Monday, October 12, 2009

Building a Design "Community"

I attended a meeting last week to discuss the feasibility of creating a Fresno chapter of the AIGA (graphic design association). Needless to say, the response did not match the organizer's expectations. It seemed that the main challenge was communicating the benefits of joining such an association.

I am not here to argue the pros and cons of starting an AIGA chapter in Fresno. I simply want to look at a bigger picture opportunity. One I think Fresno is more than ready to embrace (I too suffer from overly optimistic expectations).

The theme for Pecha Kucha Night, Fresno vol 1 was Everything Under the Sun (keep that in mind as you read this post).

How about building a strong design community?

Katrina Neufeld and some other cool graphic design peeps started the Fresno Design Alliance (FDA) a few years back. The thought was to increase the level of collaboration among graphic designers in the area. It worked. Not only did the quality of design improve (I have personally seen it), but the Alliance started referring work to other partners. You can do that when trust and confidence is built. Like most efforts, it was championed by a few dedicated folks and those leaders are tired.

Organizations like Creative Fresno and the Institute of Public Anthropology, events like Pecha Kucha Night, and efforts like Archop, have helped engage the creative community beyond the world of graphic design. The collective design quotient is starting to move in a positive direction. So now is the time to capitalize on the momentum.

What if the Fresno Design Alliance became just Alliance of Design?

Hear me out (then express yourself via comments or hate mail).

The current leadership build the foundation. They are exhausted and deserve to refocus on their specific industry. I think Fresno (or the San Joaquin Valley is ready for an AIGA chapter). What if the Fresno Design Alliance covered several areas of design? Below is a list I created with a little help from my best friend, Google.

Areas of Design
Graphic Design
Architecture Design
Fashion Design
Organizational Design
Interior Design
Industrial Design
Consumption Design
Landscape Design
Set/Production Design
Anthropological Design
Visual Merchandising
Educational/Curriculum Design
Food Design
Furniture Design
Web Design

This list could be too expansive or too limiting. I think it actually makes for a manageable alliance. A person from each discipline can serve as a board member (if Fresno Design Alliance becomes a formal entity) or a steering committee member of the Alliance. This would ensure an equal voice in the Alliance. Each discipline would be self-managed and autonomous, but should buy-in to the overall Alliance mission.

Currently, the FDA holds educational/professional development events, social gatherings, and the very cool Iron Designer Challenge. These type of events or offerings can still be highlighted, but there are opportunities for cross-discipline activities as well.

Example: Mega-Iron Designer
In the current format graphic designers are given one hour to design an identity for a local non-profit organization. What if the mega version could involve a team of designers (one from each discipline) who are given one week to re-design a local non-profit. Can you imagine how cool that would be?

Cliff's Notes:
True Cross-Discipline Design Community
Clearinghouse of Design
Greater Collaboration Opportunity

What does the community think?


  1. Design permeates every aspect of our lives and it makes sense to me embrace design thinking on every level, and across all disciplines. Efforts such as the FDA and the others mentioned are of huge benefit to the both the community state of mind and, through the promotion of design, can potentially bring greater profits for local businesses.

    Personally I'd like to see a "design week" in town to help promote both the value of design and local talent across all disciplines... we have talent. If it takes a collective of different groups and the city, or just more people involved in existing groups, let's do it!

  2. Great idea. From an Interpersonal/Organizational Communication perspective, I often notice the lack of attention paid to the meaning of words and symbols in terms of how they shape the consumer's behavior and reality. Not considering the consumer's (user) experience from all angles is absurd, in my opinion. Creating a multi-disciplinary design group like this would only make sense.

  3. Floyd, Nick & Brenda -
    Thanks for the comments. Good design does improve the bottom line. This is often discussed from the perspective of visual design (graphics), but we should look at the impact of overall positive design. It would be really cool to take a cross-discipline look at a particular organization and offer opportunity for greater alignment (and additional profits).

    Keep the ideas coming.

  4. Great idea Travis! A cross-discipline approach helps to bring out all aspects of any organization/business. Especially the human aspect of the users.

  5. So, you are recommending a sort of designer pool?

  6. Not a pool. I am *suggesting* a refocus of the Fresno Design Alliance to incorporate all types of design. Each discipline would have a voice at the collective table. The focus of the Alliance would be to raise the professional bar while each discipline would work to improve their own area. Then there could be cross-discipline opportunities as well.

  7. AIGA is synonymous with the AIA (American Institute of Architects) there is a local chapter called the AIA San Joaquin. Even being a 150 year old organization with over 60 years of local presence, it suffers from some of the issues AIGA is and will encounter.

    Those include the challenge of demonstrating value (there is a significant membership fee), demonstrating relevance (how does it effect day to day business), building a culture, maintaining leadership (who are the champions, how to avoid leader burn out and maintain momentum), how to maintain or build the org's local brand.

    Of one of the few very active members of AIA San Joaquin, I predict a local chapter of AIGA will be a hard road, but very valuable for the profession and general public.

    On the other topic, a true alliance of all the design disciplines is an exciting idea and one of the reasons I joined the FDA.

    A while back I remember James Collier floating the idea of a complete non-profit redesign challenge. I wonder what happened with that. I think that has enormous potential. For inspiration see some of the project done under

  8. Just because you included Furniture Design (I see what you did there), I'm down.

  9. Adam, I had to include was in my Actually, furniture design is very important from an aesthetic and functionality perspective. I have a bad back and love a well designed chair.

  10. An accessable "table" is essential in some aspects of design. Community design ideas need the input of a community. One of the aspects of the project I'm working on is the lack of input and involvement on project that has a dramatic effect on the community. Access to a group of people that are active designers would be very beneficial.

  11. Thank God for people like you who create opportunities for inclusiveness. Count me in the for the Fashion Design sector.

  12. Cindy,
    Do you want to know a secret? You can't tell anyone. I took Fashion Merchandising as an elective in high school.'s our secret.

  13. Sometimes I wonder what happens to all the ideas I throw out on the Internet; evidently, Kiel and Travis write them down, and then periodically remind me of what I have not followed through on. (And for that, I really am grateful.)
    Travis, I like the way you're thinking, though I think this is a direction the FDA has already taken, to an extent. I, for example, am not a designer by many definitions - I would categorize myself along the lines of what Brenda describes - but I've invested in FDA.
    What's needed - what's always needed - are people who are willing to represent, and engage; designers (of all kinds) who find something like this valuable enough to invest in it, so that non-designers will find value in it.
    Personally, I'd like to see something applied. Something that answers a question. What role does graphic design play in influencing purchasing decisions? What role does the structure of information play in evoking an action? What role does style/fashion/art play in utilizing a table? Or in laying out a room? Those aren't qualified questions, but you get the point...
    That's where the nonprofit makeover idea originated from - pulling a group together to show results, for a good cause. But we could just as easily do that for a for-profit entity (after all, most nonprofits offer deficit-focused solutions, where many businesses focus on assets...right?). Perhaps we could take on the Buy Local campaign and transform it into something with impact.
    There I go again.
    Ideas are cheap. Which is why I'm not rich.

  14. James -
    I like connection to Buy Local. The non-profits are quite deficit-focused, but I also think they have the greatest need. I am not opposed to working with a for profit company, I just think they might be less receptive to the overhaul...concerned about a disruption.

    Ideas are golden...laziness is cheap and you, my friend, are not lazy.

  15. Great idea. A multi-discipline group may be hard to come together on certain goals and objectives, but who knows? As for furniture design - Frank Lloyd Wright designed furniture to fit his buildings.