Speak the Future: Interview with Carina Ngai, Product Design Lead


Conferize’s “Speak the Future” series features speakers who are currently changing the conference world. For more info check out our “Speak the Future” Manifesto.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m currently a product design lead at Inflection. I work with product managers to articulate a vision, establish a roadmap, and lead a team of UX designers and developers to make it happen. Prior to this, I was a Design Futurist at Samsung’s UX Innovations R&D Lab, and before that at Adobe leading their consumer product line.

One fun fact about me: I am quite a coffee fanatic. I love watching baristas who take their craft seriously, who have perfected the exact pattern, texture, temperature and taste of a good latte.

What is your favorite area of expertise to present?

I’m very interested in future-related topics: how studying the future can have an impact on our current decisions. I share insights about unconventional ways of seeing things through my talks.

How did you find public speaking?

A few years ago, when my day-to-day job as a designer no longer provided the level of challenge I was looking for, I submitted a design workshop proposal called “Curious Interface” to Design Fiction, a conference in Switzerland.

What have been some of the key conferences you’ve attended or participated in?

I last presented a talk at SXSW Austin this year called “Design for Aging” and was amazed by the turnout.  I also spoke at IxDA13 in Toronto on “Failed Futures” which was quite fun. Last year, I was invited to speak about “Technology and Aging” at XLAB by SEGD (Society for Environmental Graphic Design) which is a fantastic community.  I also really enjoy the biennial Inclusive Design conference organized by the Royal College of Art.

Why do you think conferences are important today?

Aside from the obvious networking opportunities, good design conferences provide a tremendous creative outlet for the design community. Having deep discussions with like-minded individuals is invaluable to me. The talks inspire me while I learn about what’s new in our field, and I’m reminded why I’m doing what I do. Conferences help me continue to be passionate about being a designer.

Have you noticed any significant trends in the Meeting Industry in the wake of digital/mobile developments?

Definitely. Attending a conference generally has three phases: First, before even arriving at the conference, I need to discover it, make travel plans and scope out the schedule and attendees. I then figure out how best to spend my time at the venue and surrounding area. Second, during the conference, I’m tweeting like crazy and rushing to the next session while previewing my options after that. Third, after the conference, I read reviews, check out photos and videos of the event and make connections on LinkedIn.

Well-organized conferences such as SXSW, IXDA, and SEGD have their own companion mobile apps for attendees to plan their arrival, create schedules and network. We are seeing some attempts from other companies to address these needs, but most of them only cover one of the three segments I just mentioned.  There are still plenty of opportunities in this space.

How would you like to see conferences change more in the future?

I think each conference has its own niche that carries a particular energy or serves a particular community. It’d be interesting to see conferences add tracks that deviate from their main themes. This would attract folks in different communities to conferences that previously seemed unrelated to their interests. I can imagine an otherwise seasoned audience being intrigued and inspired by this kind of cross-pollination. For example, I would love to see an inclusive design track at a mobile conference.

I’m also anticipating more interactive presentations in the future. Honestly, I think too many interactive elements can cause distractions, but it’ll certainly be cool if presentations can be broadcasted with real-time translation to a growing international audience.

As a speaker, what do you feel you need right now to strengthen your profile in the conference world? Tools, technology, network etc.?

Tools for speakers are available, but they’re not well integrated. I can talk about my upcoming design workshop on Twitter, post teaser slides on Slideshare or status updates on LinkedIn, but there isn’t a place where I can find other speakers that have similar interests in the topic I’ll be presenting. A place to get feedback would be great. Now, I rely on Twitter to see what others think about my session.  I’d love a place to continue the conversation after my talk. Posting slides online is one thing, but how can we continue to evolve the discussion over time? And can I have more meaningful interactions with people I just added on LinkedIn? I look forward to Conferize providing an elegant solution soon *wink*!

Any conference nightmares?

No matter how many times I speak, I still get nervous when I walk up to the stage. I once attended a session where the speaker’s technology totally failed on him.  No projector. No microphone. Yet he was still able to breeze through his talk while holding up his laptop. That’s real courage, and you need to learn how to improvise all the time.

Advice to aspiring speakers?

Know your material really well, craft your story right, spend time designing your presentation and practice a lot. While you’re on stage, try to speak slower than you think you should. We naturally talk faster when we’re nervous.

Anything you’d like to add?

Share your passion! I became a speaker because I figured that if I can’t change the world, I can at least inspire others who can.