Building a Design Community

It’s about 5am when I started writing this post and already I’ve sent out more then a dozen emails reaching out to some those in my design community on behalf of AIGA Central PA. I’ve been working on planning an event with my good pals Bri Picarri and James Castanzo to do a presentation and panel discussion with in-house designers in Central Pennsylvania this November. I imagine by the time I get into the office, I will have sent off a few more. It’s nice to communicate via email today after a long week of meet ups, having lunch meetings and after work drinks with my peers in the industry. Emails equal less driving and more background music with Alexisonfire.

Yea, sure. I’m up at an ungodly hour. I’m working on organizing items outside the realm of client service work, my spirit board project, and my day job but this is what it takes if you want to build a design community led by its members. I could be sleeping, but I am more motivated by the vision of having a well attended, meaningful event that showcases just how talented, driven, and amazing designers in Central PA are.

If your read my last post, you’ll know that my commitment to AIGA Central PA is something that I take very seriously. I believe in its purpose and I whole heartedly agree on building a community that serves as the backbone for designers in this area. I have given a lot of thought on how to best accomplish this. Luckily, I am not alone in this commitment. I, certainly, have many ideas on community building and events that we can do but that doesn’t make a community-led organization. A successful design community is one where everyone can make it their own, learn from one another and be empowered to contribute. The benefit of such a community is that it creates solidarity between its members, a trusted network that can help you in your professional endeavors and by creating opportunities to develop your skills, voice, and thinking through developmental exercises. A great community contributes to its own success, so it’s imperative that the discussion is open to everyone on how to make this chapter the community-led organization that it envisions itself.

One avenue for us is to create a more robust schedule of offerings, from keynote presentations to workshops, hyper local meet ups and member driven initiatives. I’ve compiled some of ideas that have been discussed as we go forward with the event schedule for 2015.

Coffee & Critique: A new, monthly breakfast meetup that can happen simultaneously across Central PA. The idea is simple. An organizer would pick a Saturday morning and invite local designers, regardless of membership status, to come out and share some work (limit two pieces per designer for brevity sake) and give some constructive, objective feedback with the goal in mind to make our design thinking stronger. These are informal events, led by a member who leads the discussion and keeps things moving at a good pace. After all of the work has been shown, it allows everyone the chance to talk, exchange contact information, and to speak up on what they would like to see happen with the chapter. The greatest part of this event is while someone may run this event in Harrisburg, a simultaneous Coffee & Critique can be going on in York, Lancaster, Carlisle, and Williamsport. This could truly be a community-led event.

Workshops: There are a lot of opportunities to do good work with workshops since there are so many different topics we can do. Professional development workshops to make designers more well rounded, business oriented professionals. Basic web coding workshops that teach people how to get started with HTML, CSS and even Javascript. Sketch club workshops, for when we just want to get away from the computer and bolster our illustration skills. What these workshop areas of interest do is help make designers better professionals while building connections between members who share similar interests.

Events: Some of best events are keynote presentations from industry leaders. They can help galvanize members in the chapter, encourage others to get involved and inspire the area to do better work. Keynote presentations and lectures with leaders in design, design conscience developers and other industry professionals bring a lot of attention to how the chapter is run and its dedication to it programming for members. The great thing is we can literally ask anyone to come and talk to our chapter. For me, personally, I would be ecstatic if we could get heavy hitters like Brad Frost, Ryan Hamrick, David Airey, Babs Tarr, Paul Jarvis and my hero Peter Saville (of Joy Division and New Order fame) to come and talk about how they came up in the field, what they find inspiring and what maxims they live by that make them excited to be working in this field. The great thing about all of these people is that they don’t rest on their laurels, they are all working professionals that face the same issues we all face in this industry.

Design For Good: Design For Good is an initiative by AIGA National to impart the importance and value of design through acts of charity or civic duty in your community. One of the proposed ideas we’ve discussed is to do a blood drive with the Central PA Blood Bank and have donors screen print their own posters before going to donate. This public service event would raise awareness for the importance of blood banks and get the larger community involved. The posters would serve as PSA’s and be a take away for donors to know that their donation can help save lives.

These are just a few ideas we’ve had and we’d love to discuss more. How about doing a one day design conference? I think it would be awesome. What about more student group events? Absolutely. How about a scholarship program that involves local agencies and in-house teams as the judges? Do-able with planning. What about fundraiser? Most definitely. How about community engagement with like groups like the young professionals groups, civic groups and chamber of commerce? Yes, on so many levels. What is stopping us from achieving this? More involvement. Come to an event, chat with a member or a board member and find out how you can get involved. I’m waiting for the day where someone can up to me and say “Alright man, let’s do this kind of event. How do we get started?”

I’d love to hear your ideas, any and all. Leave an idea in the comment section or shoot me an email with my chapter account and let’s talk. As you can tell, I’m not adverse to getting together and meeting or emailing people early in the morning to get things rolling.

