5 Important Lessons You'll Learn at the AIA Conference (2019)

Today I’m going to show you what you’ll learn at the AIA Conference I attended this year.

When I received an email from my firm that I got selected to go to the AIA conference this year at Las Vegas, I FREAKED OUT.

“Me? Going to a conference? With thousands of architects? You mean I need to talk?” I couldn’t bear the thought of networking and talking to people for 3 days straight.

But to my surprise, my first time at the AIA Conference 2019 was very inspiring, to say the least. I’ve learned a lot of new design thinking and technology and met so many amazing people.

I took a survey in our online community and got a couple questions about my experience, so here are what you can learn at the American Institute of Architects Conference:

  1. Finding a Mentor

  2. Conference Tips for Introverts

  3. Practice Imperfection & Rewind Bravery

  4. Experience Design Seminar at AIA Conference

  5. Who a Leader Truly Is

 
5 Important Takeaways You’ll Learn at the AIA Conference (2019)
 
 

What’s the AIA Conference 2019?

#AIALV was the hashtag for this year’s AIA event.

The AIA conference 2019 was hosted in Las Vegas this year from June 6-9. As the largest architectural convention every year, there were hundreds of seminars, workshops, tours, and parties.

This year’s theme was focused on “Blueprint for a Better Future”. With the ever-changing Las Vegas as the background, there were many discussions about transformation and new trends that make a big impact on our work.

01. Finding a Mentor

Jessica Parmenter: “Talk about the mentoring session of the Women in Design brunch (if you participated). I missed that part, so I'd be interested to hear about it!”

 
The Women Architect Collective attending the Women in Design Brunch at AIA Architect Conference.
 

A group of us from the Women Architects Collective met up at Women in Design Brunch together.

It was great to finally meet each other in person after talking online for so long! I was blown away by how many talented women architects were at the event.

I was assigned as a mentor to a young woman, Soumya, who works as a Job Captain in NYC. I was surprised at how similar her journey is with mine just a few years ago.

Like many young women architects I’ve met, her main concern was that she doesn’t have a role model to look up to because of the lack of women leaders in her company.

So what can you do if you’re stuck in the same boat as Soumya?

01. Find mentors outside of your firm

The WIA at AIANY has a speed mentorship session every year to give women opportunities to meet mentors outside of work. Do some research there might be one near you.

Or like Soumya, you can meet a lot of great women architects at the AIA conference, especially at this mentorship hour.

02. Join the Women Architects Collective

Our community has a virtual mentorship program that you can choose a mentor/mentee to partner with. Then you’ll go through a set of questions that are designed to help you solve your career problems together.

With over 1000 members strong (and counting), just being in the group also gives you a sense of community that you’re not alone!

You can join the Women Architects Collective right here!

02. Conference Tips for Introverts

Mandy Byington Freeland: “What was your memorable unexpected surprise?”

My biggest surprise was actually not a session or tour, but how much I enjoyed the convention.

As an introvert, I struggle with anxiety when I meet new people or just being in a room with a lot of people.

But being at the AIA convention, I learned some quick tips that would be helpful for every introvert at a conference.

 
The Women Architect Collective meeting up at the AIA Conference.
 

01. Schedule time to recover your energy

Everyone knows introvert has a limited energy level when dealing with networking. So after each full day, I find time to rest in my hotel room.

At first, I was feeling extremely guilty.

But after a while, I accepted the fact that I’m an introvert who needs a long time to recover my energy. I accepted that I’m a party pooper because I just can’t stand another minute socializing.

women in design brunch

2. Choose who you network with

You don’t have to network with everyone at the conference. Find out which speaker you really want to meet.

When I was very inspired by the speaker at the Experience Design Seminar, I prepared myself for a while before I had the courage to go up to talk to her.

If you meet someone at a workshop but only have the energy to talk for 5 minutes, you can simply let them know you only have 5 minutes but you’d like to say hi and exchange your business cards!

03. Practice Imperfection + Rewind Bravery

Graciela Carrillo: “What about a recap of the keynotes, maybe the ones that made an impact on you. Can't wait to read it!”

 
Roman Mars and Reshma Saujani at the AIA meeting.
 

The Day 1 keynote started with my favorite podcaster, Roman Mars from 99% Invisible. He did a great LIVE podcast right there on the stage about Denise Scott Brown on Learning from Las Vegas.

But one of the keynote speakers that made the biggest impact on me was Reshma Saujani who founded Girls Who Code - a program that teaches teen girls how to code to lead a successful life in the future.

She also wrote a book on “Brave Not Perfect” about how women can succeed in their career simply acting on:

01. Practice Imperfection

This resonates with me a lot because I’m totally a perfectionist. When I write emails, I’d re-read it at least 5 times before I send it out.

But Reshma said the time you put in to write a perfect email, men are already doing something else that helps advance their career more.

Women tend to be more of a perfectionist than men. We tend to see more flaw in our work and dwell in it more.

Reshma believed that we have to stop beating ourselves up if we just make a tiny mistake.

So send that email out, stop re-reading it so many times and practice imperfection.

