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Phoenix Design Week 2019 Recap

By: Zuzanna Czerny – Junior Designer

Phoenix Design Week (PHXDW) is built up of a two-day conference plus a week filled with events sprinkled around the city. Junior product designer, Zuzanna Cerny, was able to attend and participate in panels and events during Phoenix Design Week on behalf of Tallwave and as AIGA Arizona’s social media director.

Design week brings an assortment of discussions, workshops, and general gatherings geared towards designers of any kind. This year, PHXDW’s theme was exceptionally profound:

We do not stand still. We change. We grow. We adapt. And we embrace the ever-morphing craft of design. We learn. We experience. We experiment. And we never stop moving forward. We participate. We support. We engage. And we contribute to our bold and diverse design community. We evolve. We evolve together.


While this theme can be all encompassing, it rings especially true during a time when diversity and inclusion are hot topics across the board. The design scene is no exception, especially since everything around us is guided by design. This year’s speakers packed a punch by focusing their panels on the importance of human-centered design.

Jack Morgan

As soon as Jack Morgan said “hello,” the crowd went silent. He is known for his perfect British-accent-laced storytelling voice. Morgan is the product design lead at Duolingo. After working at Duolingo, Morgan learned that the app was more than a hobby. For some, it was a mechanism for survival. For him, working at Duolingo is a way to help underserved foreign students learn a new language to up their chances of getting an education.

Duolingo’s mission to make education free, entertaining, and uplifting is supported by the crucial role that design plays in achieving these goals. Morgan noted that Duolingo recently expanded their services to preserve endangered languages by adding Navajo and Hawaiian to their language course offerings.


Liz Jackson: Designing for Inclusivity from 99U on Vimeo.

Liz Jackson

Another keynote speaker who stood out and received a lot of positive response was Liz Jackson. Jackson is the founder of The Disabled List, a design organization that engages in disability as a creative practice.

During her panel, she spoke up against designers who are designing "for" disabled individuals. Jackson said that they should not be designing for them but with them – there's a big difference. This is also something we believe at Tallwave. She explained that many disabled individuals are used in marketing campaigns with promises and then used for emotional donations or sales. On top of that, only white disabled people are portrayed in marketing. There are almost no colored disabled individuals in marketing.

Because of this, Jackson is leading a revolution in inclusive design by rethinking disability as a branding problem.

“We want you to know, we don’t want to be fixed, we want things fixed. We don’t want our diversity and identities eliminated, we want access and equity. We are disabled not by our bodies, but by the world around us. It is a social construct. Disability is nothing more than a brand, the world’s ugliest brand,” said Jackson. 

From problematic “inspiration porn” to the lack of disabled people involved in the industrial design process, Jackson’s talk was a powerful call-to-action for all designers.

Margaret Sullivan
Margaret Sullivan

Another impressive panel was lead by Margaret Sullivan. Sullivan’s talk revolved around how the packaging of beauty products negatively affects those who are visually impaired. Beauty packaging design often consists of small text, low contrast, and little to no texture. These design standards make navigating packaging design difficult for users, especially those with low to no vision. This presentation offered proposed solutions to alleviate challenges the visually impaired community faces with beauty packaging design. 


Overall, PHXDW was a fun and meaningful conference. There were some mind-blowing moments and are excited for next year's event. Need help with your design work? We know some people. Give us a call.


Written by Zuzanna Czerny – Junior Designer

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