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Marissa Cummings


1st December 2023


Magnify 2023

Developing and delivering an international conference on inclusive design and research.

A two-year journey

Over the past two years, I have been a member of Magnify, an international community of designers and researchers who are dedicated to inclusive practice. I first joined Magnify as a speaker at their first conference in 2021, where I presented some techniques on safeguarding participants and researchers during research of emotional, sensitive topics. The work came from the Masters of Research degree I completed with The Glasgow School of Art, and was funded by the Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre (DHI), which developed digital prototypes for health storytelling with people who had multiple long-term health conditions (multimorbidity).

At the time, I was immediately struck by how welcoming Magnify’s community is. Oftentimes, working in inclusion feels very isolated. You might be the only person in your organisation who cares about inclusion, and constantly having to defend your practice. Or you might be surrounded by people who are supportive and curious about inclusion, but might know little about it themselves. The Magnify community is small but dedicated. Many of the members are experienced practitioners who are leading important, international projects. However, people at all levels of experience are welcome and no question is considered too basic to ask. It’s rare to attend a conference where every person is working on something of interest to you, and are also more than happy to talk about it.

“Something unexpected for me was the level of community. I came along thinking about the talks and workshops, but have actually got loads out of the Slack and conversations with other attendees. Have connected with a lot of people on LinkedIn as a result.”

 – 2023 conference attendee

Magnify is largely the work of one person: Claudia Hopkins. Claudia was born in the UK but spent many years living and working in Canada. When she returned to the UK, she was struck by how little conversation around inclusion there was here compared to what she was used to in Canada. This motivated her to put together the conference in 2021. After the conference she couldn’t continue on her own, so she started running smaller monthly unconference events instead. I continued to attend these after the conference and got to know Claudia quite well. I had always been very encouraging of her to try putting together another conference, so when she asked me to help her last year, I couldn’t say no!

Putting together the conference

Nowadays, most conferences are organised by large corporations or professional event organisers. A community-organised conference like Magnify is rare, and allows different types of conversations to happen than what might occur in a more corporate setting.

It also requires a great deal of work.

Altogether, it took us about a year to put together the conference from start to finish. Our small team of volunteers took time out from their work and family lives to make this happen. We also had to go out and try to get funding from sponsors. This funding is crucial to being able to pay speakers and workshop hosts, as well as cover our running costs (including our sliding scale tickets), and ensures that people are able to participate regardless of income.

Magnify’s team of volunteers

Luckily, DHI agreed to be one of our sponsors this year, recognising the crucial importance of inclusive practice in the work it does, and the benefits of international knowledge exchange. When I hear some of the horror stories from other inclusive practitioners on the way that their work is disregarded, I feel both proud and pleased to be part of a team which is so committed to equitable practice.

The 2023 conference lasted around two weeks from 6 – 15 November. To keep the conference accessible to as wide an audience as possible, all of the events were held online. From an organising perspective, having events online helped us keep costs down (and therefore ticket prices down), but it is also important for preserving a safe, accessible space for people who might be excluded from in-person events (for example, those with disabilities and/or chronic illness).

Talks and workshops covered a wide range of topics, everything from practical tips to making events accessible, to theoretical discussions on the future of inclusive design.

  • Many of the talks showed case studies of work with vulnerable and/or marginalised populations (for example, trans and non-binary people, migrant communities, and young people who have experienced trauma). These are also groups which may be misrepresented or even under attack in the media, so researchers should consider how to keep the work safe for themselves in addition to participants.
  • Designers and researchers still represent a largely privileged group, and its sometimes easy to forget that inclusion practices need to look inwards as well as out. Making work environments accessible, supportive, and transparent helps to support participation from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • Our attendees questioned the nature of what it means to “do good” in the context of inclusive design. With so much of design practice drawn from Western culture, there is a need to work closely with communities to understand what “doing good” means at a more local level.

Our conference Slack was also very active. This year we tried posting daily questions for the group to reflect on, which had been taken from the unconference meet ups. Our most popular question was on trauma-informed methods, which had 34 replies.

A wide-ranging audience

Altogether, the 2023 conference attracted 153 attendees. Most attendees came from the UK (87), followed by Canada (29) and the USA (21).

The location of our attendees


We also covered a wide range of experience, with most attendees holding senior (63) or mid-level (47) positions.

What attendees said

After the conference, we circulated a feedback form for attendees which got 28 replies. It was lovely seeing the positive feedback from people on their experiences.

Of the people who replied:

  • 25% said Magnify met their expectations, and 75% said that we went beyond it
  • 89% were very satisfied with the quality of our talks and workshops

Some of our attendees said:

“It's just a very high quality event. So much care goes into the curation, running and organisation which results in a high quality experience.”

“The organisers of this conference should be so proud of what they created. I really felt like I was a part of something special. The things I learnt here will stay with me throughout my career. With so much happening in the world to feel sad and angry about, Magnify was a brilliant ray of sunshine.”

You can see more of Magnify’s talks on our YouTube channel.


The author of this blog is - Marissa Cummings - an innovation designer and research fellow with DHI and The Glasgow School of Art.

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