The Austin, TX Design Community Annual Report, 2011 Edition

Executive summary

Order the first issue of Distance, in which I teach local leaders how to build and sustain their local organizations without their parent organization’s help, because their parent organization isn’t helping them, anyway. (Plus, there are two other great essays in there, too.)


A little over a year ago, I outlined problems the Interaction Design Association faced as an answer to a question on Quora, and provided a dramatic solution. As measured by upvotes, this was not an entirely unpopular thought exercise, although some board members took it very personally.

The gist was, as a professional organization, it doesn’t do enough to support its membership at the level of the individual, and I didn’t believe effective change would come down from the top.

But, these problems happen in other organizations, too: AIGA, UPA and IAI all have trouble supporting their local chapters and individual members in this way. They put the responsibility on the local groups, but no-one has ever done the sort of local studies and analysis that are needed to help local groups succeed.

Local organizations have constant problems with leader burnout, with funding, with finding speakers, with advertising, with technical infrastructure, with awareness within their potential member base, and more.

I believe a national organization should support leaders in solving those issues with comprehensive data collection, analysis, reports, and iterative local testing: all the things we’re supposed to do as designers.

If change in professional organizations isn’t coming from the top, perhaps it can come up from the bottom. Perhaps it would look like this:

A Local Community’s Global Impact

It would look like a 7,600 word essay that begins by chronicling the history of UX industry and organizations in Austin, using primary sources like interviews with local leaders and data mining membership records.

It would compare and contrast IxDA Austin to its closest sister organization, the Austin chapter of UPA, with the support of their local leadership.

It would examine the characteristics and needs of Austin’s designers by founding a competing meetup as an experimental testbed, effectively A/B testing event types.

Working with a cognitive psychologist, it would produce twenty-three pages of comprehensive user research across all of the designers and related professionals in the city and provide seven pages of detailed, actionable recommendations for local leaders to improve their turnout, processes and awareness.

It would cite extensive sociological research, with its references spanning nine pages, and extrapolate the findings into general, global issues while providing solutions, as these issues affect all user groups and local professional organizations everywhere.

It would provide baseline data for this sort of local community research, which has never been done before, and give local communities everywhere the instructions and tools to conduct it themselves in 2012.

Local Communities In Practice and By Design

This essay is called “Local Communities In Practice and By Design”, and is about the design community in Austin, TX, and also about the birth and sustainability of meetups, user groups and professional organizations.

It is being published in the inaugural issue of Distance, a new quarterly for long-form writing on design. You can read it by subscribing to Distance or by ordering just the first issue in print or digital. You can read highlights of the essay on Readmill.

All of the research is online for free, as supplements to the essay, for local communities around the world to use:

I also recently presented a talk on the 2011 survey results. The raw slides and presenters notes are available online, for free, and video is forthcoming.

It’s Up to You

The success of a local community has nothing to do with the parent organization, when the parent organization isn’t providing any support. 81% of attendees to a recent meeting don't consider themselves members of their national group. I cannot help your parent organization, but I can help local organizations succeed, and perhaps that means change can trickle upward.

Order Distance 01 and read the essay. Give it to your local leaders. Tell them to use the supplementary materials to better your local group. It’s up to you.

I’m Vitorio, it’s February 16, 2011. This was updated over the course of the day based on feedback, primarily from Nick Disabato and Joshua Kaufman, and again on February 17 to change “pre-order” links to “order” links. Thanks for reading.