We were lucky to catch up with Brian Sullivan recently and have shared our conversation below.
Brian, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Alright – so having the idea is one thing, but going from idea to execution is where countless people drop the ball. Can you talk to us about your journey from idea to execution?
The hardest part of any idea is executing it. For the Big Design Conference, I had a dream of setting up the kind of conference that I would like to attend. I wanted the conference to be a blend of research, design, usability, creative, gaming, and more. The first step was to gauge the interest of the design and creative communities in Dallas. I sent out surveys, talked with design leaders, asked college professors, and interviewed creative talent. I found out the about the type of content they wanted to learn about a conference.
Next, I assembled a team of organizers and volunteers. I took immediate action, too. I set up a confernece call with 10 trusted people. We talked about the vision. Some people would drop out after the first call, while other people stayed for the whole experience. I was surprised by the people that moved on, as much as the people that stepped up.
With a team assembled, we met each week to organize the first conference. We set up a site and launched it within one month. We found a venue, speakers, organizers, and volunteers. We learned along the way. We had many long nights in our first year. We pulled off a very successful conference, which has grown each year.
Brian, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I am the DIrector of User Research and Design Strategy for a large software company that delivers products, solutions, and experiences to the travel and hospitality industries. In this role, I have traveled around the world working with Fortune 100 companies to research current pain points/gaps and brainstorm new opportunities. I have built an award-winning accessibility program, upgraded uer research labs, launched design thinking globally, and scaled the strategy team across the globe.
In the community, most people know me for being the President of the User Experience Proefessionals Association in Dallas. We have about 5,000 active members with monthly meetups, a book club, student organizations, and other events/programs. I have personally organized almost 300 events for the design community in Dallas. I founded the Big Design Conference almost 20 years ago to provide speaking, education, and professional development opportunities to the local community. We have had Emmy winners, Oscar winners, authors, creatives, and thought leaders speak each year. One design leader called the Big Design Conference: the best creative experience in two decades.
Outside of my professional work and community leadership, I enjoy writing and teaching. I am an Amazon bestselling author in several user research and design categories. I published The Design Studio Method several years ago. Currently, I am writing the second edition. I established the UX Certification at SMU, sit on the Advisory Board for the UNT Technical Commnication college, and teach graduate classes in design thinking at UNT’s College of Visual Arts & Deisgn.
In short, some people call me boss. Other people call me a conference organizer, industry speaker, advocate, author, adjunct professor, or founder. At home, I am a husband, dad, grandfather, uncle, brother, and son. As for my brand, I consider myself to be a diligent design leader with a focus on educating the design community.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
During the first conference, we ended up losing our venue about two weeks before the event. As it turns out, there ended up being a very large issue with their plumbing. The place was flooded and cleanup had started. So, we had to scramble to find a new venue, contact the speakers, re-arrange things with sponsors, and let our new audience know about the change in our venue.
Within three days, we found a new venue with more space. We ended up having the conference at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center at SMU. We had over 500 people in our first year. People loved the venue. We had an incredible time with SMU. After two years, the conference was too big for this venue. So, we found another one.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
Every journey is unique. For me, I have had to make adjustments and pivot several times in my career. The most memorable decision was to take roles to allow more time to spend with my family. My sister-in-law (Judy) had multiple sclerosis. She was an amazing artist and creative person. Judy’s work was shown for many years in Chicago. She ended up living with my wife, son, and I for almost 10 years.
In addition, my father-in-law (Bob) was a World War II veteran. Bob fought in General Patton’s Third Army. He lived with us for over 10 years. I ended up making many adjustments to my professional career, college classes, and community activities.
I do not regret spending this time with my family. Judy and Bob have both passed away. We created memories and experiences with them, which I cherich to this day. Family matters more than work, to me.
Jeremy Johnson — picture in red sweater J. Schuh — all other pictures