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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.

kiva_logoOne of my first posts on Merge was about microfinancing or “peer-to-peer” lending and Kiva Microlending, one of the highest profile players in this industry (Microfinancing. A Model That Can Work for Designers? March 28, 2009). Surprisingly, that post is one of the most highly searched topics on the blog—so when I came across an article about Kiva in Business Week’s SmallBiz bimonthly, it seemed like a good time for a follow up.

Kiva, a non-profit which is known for their innovative approach to facilitating loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world, is making news again because they have now created an operation here in the U.S. for domestic entrepreneurs. U.S. loans will not exceed $10,000 and the total value of U.S. loans will be capped at $800,000. Despite loaning to the smallest of businesses in the remotest of locales (a cobbler in Mongolia was featured on their homepage as I was writing this), Kiva has had remarkable success with their international lending operation, with more than $80 million loaned and a stunning repayment rate of 98.5%.

Of course, there are many other players in this growing field. Prosper is the largest U.S. peer-to-peer lender and Accion and Opportunity Fund are also prominent operations. Ironically, in the same issue of SmallBiz, there are a couple articles about the gloomy state of the traditional small business loaning process which has completely dried up in the last year. Despite efforts by the Small Business Administration to stimulate activity at this level, the recovery has been slow and sluggish. Hence, I see peer-to-peer lending as an encouraging trend for designers who are exploring ways to launch a new venture. If your new business vision has stalled out because ytou don’t have the cash for an initial run of products or prototypes, this could be an opportunity worth exploring.

Merge Workshop at Kane Mini-Camp

I will be presenting a workshop on Entrepreneurship for Creative Professionals at the Kane Consulting Summer Camps this Tuesday, August 18, 6:00PM at Aloft in downtown Minneapolis. Spots are still available.

101I’m blogging today from the Social Media 101 workshop at the neo-hip aLoft Hotel in Minneapolis (a Starwood concept that I don’t completely get, but it’s a cool space), being presented by Kane Consulting in partnership with the Geek Girls. The social media wildfire (I don’t even think we can call it a trend anymore) has become absolutely fascinating to me. I think we are in the midst of a transformation of the way we communicate, work, learn, sell, buy, ___. This transformation is made even more profound by the fact that it happens to coincide with the deepest economic crisis in generations, record unemployment rates, and a political sea change. I see this new world of communication as a massive frontier of opportunity for communication designers who are interested in shaking up the way they work (or those who just want to stay relevant).

I’m excited for this event for a variety of reasons and I’ll be blogging and tweeting my thoughts and observations throughout the day. These will likely be pretty cryptic notes—a different way of writing than you will usually find on Merge—but I will try to circle back over time and expand on some of the key ideas later.

Observation number 1:
The girls are dressed much nicer than the boys.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

Your brand story
needs to be in order before you start going outward in social media.

Read the privacy policy for your social media sites. “It’s like you’re keeping your stuff in a friend’s car…they could just drive off someday.”

Why build your own social network?
Instead you must find a way to be  relevant in the existing networks.

The conversation is happening whether you are participating or not—yikes!!!

Fact and fiction travel at the same speed on social networks. At the end of the day, though, fact will win out—the community will check the facts and correct the fiction.

Urban legend database: Snopes

A good social media strategy creates a brand conversation that drives traffic and action. But it’s not about directly selling—it’s about connecting.

Social media is NOT FREE. It requires dedicated resources, strategy, research—or it will fail.

You will not have the same control over your brand in the social network space (logo placement, graphic standards, etc.), but you must control the voice of your brand in that venue. You must be authentic to your brand.

1 out of 5 emails and social media messages will be read on a mobile device. 80% of mobile social networkers are under 34 (you do the math). is a new subscription site for testing mobile sites as they appear on devices.

1% of websites are mobile-friendly.

Naked Conversations by Robert Skoble and Shel Israel

Common Craft — cool, simple videos to explain the world of social media

“Twitter from the outside looks completely stupid”

Twitter: an open and free invitation to a global networking event happening 24/7.

Jen Kane quote about Twitter profile photo: “Ladies, this is not the place for your boobie shot!”

More Jen Kane on how frequently to Tweet: “I Tweet as much as I pee.”

Organizations that are only pushing messages on Twitter (and not listening/participating) are missing the point…and the opportunity.

The magic of Twitter is what happens between two people—even though it’s happening in front of thousands.

Fastest growing demographic of Facebook users: 55-65 (marketers pay attention).

“Community manager” is an important position in order to really maximize Facebook groups, applications, pages.

What’s next for Facebook? Facebook Connect where other sites are able to use FB log-in profiles for their own site.

“What if someone says something bad about my brand on social media sites?” First: they will, so get over it. Second, take a deep breath…many times your online advocates (followers, fans, etc.) will come to your defense on your behalf, and that is way more valuable/authentic than you trying to defend yourself.

Huge round of applause to Jennifer Kane, the Geek Girls, Jennifer Bombach, and Lisa Foote for the outstanding, content-packed event today. I’m satiated! And I would strongly recommend this event for anyone (or any organization) feeling like a deer in the headlights of social media.

notebookOK, it’s time to clean out the notebook. Here are a few random notes that have accumulated over the last month.

Designer as author
I first met David Gibson of TwoTwelve when we were both serving on the AIGA board of directors in the early 2000’s. David has an excellent new book called The Wayfinding Handbook. My copy just arrived and it looks to be a great read filled with practical info for communication designers working in this unique area of our field. David’s also featured on this podcast from

Social Media 101
Minnesota designers interested in learning more about this freaky thing called social media can attend Social Media 101: A Beginner Bootcamp at Aloft Hotel in Minneapolis on Friday, April 24. The event is a partnership between smartypants marketing consultant Jennifer Kane of Kane Consulting and my pals at Clockwork Active Media. Click here to register.

Geek Girls Guide
Speaking of Clockwork, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker from that firm have created an excellent blog that is expanding into a thriving community—all with the mission to make web technology accessible and exciting for women. Check out the Geek Girls Guide and join their Facebook group.

Hamilton Wood Type Museum
Check out Steven Heller’s interview with designer, letterpresser, and wood type fiend Bill Moran of Blinc Publishing on AIGA Voice. The interview focuses on the tenth anniversary of the Hamiltion Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, which Bill has been instrumental in developing and supporting. I hope to feature Bill in a future Merge post (earth to Bill!!!), but this will be an adequate preview (he says with tongue in cheek).

Aspen Design Challenge
A partnership between AIGA and INDEX, the Aspen Design Challenge is an annual call to students worldwide, inviting them to address an international problem that is not only crucial in today’s world, but critical to our survival and the world that they will one day inherit. The finalists for the 2009 Challenge: “Designing Water’s Future” have been announced.

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