2 min read

Design doesn't need yet another fancy leadership community, please.

I see more and more communities for design leaders and they’re all the same. Their websites showcase logos from very large, global enterprises or tech companies or popular brands. Sometimes they are all three. They promote their “members” who work at these very big companies and sometimes they are popular or well-known. These communities have “masterclasses” and “inspirational events” where participants (read: the person speaking) “gets real” about the problems of leading design, in very large organizations. If you’ve ever been a part of one of these communities then you’ve joined them all because they are all the same. All of the speakers, facilitators, or highlighted members work at brands most people recognize because, gosh, if they’ve worked for six months as a head of design at [insert your company name here] then they must have tips, tricks, and ideas that no one has already shared hundreds of times in the last ten years.

I know this first hand because, I have thirty-five years of experience creating communities and my last role at InVision was Sr. Director of the Design Leadership Forum. Where we did all of the things previously mentioned, albeit long before most, if not all, of the recent upstarts.

Post-Pandemic, this is how these communities run. People sign up in mass (although I suspect the curve is trending down) to check things out. They might—maybe—attend the first event or two, but most will pop into the Slack channel (because in the 2020s you can’t have a community without a chat room) for a few minutes and then bounce, never to return again. Ugh, there are so many dead design Slack channels out there and even more on life support.

Sound familiar?

None of these communities are offering anything new but I’m more irritated that they all target the same audience: People who work (oops, sorry, lead!) for very large corporations. People who most designers—no, scratch that, the majority of designers—cannot relate to because they work in much smaller companies and have very different problems. The majority which are likely doing what they can just to keep their heads above an ocean of work. I’m talking about design teams of one, two, maybe six. Good people who will likely never get the time and resources to conduct user research, implement a mature design system, or start a design-led transformation. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that their reality is very different because that’s what happens in the majority of businesses on the planet.

I just got an email invitation to join one of these shiny new communities. It's very nice and kind to receive the invite, but it’s just another version of what came before. Another community targeted towards the minority of designers just because they work for a logo.

If I’m to be a part of another design community then it has to be one for designers who work at small to medium sized businesses or organizations. From startups to non-profits to schools, whatever. A community for people who are more likely to report to a non-designer than they are a dedicated full-time design leader. That is a community I suspect is needed more than any else these days. If it exists, I’d like to know about it and see what I can do to support it. And it doesn’t exist then I’d like to know if you think this is a community worth starting.