ADW’s volunteer PR lead Canan Kaba owes important facets of her business to a connection made through the initiative. Kaba and her husband, owners of a local tile store called Clay Imports, started talking to another couple at Design Week after a panel during the event’s inaugural year. The other couple included another tile maker who had just spoken on the panel and his wife, a textile designer. After becoming friends, the two couples struck up a business partnership.

“[The textile designer] is now designing complete lines of our collection, and is introducing more core design things to our company,” says Kaba. “We do have a very vivid friendship and partnership.”

This isn’t an uncommon story from Design Week, which is hosting its fifth Design-a-thon, solving real Austin problems with hypothetical design solutions created by teams during the course of the week. Some participants join as a group, and some come together for the first time for the competition, and more importantly, the connections. Each team is assigned a mentor and conducts research to make the perfect pitch that could win them $250 in General Assembly class credits and passes to the next South By Southwest festival.

Last year’s Design-a-thon winners, Team Riverbats, is returning this year to host its own event, Popcorn Pitches: Persuasion Through Cinematic Storytelling. The call to action this year will be revealed at the pitching and team-finding event before Design Week starts in full force. Even if attendees don’t have time to enter the Design-a-thon, an end-of-week career fair will put hirers face-to-face with designers open to work, or just help make connections.

Co-creation shows up in multiple event titles, and will surely reprise itself in countless live talks. It reaches both outward and inward: getting to know the needs of Austin’s unhoused population with the goal of creating a transitional solution (Co-creating a Storage Space and Employment Opportunities for People Experiencing Homelessness, November 8), or how to face a creative block and interrogating self-doubt (Co-Creating With The Youniverse, November 10).

One event on Tuesday, November 9 teaches antique folk weaving techniques as a way of updating the future with work our ancestors have already done (The American Coverlet: Bringing a 300-year-old Folk Weaving Tradition Back to the Future). This is one of a few classes that reaches back as a paradoxical take on futuring. Another class, on Friday, November 12, explores personal memory and how good ideas last, even as industries change (Everything I Know About Brand Identity I Learned in the 1980s).

Other sub-themes, as Barnes calls them, create threads between seemingly outlying events. A blog post on the ADW website lays out four tracks to help simplify the audience experience: architecture, fashion, workplace discussions, and creative process. Finding a place for outlying learning spaces (and free ones, at that) gives outlying participants a great path into an experience where that’s perfectly normal.

“The best design comes from folks that you might not even identify as designers, and you might not necessarily know about,” says Barnes. “I think that oftentimes at design events, we hear from these big-name people, and there can be a lot of looking up to famous designers. Some of the most amazing design and creativity that I’ve seen comes from folks that don’t always get the spotlight, and that’s what I love about Austin Design Week.”

The full schedule for Austin Design Week is available at Each listing specifies an intended audience, so attendees can gauge difficulty before committing. Events pop up around Austin, but the ADW Hub is a good home base for those who want to play their schedules by ear.