Connecting with Your Peers Outside of the Office

Creative connectivity doesn’t have to be confined to your 9-to-5 or even your city. Find out how designers around the world are meeting, collaborating and having fun doing non-client work.

By Designers, For Designers
Don’t be intimidated by the name. Creative Fight Club, also known as BD4D (By Designers For Designers), is neither violent nor exclusive. But, like the film it’s named after, the Fight Club has spread quickly from city to city, and expanded to the point that founders Ryan Carson and Ryan Shelton sometimes don’t know a BD4D event is planned until it’s already underway.

BD4D began in London in the summer of 2001 when the two Ryans had an epiphany. "We realized there was a lot going on in London, but nobody was getting together," says Carson, a Colorado native. "We wanted to create an event where people could meet and share ideas." A Web developer and expatriate, Carson was interested in meeting other new-media types. British-born Shelton was a designer hoping to connect with fellow creatives.

Armed with a great name and a great idea, they sent out emails, lined up speakers and publicized the inaugural event on several design portals. "It was amazing how supportive people were," Carson says. The first event in October 2001 at the firm Digit in London drew 100 people. Since then, events have been held everywhere from New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles to Sydney, Frankfurt and Tel Aviv. Events in South America and the Philippines may be next.

Here’s how the events work: A designated speaker holds court, followed by several secondary speakers who conduct "three-minute madness," which allows them to share recent work. The event then offers an opportunity for other designers to strut their stuff. "Some people bring their laptops, some people collaborate at the events — it becomes a bed for things to sprout," Carson explains.

To bring a BD4D event to your locale, email for information, and then run with it. "We never say no, as long as we feel the person is up to the challenge," Carson says. "It’s a lot of work."

The rewards, however, are worth the effort. For Carson, a lead developer at Fingal Design in London by day, BD4D has helped improve his skills and led to other creative collaborations. Plus, he says, "If I ever have questions, I can ask other BD4D members. Since they’re our friends, they’re always willing to help."

Creative Combat
One way to fight your way out of a creative rut is to engage in creative combat with other designers. That was the concept behind Versus 1.0, a project initiated by the Art Directors Club of Cincinnati that randomly paired designers and gave them six weeks to interpret the letter "T" as they saw fit. The collaborative works were exhibited at a local gallery.

"We created the Versus show to give designers an opportunity to do something without hard-line rules or priorities of communication," says show organizer Michael Hammonds, an art director at Benchmark in Cincinnati. In an organization that’s undergoing revitalization, in a city that Hammonds says lacks outlets for the design community to collaborate and share ideas, 52 designers eagerly rose to the challenge.

Hammonds and project partner Chris Gliebe of Lightborne Inc. fed off each other’s designs, ultimately creating a project about road kill. Now, the two stay in touch by sharing artwork with each other. The collaboration between Andrea McCorkle, a graphic designer at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and Tricia Bateman, HOW’s art director, earned a People’s Choice Award at the opening-night party last November. More important, McCorkle says the opportunity was a great creative outlet. "It refreshed me to work on something different," she explains. "Plus, Tricia and I had fun girl time and approached the project in a stress-free manner."

Due to the event’s success, the ADCC ran out of ballots for viewers to vote for their favorite pieces. Versus 2.0 is planned for the fall, and Digital Versus 1.0 is taking the concept online. But if creative combat isn’t your thing, there are other ways to get your juices flowing outside your regular work hours. "Talk to other designers about what issues or concerns you have with design," Hammonds recommends. "You wouldn’t believe how many designers have your same ideas or a solution to your design problem." Adds McCorkle, "Spend some time doing what you love, share your ideas — it’s a cycle that works hand-in-hand."

A graphic-design student in Portland, OR, Ashley Lang frequented the Forum only to find a number of participants complaining of creative boredom. "I thought, ‘How could anyone be bored? There is so much to make!’" Lang says.

Inspired by, she initiated a traveling book project last September that could be passed around to participants, each of whom would be limited only by time (24 hours) and size.

"The book is a small creative breather," says Lang, who hand-made the journal. "They draw, compose, write, print, color, paste art or whatever, then mail it off to the next person on the list. Of course, there have been many exceptions to the original 24-hour rule."

Maria Mavromatis, an art director at Interlink Communications in Lawrenceville, NJ, stenciled poems and created a composition of salt cedar. The experience not only gave her an offline creative exercise, but it has also led to an artistic collaboration with Lang.

As owner and art director of Whiplash Design in Portland, OR, Christian Messer grabbed the chance to show others what he was all about. He bordered his two pages with original artwork, pasted photos of things that interested him and wrote a bit about himself. He cites the experience as a much-needed creative jump-start. "Sometimes you get so involved in what your clients’ needs are that you get into a routine," Messer says. "Now, my goal is to take advantage of the resources around me." Like Lang and Mavromatis, he’s found kindred spirits eager to share ideas and inspiration.

At press time, the book had reached about half of the 28 participants. Lang plans to post pictures of the finished book on"My greatest hope is that other creative professionals will design projects that we can all work on," she says. "I just wanted to start something, to help people know that they could do the same thing if I could do it."