02. Rewind Bravery

Growing up as girls, we were always “protected” by our parents. Even now I’m 31, my mom was still freaking out about me going to Las Vegas alone to the AIA Conference.

We were always told not to do a lot of things.

Not to travel alone by ourselves. Not to take risks. Not to focus on our career but get married and have babies soon.

But to do what we want to do in our careers involves taking risks.

Being brave enough to ask for a raise.

Taking on challenges that we haven’t done before. 

Applying for jobs even if we are only 60% qualified.

This is a whole topic that I’ll write more about in a later post, but I encourage you to read her book to practice imperfection and rewind bravery in your life.

04. Experience Design Seminar at AIA Conference

Emma Greenberg: “Trends you saw, biggest take away, what you learned, just some ideas :)”

 
The Expo floor at AIA National Convention in Las Vegas.
 

One of my favorite seminars at the AIA Conference was “Experience Design in an Experience Economy” by Elizabeth Von Lehe, a Design Principal at HDR.

Her session included a lot of different projects around the world that show you how interdisciplinary teams are working together to create exciting work that blurs the lines of architecture, interior design, strategy, and technology to create experiences that users want.

But my favorite part was when she showed us the beginning of her design process. 

Creating a user persona

First, you’d spend time to create a user persona for your design. You have to really drill down into who this user is and design around this user.

Let’s use designing a hospital as an example:

01. The archetype big statement

Who is she? How old is she? What type of user group is she in? (e.g. a pediatric patient)

02. The behavioral descriptor

What’s her personality? Is she quiet or loud? Does she run away from doctor visits? (e.g. a sullen teen)

03. Competitive brandscape

Then you analyze what competitors you have in the area that are geared towards this user. (e.g. specialists in the area)

04. Experiential brandscape

This is about the persona’s life. Where does she go to school? Where does she hang out with her friends? What’s her favorite after school activity? (e.g. loves watching movies and playing soccer)

05. Extra Credits

What other opportunities can we leverage with this design project? (e.g. hosting events with community partners)

This is based on a principle that when you try to attract everyone, you’re attracting no one.

If you’re designing for everyone, it often becomes generic.

But when you target to one person, your design becomes a more specific and enjoyable experience.

It then attracts a group of loyal people for a long time to come.

Would this apply to your design process? Do you see the benefit of creating a persona before you start designing?

05. Who a Leader Truly Is

Lynn Rabatsky: “What you thought could have gone better? Was there anything that you didn't like or wish was executed differently?

There wasn’t really anything that I didn’t like except this one session I took on the second day of the conference - “Leadership Skills Taking Us to the Next Level”.

It was the one lecture that I was looking forward to most.

 
The night view of Las Vegas
 

As a recently licensed architect, I’ve started taking on leadership roles in my firm at Gensler NY. So I was super excited to learn about being leaders, mentoring young architects and growing our community.

That’s when I realized AIA has a very different definition of who a leader is than me.

The lecture mostly focused on “how to run and grow your firm”. The speaker gave a lot of tips and tricks on growing your small firm or being a partner in a large firm - including managing your team, different ways of marketing and creating professional intimacy with your clients.

At the end of the session, the AIA committee announced a new AIA leadership program where 25 architects with 10+ years of experience will be selected to go through an exclusive leadership program.

Then I thought to myself what about the young architects? What about people like me with 7 or 8 years of experience who are already stepping up the game?

Are we not a leader just because we are not old enough? Or because we are not bringing money to a company (just yet)?

To me, leadership is not only about managing people, getting more clients and making more profit.

You and I can be a leader to someone else that resonates with us. For example:

  1. If you’re a recently licensed architect, you can be a leader to a younger designer who’s working on her license exam.

  2. If you’ve great success with landing a job, you can be a leader to a recent architectural graduate looking for her first job.

  3. If you love teaching young kids, you can be a leader to a high school student applying to architecture school.

Being a leader is about growing the next generation of architects and the community.

Mike from the Young Architect, Gloria and I at the AIA Annual Conference.

This is what leaders look like to me.

Mike (on the left), teaching hundreds and thousands of young aspiring architects how to pass the ARE on the Young Architect blog.

Gloria (in the middle), helping foreign architects like herself to figure out the complicated process of becoming a licensed architect in the US in her Foreign Architect FB Group.

Me (on the right), fostering a community of women architects and supporting them to craft a rewarding career over at the Women Architects Collective.

I believe that young architects can lead.

In any capacity, you can.

It’s actually a lot more impactful for us to lead the younger generation when we have experienced the same thing closer in time with them.

What’s Next? AIA Conference 2020

Coming back to NYC from Vegas, I’m very inspired to implement all the things I learned at the Convention. 

The convention itself was great and everyone I’ve met was amazing and super supportive.

Next year the AIA National Conference 2020 location will be at Las Angeles! And I hope to see you there next year!

Now it’s your turn!

Which lesson from today’s post are you going to implement first?

Are you inspired to go to the AIA conference next year after learning all these ideas?

Either way, let me know in the comment below!