Reforging a Commitment

I’ve been a long time advocate of the AIGA. Ever since I have been a student at Hussian School of Art, I thought it was important to be a part of a professional association for design. I poured over the AIGA website and read as much as I could about design, design thinking, application, theorems, and sustainability before I ever attended an actual event. That first event was a networking night at Roxy’s in Philly. Ever since that night, I felt even more affirmed that this was the field that I wanted to be in. Continue reading

We’re a Happy Family: Working with other Designers

Remember back in middle school and high school when you were assigned group projects and you couldn’t pick your group members? Unless you were grouped with other highly like-minded individuals who strived to get through this easily and with a good grade, you were kind of screwed. Having to depend on others to do their portion of a job, and do it correctly, is always an x-factor that you can’t control. Your work is judged and graded upon how your group’s ultimate end project performs, not by individual merits. It’s not in our nature to openly collaborate with others, it’s something that is learned and constantly adjusted as we work with others. One thing that middle and high school got right was that you’ll find yourself working with others in the rest of your life. Continue reading

The Value of Internships

I recently met with a teacher from Harrisburg University about the possibilities of an internship and what that experience would look like at my daytime firm PPO&S. We chatted about what Harrisburg University has to offer its students and what they want to provide for their students in the way of real world application of knowledge. This got me thinking a good bit about my own experiences being an intern and also running an internship program. For design students, of any discipline, a good internship can mean the difference in establishing your career. Continue reading

Understanding Agency and In-House

When I was pursuing my degree in graphic design, I though that advertising agencies were the only types of companies that employed designers. I was very naïve. As I learned more about design thinking, application and strategy it became very clear to me that designers had many more options than just traditional advertising agency route that so many think of. The idea of what an advertising agency was and is was also very nebulous. A full service ad agency goes well beyond creative development work, in the sense that most young designers know of, and goes into media buying, public relations, radio and TV and digital development. Some shops decided to focus more on the creative, falling under the term of design studio (but even that term is nebulous, at best) while others are full blown integrated marketing firms that work with clients on all of their needs. For most young designers, this is probably what they think of when they imagine working as a professional. But there is another way and this post will describe the realm of in-house designers and give a basic overview of the pros and cons of agency compared to in-house. Continue reading

Should Designers Code? A Continuation

This past March I wrote a post titled “Should Designers Code?” and it generated a lot of discussion. As all good SEO experts would suggest, I spread this post far and wide throughout the Internet, submitting it to Medium, a few groups on Facebook and on Reddit. I posted it through Twitter and it gained a lot of traction there but the network that surprised me the most was LinkedIn. I posted this question and link to my post to several professional groups and it blew up. Continue reading

Videos and Films for Creatives

Each week I find a cool video series, podcast, or film trailer that excites me to no end. I wanted to grab the best ones and share them with you here. Continue reading

Making Freelance Easier

I told myself that I would never make a list for a post, but here I am. Currently, I’ve been working on a lot of web development for a series of medical associations, the spirit board Etsy project is underway, and I have several proposals for this weekend’s AIGA board retreat. Suffice it to say, I’ve been pretty busy. This list is of tools, services and resources that I use as a freelance designer and developer that have made me one efficient professional. Continue reading

In Spirit

When I was young, I went to Saint Josephs Catholic School in Mechanicsburg. It is a Catholic elementary and middle school right in town. I used to hear horror stories from my Dad about nuns cracking his knuckles with long wooden pointers. Lucky for me, that era was over and done with by the time I was in school, but something tells me that my Dad probably deserved a lot more than just a knuckle cracking (He proceeds to tell me about all the things he did and never got caught and he smiles a lot). There were a couple of rules to follow when in Catholic school. Forewarning, the following list is rude. Continue reading


During the last few days I’ve been listening to BoySetsFire’s latest album “While A Nation Sleeps”. The album came out in the summer of 2013 and is the first studio album since 2006. When I was in high school, BoySetsFire was one of the first hardcore bands that I started listening to. It wasn’t too long after listening to them that I discovered Strung Out, Sick of it All, Lag Wagon, Rise Against, Death By Stereo and A Fire Inside. The song “Bathory’s Sainthood” is still one of my favorite songs. It’s funny to me to be rediscovering something old and new at the same time. It’s been a recurring theme as of late. Lately, life has been all about transitions. Continue reading

Online Reputation Management

Many times when I sit with a client to discuss branding, some of my questions regarding their current marketing and assets take them off guard. A company’s brand identity is much more than a new logo and mission statement; it should be a progressive shift in culture, internally and externally. It’s your responsibility, as a designer and strategist, to analyze their effectiveness in relation to what they currently are doing versus what they want to be doing. One question, in particular, always takes pause.

“How do you currently manage and measure your online reputation?” Continue reading

Design is an Investment

Recently, I saw a post from a friend and professional colleague of mine, Marco Echevarria of Burn Creative, talking about requests from prospective clients who want their logo to be in the same style as another company. His example was the classic Drew Struzan Star Wars “A New Hope” poster with the type treatment in the same style as Google. Other than it looks completely ridiculous, it caused a well of emotion in me, and not the right kind.

Continue reading

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