Picture 40As the impact of online social media grows, I’m increasingly intrigued by the possibilities that live programming can offer as a more intimate and personal companion to Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. I’ve noticed this not only with my own recent speaking experiences (which have been thoroughly energizing), but also by attending live events like Kane Camp, TEDxTC, and the MIMA Summit—each of which has been driven by a strong social media presence. So I was eagerly anticipating the first Merge Meetup, which happened earlier this week. Meetup, a fixture of the social networking world, is a shockingly user-friendly online tool for connecting people of like interests and helping them schedule live events.

Like most things related to Merge, the first Meetup was an experiment, I had no idea what to expect (and I must admit to fears that the session would be a colossal dud). And thankfully, like most things Merge, I was thrilled with the interest and the outcome. I was joined by 16 people—mostly with a design, or creative background—at Common Roots Cafe in Minneapolis, for a vigorous discussion of the state of design, design business, and design thinking. The format was loose and most of the session was spent with each of us providing revealing and illuminating introductions and background stories.

Despite the lack of a singular focus, some common themes emerged from the session, the first of which was restlessness. With the majority of the group in our 40’s and 50’s (apologies to the few in attendance who don’t fall in that demographic), we’ve been working in the creative industry for 20-30 years. There was a palpable sense that the client service model that is the norm in our industry has become unfulfilling, personally, professionally, and creatively. As we went around the room, this sentiment was echoed repeatedly. “I still love the creative process,” said Deb Miner, a designer who has launched a line of children’s products called I Get Around, “but I hate being in competition with other designers.” Scott Geiger, who worked for many years designing for the healthcare industry, described a scenario that seemed to resonate with everyone, “We would present some really great creative concepts and the client would be thrilled, then three days later they would call back and say that the project had been killed by someone higher up the ladder.”

Another prominent theme was the desire to give back to the world through our work as designers. Many in the group expressed a sense that just earning a fee for our work was not enough anymore and that there is an untapped potential in the design community to solve some of societies complex problems. This theme connects strongly with the topic of Service Design which I have been discussing regularly on Merge.

Finally, I found a common thread around the desire to find ways to collaborate more with other designers, and with professionals in other disciplines. Michael Foley, of Alphabet Moss, a firm with dual specialties of graphic design and garden design, commented that the garden design process is much more collaborative, “I’m constantly working with people who have different skill sets and backgrounds. I wish I had more of that on the graphic design side.” Again, the new models we’re seeing in some of the successful Service Design firms (mostly in Europe, so far) live into this potential by embedding designers within multi-disciplinary teams of ethnographers, physicians, anthropologists and others.

We had some amazing ideas for how the Meetup concept could evolve into a more focused format and I will be exploring these in more depth. Thanks again to those who joined me, and stay tuned for an announcement soon about the next Merge Meetup which I hope to schedule for early December.