2015 Design Matters Conference

2015 Design Matters Conference: Activate Your Design Community
: Activate Your Design Community
Presented by Association of Architecture Organizations

Nov. 4-6, 2015 · Chicago, IL
Abstract: This year at the Design Matters Conference, we take a closer look at how select partnerships and attitudes brought into the program development process can help transform public audiences from passive receptors to active ambassadors for quality design, and turn designers from private practitioners into compelling, visible champions of civic outreach. Leave this Conference armed with new ideas for forming collaborations that will shape and animate public sentiment about the value of design. On special view during this meeting, we examine the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, North America’s largest international survey of contemporary architecture.

Wrap-Up Letter from AAO Executive Director Michael Wood

Thank you to all who attended the 2015 DESIGN MATTERS CONFERENCE: Activate Your Design Community, and a very special thank you to our event sponsors, local hosts, and volunteers. More than 140 delegates joined us at this year’s meeting in Chicago, Illinois, plus an additional 70 local guests who participated in our public program held in conjunction with the Chicago Architecture Biennial and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. People came from 32 U.S. cities and from 6 countries to take advantage of this unique networking opportunity within our growing field.

In selecting Kieran Long to provide the opening remarks for this year’s Conference, we knew we wanted to explore a range of densely connected values and demands being placed on today’s cultural programmers. We knew the range of Kieran’s work would be instructive in and of itself: television personality, curator, instigator, new building project manager – a snapshot of the present day. But we were delighted with how well his sentiments seemed to synch with the many other presenters featured during the Conference. If there was a central take-away, it would have to be that the work of architectural organization has never been more complex.

I took a minute to look up some results from the last AAO Conference in Chicago – that would have been in November 2010. That year the most highly-rated, forward thinking Conference session was a case study about how to create a several months’ long social media campaign – not exactly cutting-edge stuff these days. And yet, listening to Caroline James’s lightning talk, you have to smile at how much better we’ve gotten in using even the most rudimentary social media tools.

There are more architectural organizations at work today than at any prior time; that our work would be growing in complexity so rapidly is perhaps predictable, though certainly not inevitable. It is inspiring to see how much hard work and ambition you bring to your programs. That all this ingenuity comes together for public display at our Design Matters Conference is a win for us all.

Thank you, as always, for joining our conversation. We look forward to seeing you all next year in Miami, Florida, at the 2016 DESIGN MATTERS CONFERENCE (November 2-5).

For those wishing to take a closer look at the Conference materials, please take note of the following resources:

- Michael Wood, AAO Executive Director

Featured Speakers


Kieran Long

Critic turned museum visionary: on inviting public participation

Sarah Herda

Artistic director: on spurring international dialogue

Jake Barton

Interactive media designer: on bridging individual and collective experiences

Michelle Boone

Cultural commissioner: on fostering a vibrant community

Stephen Huddart

Innovative philanthropist: on creating enduring community change

Zoë Ryan

Expert curator: on selecting meaningful content


Schedule At-a-Glance


Wednesday, November 4


Thursday and Friday, November 5-6

Main conference sessions at the Chicago Cultural Center and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. View information about Conference Venues.

Saturday and Sunday, November 7-8



Conference Sponsors


Local Hosts


AAO Funding Partners