Design meetups here in Raleigh, NC are plentiful, and many of them have great content and great people leading them. I’ve been to some of those, and I’ve also been to some that have been less than perfect. They have been a place of solace, a place to listen and chat about design, and somewhere I can meet like-minded people. So whenever a new design meetup or other design-related group crops up, there are some criteria I am looking for before deciding to attend.
Inclusive content involves the usage of words and imagery that are representative of all groups of people. Inclusive language is a broad topic, but it’s also the first hook for me when searching for a new design meetup to join. One meetup that’s doing it right is The Iron Yard in Durham.
The main reason I would be inclined to go to this design meetup is the language in the description. Particularly, this sentence: “Our doors are open to everyone who wants to learn about technology, from kids to people who want to change careers.”
It just screams, “Hey, we’re here to help no matter who you are!”
The content of a design meetup is important, and it is a clear reflection of what kind of atmosphere to expect. If I don’t feel comfortable, then I’m not interested.
Once I find a design meetup to participate in, the next standard I look for is relevant and thought-provoking conversations. For instance, I recall a design meetup with the Triangle chapter of the UXPA. The presenter talked about designing on the z-axis. Part of the way through, I realized I had been thinking about design in two dimensions and not taking into account how much my designs could benefit from that third dimension. It blew my mind.
The next day in the office, the first thing I did was call an impromptu design meeting and made every single one of our designers watch the video. A year later, it still comes up in conversations and it is something we take into account with all our designs.
A sharp facilitator
I have been in too many design meetups where the facilitator just isn’t comfortable speaking in front of a group of people or moderating a crowd. One meetup I used to attend regularly, Function Pink, brought in different speakers for each one to talk about something they cared about. That’s nothing revolutionary. What was revolutionary, though, is how the group’s facilitator Les James steered the conversations after the presentation.
If he thought a question or comment was a little off topic, he would address it quickly and move on without wasting any extra time on it. And if he felt there could be more layers to a question or comment, he would push that person or the group to peel back those layers to get to a deeper level conversation. Preparation is key.
After I have attended a few design meetups, the next factor — and possibly the most critical one — is how consistently the group meets. Consistency is important to grow the number of attendees, which has a positive effect for people who join that group in the future. Around here, it happens way too often that I see an interesting design meetup that meets once every three months — if I’m lucky.
There’s a level of comfort that comes with being a part of a community, and being comfortable in a design group makes it easier to ask questions, leads to better collaboration and, causes relationships to form faster. Creating and caring for that community will pay off if done right.
In a perfect world, every design meetup I attend would have all these characteristics. I have lost interest in the design groups that I have been a part of in the past, but I will continue searching for the next design group that is inclusive and consistent with great conversations.
Check out my next post where I will focus on design conferences, including some of my issues with their exclusionary aspects and ways they can improve for future events.