Notes on communities and design

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A collection of thoughts from January 2021 as a learning product designer and community builder.


  • Over the past year, I’ve seen countless new communities emerge. We see college students running off and diving into Discord, abandoned Slacks, and building side projects to grasp at any attempt to emulate the sacred college experience in the online space. With it, design communities for the sake of design. Communities that advertise themselves by their size and growth, founder stories piecing together moments of loneliness and imposter syndrome, spaces flaunting hundreds of mentors to help you forward your career, Slack groups turning into venture-backed startups, pods for promotion. Is this really the best way to forward design?
  • Blind and the student version, Jumpstart, are just as strange. The latter less so because it’s not completely centered on anonymity, but it still does become a “has anyone heard back from x” landmine that successful students do not care about.
  • Number of present members of your community actually seems like a terrible number to showcase, especially if you’re a small builder. People love Twitch streamers still at the middle end, where they know how to perform best but also haven’t exploded such that their chat is an impersonal, distant wreck. For student community builders, this moreso since we’re still at the stage of life where friendship = friendship in career (which is what I would ideally want) before community lines diverge into clear professional and personal divides.
    This is why alumni numbers/impact numbers are better. How many people have you helped in the past/were satisfied/graduated from the program? This shows how strongly you’re investing in the current generation you serve–how tightly-knit they feel.
  • Your objective as a community builder when achieving scale is creating spaces where people can explore different relationships/networks, fostering meaningful microcosms. We remember spaces and places because that’s where we end up meeting our closest friends (e.g. the ones you’d invite to a 30-person wedding, your romantic partner); this is the same value that colleges, good workspaces (you remember people, really), etc. have.
  • The community I remember most (aside from the one I’m building at Developh) is still the Pokemon fansite community I had when I wasn’t even a pre-teen. I check back on our forum board every year, wondering where they’ve went.
  • Centering spaces around gratitude, thanks, and collaboration––difficult, and a dream of mine. Many times, we see people achieve an objective and go, especially in student or career-based spaces. (I ran an international student college applications server, so I see this first-hand.)



  • I walked into an (online) interview asking about principles and influencing large design cultures, told that the product team doesn’t really think about that, or that it’s ‘intuitive’ for the product. In my mind, it’s impossible for any individual designer to exist without them (which is why we try to eliminate biases), even if they’re not necessarily known to them. We will never be able to eliminate bias, and the negligence of recognizing individual designer’s principles (at the very least, what they value most) reduces our ability to at the very least minimize them. This is why we cannot only “design for diversity” if diversity were to truly exist in our design teams, it requires not only an upheaval of process but of the presences and identities in the room.
  • Fuckups are more forever in college / whenever you enter your first design community. Beginning to set a name, figuring out how to navigate backchannels, etc. is an important skill that won’t be known to you unless you have a raw mentor.
  • I would like a mentor X_X
  • We are so stringent on confidentiality and hiding process when revealing these would actually further our growth more. Digital product design students I work with tend to be very secretive in the most backwards of ways. At the same time, there’s been more cases of plagiarism and stealing over the past year of confinement –– but these are revealed, tarnish a person, and make known their failures. While that’s always a risk, it can be dealt with. The global exchange of ideas

Design Itself

  • It’s much better to be able to articulate how you make sacrifices (which you will always be making) and trade-offs instead of articulating how you perfectly executed sprints and crafted personas. These sprints likely wasted people’s time and your personas are likely wrong (they are extremely expensive and difficult to get right), repeat continuously.
  • Doing research on existing products (what they do right, and what they could do better) is underrated. They have decades of design investment on you, and are likely more suitable starting points. Framing your current product/problem’s inquiry into the current market space, reinventing what’s out there, mindfully borrowing is what matters. This is likely more productive than the post-it note process factory that beginner designers tend to follow that will never come into practice in the real-world.
  • Design is not problem solving. Design poses questions and inquiries, which are also the most meaningful form of response that one can give. There are no solutions.
  • Perhaps the most high-leverage thing to design are tools, and we have to understand that we will never be able to fully eliminate their usage for evil (as much as we deplatform and moderate). Design interventions have dramatically changed our interactions with the world (the calculator making basic computation and arithmetic redundant); the designer’s role must be in helping humans make more conscious choices that reclaim systems that have long disenfranchised us.
  • Ask “who are you designing against?” instead of “who are you designing for?” –– you will far likely fail at the latter question, and the former surfaces far more than you realize.
  • Collaborative and participatory design is necessary if we ever want to create effective solutions. Anja Groten warns of formalizing these processes and methods (such as in hackathon-like design activities); it should be a truth from lived experience that there is no linear way of doing these things, yet this is continuously taught to design students in low-quality articles and courses. Non-reproducible encounters and means of validation are more valuable than we think.

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