Recapping Philadelphia: The 2021 SEGD Conference Experience

Just had the most amazing few days at SEGD Philadelphia! On day one, the lovely Cybelle Jones asked us all to write down things that we hoped to take away from the conference. I wrote down connections, wisdom, and hope for the future. As someone just getting started on their career who graduated during COVID, there is so much uncertainty. But now I have no doubts that I am on the right path. I am with the right people. I have found my community.

—LinkedIn post from Maria Woyden
First-time SEGD Conference attendee

 The country’s first design conference since Covid. Hello, Philadelphia!

Bravo to everyone at the remarkable SEGD and the 500 pioneering attendees.

—LinkedIn post from Brian Collins
SEGD Conference keynote speaker


Read Time: 6 minutes

The 2021 SEGD Conference Experience Philadelphia (November 4–6) has ended, but what a gathering it was! The hope of the SEGD Board, the Conference Co-Chairs and staff was to inspire and reconnect our community of creative professionals and share and celebrate all things experience design—and that is just what happened—and in-person! The following recap presents highlights of the conference, including guest speakers and sessions, NEXPO, the Young Designer Series, participant tours of the host city, SEGD award winners, and of course, parties and receptions. Read on and re-live!

Reconnect, Rethink, Refuel. Those were SEGD’s stated goals for the 2021 Conference Experience in Philadelphia—and by all accounts, mission accomplished!

After a two-and-a-half year hiatus, the 2021 gathering brought together nearly 500 attendees—including professional designers, consultants, vendors, and students—to the iconic Loews Philadelphia Hotel in the heart of the city.

Conference chairs Amy Rees (Exit Design), Nick Vincente (Truth & Consequences), and Josh Goldblum (Bluecadet) curated a thought-provoking series of sessions that asked attendees to “rethink” how we can bring optimism, empathy and creativity to manifest new ways of thinking and doing.

Keynote speakers included Jane Golden speaking about “Transforming Space and Community” through Philadelphia’s Mural Arts program; Ali Rubenstein, Gennell Hocechstetter and Sean Di Ianni presenting Meow Wolf’s amazing, surrealist environments in “Space for Expression”; Brian Collins making the case that “design is hope made visible” in “Design, Optimism and Persistence” (and they had attendees dancing in the aisles!); and Amahl Hazelton presenting “All the World’s a Canvass” and making the case for how experiential designers can bring creative storytelling to any environment.

One of the conference’s many stand-out sessions included Joy Bailey-Bryant’s “Making the World a Better Place Through Culture.” Joy (of Lord Cultural Resources) presented on the power of the experience design community to make space to share everyone’s stories. Joy called on us to examine, wrestle with, and understand the stories of our own as well as other cultures.

The SEGD beloved President’s Reception and Auction for Excellence (sponsored by Color-Ad)  was a huge success, raising over $24,800. These funds will go towards SEGD’s DEAI and Anti-Racism Training and development of our new website for education. We have so much thanks to share to those who donated items and those who bid and took home some great vacations, cookies, books and artworks!

In addition to the conference’s main presentations, NEXPO (the SEGD vendor exposition) presented a targeted series of talks focusing on different fabrication processes. Learn more about that series—and about NEXPO itself—in SEGD News “NEXPO 2021 Recap.”

Design students gained new information from the NEXPO talks, as well as from the SEGD “Young Designer Series.” Students and emerging designers gathered each day in the Young Designers Lounge to meet with mentors and other professionals. The conference provided networking in meaningful ways and established connections for the future.

And what would the SEGD Conference be without its annual awards ceremonies? This year, the organization presented Achievement Awards to:

  • P. Michael Anderson for Distinguished Member. (Attendees might have noticed P. Michael behind-the-scenes at the conference keeping the presentations running!)
  • Sign Agent, for the Arrow Award,
  • Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, for the Insight Award, particularly for the “Black Lives Matter” plaza,
  • Angela Iarocci of Sheridan College for the Educator Award,
  • Latvia Chapter, Estonia, for the Chapter Chair Award 

And 2021 also saw the first posthumous Fellow Award given to Sylvia Harris (1953-2011) for her accomplishments and contributions to the practice and advancement of environmental graphic design, which as SEGD Fellow Michael Reed suggests, “exemplify SEGD’s ideals”. Receiving the award on behalf of Sylvia was Gary Singer, her husband.

Just after Sylvia’s untimely death in 2011, SEGD honored her memory with the Sylvia Harris Award. This year’s recipients were Lynn Kiang and Katie Lee of Dome Collective who received the award for their exhibit “Seat at the Table” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution while asking the question “Where are we now?” Lynn and Katie presented the project to conference attendees as part of Day 2’s keynote session, and participants could visit the exhibit on their own at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Cultural Campus, just a short walk from the SEGD conference headquarters.

Cybelle Jones (SEGD CEO) and Dayton Schroeter (SmithGroup) presented SEGD’s Global Design Awards on the evening of Day 2. This year, 40 honor and merit award winners received recognition from their peers in the categories of Digital Experience Content, Exhibition, Interactive Experience, Placemaking & Identity, Public Installation, Strategy/Research/Planning, and Wayfinding. For a full list, visit

The Global Design Award for “Best of Show” went to Studio TheGreenEyl (Richard The and team) for “Found in Translation,” a truly amazing, immersive visual and audio experience powered by Google’s automated language translation software.

After the awards ceremony, participants were invited to the Terrace on the 33rd floor of the Loews Philadelphia Hotel to fête the recipients at the Global Design Awards reception (sponsored by CREO). Guests enjoyed incredible nighttime views of the city!

Speaking of the city, many conference participants attended the SEGD-sponsored in-person tours Philadelphia including many of the city’s key cultural sites. Attendees experienced the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture, Wonderspaces, Eastern State Penitentiary, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, and the Mural Arts program.

The more athletically inclined participated in the Philadelphia Bike tour while others joined an early-morning three-mile run (led by SEGD President Anna Crider, ENTRO and vice-president Kathy Fry, Mayer-Reed) along Benjamin Franklin Boulevard to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and back—including a climb up the iconic “Rocky” stairs. (Kudos, SEGD athletes!)

On Saturday evening, the last day of the conference, SEGD’s Philadelphia Chapter hosted the Closing Party at the National Constitution Center with views overlooking Independence National Historical Park.  Attendees partied with bronze figures representing the Founding Fathers who provided many social media selfies.

Want to join in the fun at the next SEGD Conference? It’s only seven months away in June 2022 in Portland, Oregon. Hope to see you there and stay tuned for more info.

Thank you to the SEGD Philadelphia Chapter and co-chairs Amy Rees (EXIT), Nick Vicente (Truth and Consequences) and Josh Goldblum (Bluecadet) for hosting the 2021 SEGD Conference Experience Philadelphia. And thank you, to NOVA Industrial Arts as our Presenting Sponsor of the conference.