A Vision for a New Design Community

Long before I was vice president of AIGA Las Vegas, I had a picture in my mind of what the ideal design community would be like. In college, my design community was made up largely of my classmates, instructors and extended to art students pursuing BFAs (Baccalaureate of Fine Arts) in other disciplines. I was an undisciplined student. My instructors could attest to their displeasure at seeing me arrive late to design crits with surfboard in hand and boardshorts dripping wet.

I was studying design at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu when I got my first impressions of what designers were like. Most of my classmates were way cool. Even the upper classmen were pretty chill and helpful. It was an instructor who came to our campus from New York that first etched an indelible impression in my mind, at least, that designers were a group of elitist stuff shirts who guffawed at others’ work as if their shit didn’t stink. She loved wearing black. I mean loved wearing black. She wore horned, black-rim spectacles that gave her this serious aura. She also had a way of speaking that made one feel smaller than a needlepoint. She stood in front of the class with statuesque poise and stoic demeanor.

“So,” I thought, “real designers must be a bunch of pricks.” That was my very real perception.

But she was a surgeon’s blade when it came to design. Ultra precise and incisive in her delivery of course curricula and even more stringent in her level of expecation for grasping the subject matter and practice of design. She wasn’t a despot. She was driven to develop her students into succesful professional designers. She was very, very, very patient with me. I admit, I was a slacker back then. But I was shaped by those years to become the designer I am today.

I’ve worked in both large and small design firms, in marketing departments of various industries, and started my own creative agency, Bureau149. I have paid my dues. Before, I was all about climbing the Golden Ladder of design. I worked tirelessly and relentlessly on hundreds of projects. Honing my talent was the epitome of my efforts. My sights were set on becoming a creative director like so many other young and naive designers.

I quickly evolved from a “surface” designer to a thinking designer. Strategy was my obsession. Good design, to me, no longer meant good image selection, well set typography, or a trendy color palette. Great design was about inspiration and original thinking. I concerned myself with how my work would exceed a client’s expectations while meeting their objectives.

Nowadays, however, I find myself even further removed from the creative process and highly interested in shaping the standards, outcomes, and creative processes as well as tackling the issues we designers face every day — the resurgence of spec work, an anemic economy, waffling clients, design ethics and education, and the increase of competition via the Web are among the issues I study and research regularly.

Originally, I thought serving as a board member of AIGA would be the means by which I could carry out this vision. Unfortunately, the reality is that membership with AIGA is costly, and in this economy, considered by many a luxury. It also seemed there was a pervasive sentiment by those who were non-members that AIGA only served those who could afford it and that designers who were paid low salaries were completely overlooked. This seemed to be true as most of the members I’ve come across are either top-level staff or agency/studio owners. Even as vice president, I was inclined to agree.

So the seeds for Design Democracy (DD) were planted — I would take my passion for social media and the struggling design community and create a place on the Web that was free to members but would offer as many resources available to help designers with their practice, career, or business. There would be no rigid heirarchy of elected board members, no fees, no clicks, or events you couldn’t afford. The idea is simply to share, help and inspire one another through a social network. I’ve taken the burden of investing my own personal finances to run Design Democracy in order for others to have a place to come to and build relationships. One day, I’d like it to be the Cheers bar of designers. That might seem cheeky to some of you but that’s no different than what my pals of Beer ‘n Blog Las Vegas do every Thursday or what Chad Engle and the awesome crew at DCTH do (coincidentally, also on Thursday evenings).

It’s a young network and is slowly growing. I’d love to devote 24/7 of my time to it but I have a business to run and hope that designers like you will help spread the word and get others involved. I do what I can and try to make time for the community. I’m thinking of holding “office hours” on DD to engage with members.

Anyway, drop by our site. If you find a value to you, please join the community. Become a citizen. Stand up for design. Follow us on Twitter!

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