A full house took in Rachel McClung’s presentation at Design+Tech in January.
When Amanda Morrow decided last year to launch a new Des Moines meetup group, she did so with tech-challenged designers in mind. “They needed a place to get started that wasn’t overly intimidating or technical,” said Morrow, an interactive designer at Des Moines-based BitMethod. “A group where they could be introduced to the fundamentals.”
Once a month since last June, Design+Tech has sought to provide that place. The group, which averages about 20 people per gathering but has drawn twice that many at times, meets monthly at BitMethod (418 6th Ave., Suite 1210) for 90 or so minutes of presentations and group discussions. It’s all aimed at building a community of web-savvy designers in Des Moines and increasing awareness of the importance of good design.
On Wednesday, Design+Tech will celebrate the one-year anniversary of its efforts to that end. The group will gather from 7-8:30 p.m. at BitMethod, and people are encouraged to RSVP via Design+Tech’s Facebook or Meetup page. In advance of Wednesday’s get-together, we conducted an email interview with Morrow (below) to get her take on Design+Tech’s first year and check on what’s in store for year two and beyond.
Silicon Prairie News: What was the thought process that went into your decision to launch Design+Tech a year ago?
Amanda Morrow: I originally started Design+Tech to build up more of a web design community in Des Moines. We have a lot of designers and other creative types, but a majority of them specialize in print design. They needed a place to get started that wasn’t overly intimidating or technical. A group where they could be introduced to the fundamentals.
A few years ago, I was in this same boat. I knew I wanted to learn more about web, mobile and interaction design, but wasn’t sure where to turn. Many of the groups were focused on advanced concepts, when all I really needed was to learn the basics first.
More importantly, Des Moines needs more education focused on why you do things instead of just how. Anyone can learn Photoshop or HTML, but what makes really good design is understanding why you’re building something and figuring out the problem you’re trying to solve.
SPN: One year later, what’s your assessment of the state of tech-savvy designers in Des Moines?
AM: The community is growing and improving. I’m seeing more designers at tech events. I’m seeing designers building better relationships with developers and programmers. I’m also seeing designers take the initiative to learn this stuff. As a result, they’re the ones floating to the surface. This is very encouraging and really pushes me to keep planning these meetings, but we still have a long way to go.
SPN: What are some of the most encouraging developments that can be linked or attributed to Design+Tech?
AM: Job opportunities and resources. I’ve been able to connect Design+Tech attendees with jobs and other opportunities. I introduced Lyndsay Clark to Brad Dwyer from Hatchlings at BarCamp Des Moines. She came to most of my Design+Tech meetings and expressed interest in user experience and interaction design, so when Brad was looking for an interface designer, I connected him with Lyndsay. Now she works for Hatchlings full-time.
I’ve also had a lot of designers pick my brain just looking for where to start and how to get going. No matter how busy I am, I will always take the time to provide curious people recommendations on books, blogs, contacts, and other resources. Sometimes all they need is an arrow pointing them in the right direction.
SPN: What are some remaining challenges or shortcomings you’d like to see Design+Tech help address in year two and beyond?
AM: Des Moines, as a community, is still struggling with what design means and why it’s important. Design is not making things pretty. It’s not just picking fonts and colors. It’s about finding solutions to problems. What makes my job so interesting is the psychology surrounding our users and figuring out what makes them tick.
Sometimes it takes a little convincing but designers get this, they want their work to be more meaningful. The harder sell comes with convincing their managers and team. In order for Des Moines to become the next Silicon Valley or any sort of real tech hub, we have to realize the importance of good design.
Just like restaurants rely on more than having a great chef, tech companies need more than just a team of awesome programmers. Truly great products blend good aesthetics and intuitive design with solid code and clear copy writing. You don’t become the next Apple without your entire team paying attention to all those different elements.
Our community also suffers from people not sharing their knowledge. Planning Design+Tech meetings has been an interesting undertaking for me. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but sometimes I have to bully people to get them to talk about what they’re good at. I’m not looking for experts, I just want people to share what they’ve learned, whether they were successful or not, and get those conversations going. That’s the only way we’re all going to grow.
For more about Design+Tech, see our story from when the group launched last year: “With Design+Tech, Morrow looks to spur community to design for web“.
Credits: Top photo from Design+Tech on Facebook. Morrow headshot courtesy of Morrow.