Tear Down The Walls

It’s been two years since we started tearing down the walls that kept our design community apart. Our AIGA chapter has now established a shared purpose and three areas of focus to guide board activities. We’ve shifted our mindset from a club to a community, and transformed our chapter’s touchpoints, which now serve as symbols of our open, inclusive, and focused way of working together. We’ve also produced over 50 events focused on cultivating design ability, proving design impact, and uniting people.
It’s been a great privilege to serve as president throughout this time, and I’m incredibly excited about what we’ve accomplished, and the ways that our chapter is actively serving the design community in Raleigh, the region, and across North Carolina.
A few weeks ago, our chapter presented our story to leaders from 65 other chapters, at the AIGA Leadership Retreat in Salt Lake City. Here are the slides, transcript, and a few video clips from that moment.
Our community board has big ambitions, and we’re ready for the next two years. As we move forward, let us know how we can support your goals! board@raleigh.aiga.org


The presentation captures 3 of our beliefs:

  • Create a shared purpose and live it
  • Change the mindset (of your chapter)
  • Start with symbols

View the pdf of the slide deck.
Transcript :

Hello AIGA Leaders.
My name is Matt Muñoz, and for the last two years I’ve been President of the Raleigh chapter. Last month I transitioned to the advisory board.
I’m incredibly excited to represent our chapter today, sharing the story of our evolution.
Two years ago, the chapter leadership and I looked at the issue of engagement. We knew there were people in our community we weren’t reaching. To get their attention, we knew we’d need to shake things up and tear down the walls that sometimes kept our community members apart.
The walls between members and non-members.
Between boardmembers and non-boardmembers.

And designers and non-designers.
Tear. Down. The walls.
When you remove these divisions, you’re left with many groups, and we thought we could connect them into a community of communities.
One big design community.
With common ground to unite us.
To unite communities, our chapter believes it must create a shared purpose, and live it every day. We organize everything we do around it.
To carry this belief into action, we looked at North Carolina’s history, a place known for bringing bold ideas into reality.
A place where designers bring ideas to life,
and then grow them, scale them, to fruition.
We asked, “How can we, as an AIGA chapter, help designers thrive?”
And answering this question led to our shared purpose.
A purpose where our board activities help to create a place — in Raleigh, the Region, and all of North Carolina — where the process of designing thrives.
We live our purpose by focusing on three areas that help designing and designers thrive.
The first is — To nurture design ability (so that designers have the ability to do their future-forging, world-changing work).
The second is — To prove design impact to the public (so people value our contribution).
And the third is — To unite people in the community (so that our relationships are strong).
We organize our leadership structure around these goals, so that an elected board member is the gravitional force for each focus area.
These directors are supported by anyone in the community who wants to help.
These actions made a big impact.
Because we aligned our leadership structure with our programming structure, in two years we produced 50 events. 48 of them either made money or broke even.
We’ve honored 6 of our community members with a community catalyst award — because each brought the community closer through their actions.
One of our catalysts is Amy — who contributed — joined AIGA — stood for election — and now sits here at her first retreat. Right on Amy.
••• All of this is to say that when we create a shared purpose and live it everyday, community grows.
Our second belief is that our chapter must change its mindset. Times change, and so do paradigms.
The first mindset we shifted was to change from a club mindset — where you must be a member to get in — to a community mindset — where the barrier of entry is lower.
This means anyone has a better chance of participating.
As one of our fellows David Burney likes to say: Don’t build a club. Grow a community.
Preside over is the second mindset.
As chapter leaders, it’s sometimes our thought to preside over activities, to govern from above. This works in a club, but not in a community. So we shift.
Preside over becomes reside with. We don’t govern in front of them, or behind them, but beside them.
Don’t preside over, reside with your community.
The last mindset we shifted has to do with membership. As we know, it’s an important revenue source and a clear symbol of inclusion for a club.
Everyone in this room knows — viscerally — that the more you give to AIGA, the more you get out of it.
And so that’s why we shifted our attention from a singular focus on membership, to a focus on participation.
We make it easy for anyone to experience the emotion — the passion — of the group, and find a way to contribute. Start with the heart!
And now we have a new AIGA membership structure to support our community model.
One small example. We renamed our monthly board meetings to community meetings.
It’s less formal, suggesting openness and inclusion.
As a result, 37 people attend (on average), with some video skyping and traveling 90 minutes.
At these meetings, we pose questions and answer them together through ideation, reporting, and community presentations. We create opportunities together.
••• All of this is to say that when you change the mindset of your chapter, community grows.
Now onto our last belief. Start with symbols.
One of our friends likes to tell a story about a small-town mayor. Once elected, the first thing he did was to paint all garbage trucks white.
Citizens noticed the immediate impact and said: “This town is really turning around! Do you see how clean the garbage trucks are?”
In our work as community leaders, we focus on the white garbage trucks, the symbols, of our chapter.
We began by deploying a whole new suite of tools that were friendly by design and open by default.
We made it easy to engage with us through digital touchpoints, find information about work-in-progress on a new wiki, and register for events.
Next, we brought community members together to co-design our chapter identity. We received a lot of ideas — and synthesized them into a symbol suggesting the turning of a page, and how our community is behind this forward-looking action.
Thanks to the generosity of Sean and Kevin at AIGA Maine, we were able to launch CreativeTriangle.me, a one-stop place for regional creatives to list themselves.
This is our 2.0 release, and to pay it forward, we’re giving it back for other chapters to use.
And finally, we’ve just launched the Pursuit Fund.
It’s a grant program to help design-minded North Carolinians pursue learning opportunities and elevate design for all.
It’s funded by our chapter members. Half of the funds we receive from National this year go into the fund — $5,000.
And when an applicant pursues their internship, or conference, or project, they must publicly share what they learned.
So when it comes to outlining the impact of our beliefs and actions, one number won’t do.
Here’s our membership number, it goes up and down with the flow of students. It’s the only metric for a club mindset, but it doesn’t tell the whole story for a community.
———- >
When we look at the number of twitter followers, look where we started, or the number of tweets created with our hashtag, something else occurs.
Over the last 2 years, 1,500 people have pre-registered to our events.
65% of them came back, more than once.
And over 1,000 people in the last 17 months have never been members before. Our community grows.
Another metric, our email open rate has increased from 14% to 30% in 2 years.
People see more value in our communication.
And finally, our email list size has increased immensely.
963 new people signed up in 2 years. Where did they come from!?!
Now these numbers are helpful, they show impact, and one thing is clear:
Engagement is up.
But you don’t need numbers to realize a community thrives.
Simply participate in a meeting like this, or stand in the center of a Raleigh or Durham studio tour with 600 people swirling around you.
••• We know that when you start with symbols, change mindsets, and create a shared purpose, community grows.
We know that when you



The walls.
Community grows.
And with Co-Presidents, Joe Schram and Jonathan Opp, and Vice President Laura Hamlyn taking over, with our deep stable of chapter leaders, our community grows into the future.

Thank you deeply for your time, and for letting us share our story.

By Matt Muñoz
Published September 27, 2012