What Does Disruption Mean to You?

Disruption means something different to everyone. But no matter what it means to you, it’s coming and it will undoubtedly shake up everything you know—or think you know (in a positive way, by creating new opportunities).

That’s why this year’s Xlabis focused on “Experiences in the Era of Disruption.” Design is changing, and you’ve got to have what it takes to stay relevant or you’ll be left behind.

[Don’t be left behind. Registerfor 2017 SEGD Xlab, Nov. 2–3 in NYC.]

We asked the innovative speakers and moderators leading this year’s Xlab what disruption means to them. Here’s what they had to say:

Overall, disruption means a change that is fundamental enough that it tilts the trajectory in its respective field. These days, the term also seems to be used as a measure for ambition, sometimes used as an adjective to validate the importance of an idea or innovation.

Disruption is nothing new; in many ways, it’s the foundation of evolution and comes in many shapes and forms. It challenges our ability to adapt because it implies a profound change to which most of us are either oblivious to or will resist in some form. But disruption is seldom achieved when it is the end goal, it is more so a by product of applying a different approach.

So disruption for me is a mindset where we challenge everyday conventions in our way of thinking. It’s a state of mind where we maintain an awareness to the unconventional instead of discrediting it so we can embrace the the opportunities that lie just beyond.


—Alexandre Simionescu, Co-Founder, Float4

In the era of disruption, there will be a reimagining of new typologies of experiences from retail to travel to hospitality. New models will emerge with an emphasis on story and service.

On one hand, companies must deliver richer, more immersive, and compelling story-driven experiences; on the other is a need to craft more intelligent, intuitive, hospitality-like service. Delivering those in the digital age requires more holistic decision making with an obsessive focus on the customer experience and journey.

As traditional models get reimagined, traditional silos of design will also need to be reorganized in favor of each discipline having a seat at the table.


—Inessah Selditz, Creative Director, LAB at Rockwell Group

I like to view disruption as having the ability to alter a person’s perception and behavior within any particular place through the use of visual and interactive technology. For years, we solely relied on static design elements to dictate how people observed a space and now with the emergence of new ‘less obtrusive’ technology we can blend the two to create those stopgap moments which lead to a more satisfying experience. Disruption in the way we design is almost necessary to make environments more stimulating and worth the effort to discover.

—Bryan Meszaros, CEO & Founder, OpenEye Global; Vice President, SEGD Board of Directors

To me, disruption is productive. Disruption is identifying something that is not meeting your needs—a service, a product, or experience—and creating a solution for improvement.

—Emily Conrad, Co-Founder, Tessellate

Disruption is borne from innovation. If you're presented with a problem and your brain goes to an idea you've seen work in the past, then you'll get the same result. But innovation requires looking for new ways to solve problems. Observe real users; look in hidden places, outside of your industry; break the problem into pieces and come up with multiple ideas around each piece. When you put it all back together, the new solution will be better than your first idea—or any idea. That's how great disruptions start.

—Douglas Hampton-Dowson, Creative Director, Reality Interactive

Disruption is a frame of reference for me that, for the most part, defines change. If something has been disrupted, it causes it to change on any number of levels. Disruption is actually a powerful and meaningful word in my vocabulary.  

—Patrick Gallagher, FSEGD, President and Founder, Gallagher & Associates

In this fast-paced, overstimulating world, disruption is the design solution that grabs our attention and forces us to pause and reflect.

—Anna Crider-Sharp, Creative Director, Two Twelve; Board Member, SEGD Board of Directors

Disruption sometimes feels like free-falling, like in the dreams I had as child. But then—just like in the dreams—I realized that I could fly. That changes everything.

—Valentin Spiess, Chairman and CEO, iart ag

Disruption—for me—is about creating the conditions for someone to be present. When an experience is successful, everything else melts away for that moment; successful disruption demands full attention. That’s a tall order.

Devices are buzzing, feeds are refreshing, new cat videos are being uploaded every second—everything is screaming “Look here!” As an experiential and environmental designer, it’s my job to craft experiences that cut through the noise—or sometimes even harness those impulses for another purpose.


—Matthew McNerney, Director of Design, Potion

I think two things about disruption, as it is used in today's business world: It means change, adaptation, a description of natural evolution, new businesses that are fitter for a changing world. Unfortunately, it has also become synonymous with monopoly, greed and business models that have little conscience. Regardless of how it's used, disruption is inevitable, and industry leaders must be prepared.

—Tim Fendley, Founder and CEO, Living Map Company

The technology that I am heavily involved with (digital signage, primarily, but also more recently various online ad business models; NFC and beacons; facial, eye and vehicle recognition technologies, etc.) is severely disrupting the ‘out of home’ industry and fast morphing the bulk of that into ‘digital out of home.’

In turn, digital out of home is seen globally as one the key drivers for many smart cities projects. I think what we can glean from that is that disruption is not a problem but a positive—something that cannot be fought and should be harnessed for the greater good.


—Adrian Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief, DailyDOOH

At WeWork, we are uniquely placed as one of the leaders of the disruption taking place in the commercial real estate industry. We achieved this by bringing meaning, community and great design to the workplace, which has traditionally been a little sterile. As such, disruption to me is going to work every day and trying to rethink what the workplace will be in five, ten, twenty years—and how we can create meaningful community-driven experiences for our members.

—Carlo Bailey, Design Researcher, WeWork

Are you ready to be disrupted? Register nowfor 2017 SEGD Xlab, Nov. 2–3 in NYC.

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