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In the aftermath of the first winter storm of the season, an overflow crowd of hearty Minnesotans packed into the community room at Common Roots Café in Minneapolis for the second installment of the Merge Meetup. With the temperature outside plummeting, the conversation inside was vigorous, the ideas were flowing, old friends reconnected, and many new connections were made. Warm thanks to all who joined the festivities!

The creative business energy was high among this group. Self proclaimed “marketing guy,” Jeff Coffey shared his new business concept for a web app designed to facilitate communication between classroom teachers and parents. Garrick Van Buren gave us an update on his many entrepreneurial ventures including the amazing Kernest, a tool which enables designers to use an array of typefaces for web design. Dan Carroll is on his way to the Small Business Administration this week to discuss funding for several new business concepts he is developing.

I was struck by the high number of attendees who had been laid off in the last 6-12 months, and their presence helped steer the conversation in the direction of redirecting and rebuilding a career as a creative professional. Many in the group were clearly looking to build their network and share their experiences.

Designer, Jennifer O’Brien, asked if anyone had experience in the area of product licensing (something I wrote about in this May 27 post). The obvious hunger for more information on this and other business topics may inspire the future evolution of the Merge Meetup.

I am continuing to consider how these gatherings of designers and creative professionals around the topic of entrepreneurship might happen. Stay tuned for more announcements soon. In the meantime, here is a list of links for networking ideas and resources taken from my notes from Merge Meetup, Volume 2:

Mastermind Groups were suggested by Wendy Ruyle of 5by5 Design
AIGA Minnesota
Minnesota Interactive Media Association (MIMA)
AdFed Minnesota
Social Media Breakfast: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Gail Rosenblum’s column about “co-working” at Crema Cafe
Twin Cities Startup Meetup
Likemind MIN (at Espresso Royale)
7 Degree Creativ networking group
Garrick Van Buren’s Cold Start podcast
SCORE Minneapolis
Women Venture
Small Business Administration Minnesota
University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business

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.

merge_meetupAfter leading a number of workshops and presentations on the topic of design and entrepreneurship, I’ve found myself excited and inspired by the energy that happens at these live meetings. So, I’ve been pondering various ways to bring designers and creative professionals together for more face-to-face discussion of this vital topic—and to do so without making a huge production out of it. I’ve decided to start out with a decidedly lo-fi and grassroots first step.

Merge Meetup: Volume 1 will be a small-group discussion of design and entrepreneurship held over the lunch hour in the LynLake neighborhood of Minneapolis; no Powerpoint decks; no agenda; no action items. Just open discussion, idea sharing, and probably more questions than answers.

The conversation will revolve around the themes of the blog: business planning, funding, networking, and education, with healthy doses of social media and service design.

There’s no fee (other than picking up your own lunch at Common Roots), but space is limited, so you do need to RSVP on the Meetup page here:

Merge Meetup: Volume 1

Wednesday, November 4
Common Roots Cafe
2558 S Lyndale Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55405

In the future, if the Meetup format proves to be valuable, I hope to schedule these gatherings in other cities as I travel on business.

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