It all started with the graphic design forum on about.com in the early 00s, soon after I started my first job out of design school. I was (and still am) a solo designer within an in-house department. Coming from a milieu full of other designers and mentors at school, I felt somewhat isolated. There are definite benefits to working with non-designers and learning to communicate your rationales and ideas to people using language that’s not filled with design jargon. However, I did miss being part of the tribe that spoke my language and understood my frustrations.
The members were spread out all over the world, but we shared a common thread. We not only gave each other feedback on our designs and gave advice on the working world, but we shared our personal lives with each other. We met at the level of our minds, having only a little avatar to go by, visually. Over the years, we got to know each other, about our partners, families, where we lived. The forum even spawned two new websites: Creative Latitude, which was a space for writing about creative professions and promoting professional practice, and NoSpec, which educated designers and the public on the meaning of speculative work and how it devalues creative professionals. We actually got together in person in Seattle after I’d been a forum member for a few years. It was a little bizarre, knowing people in a virtual medium, but meeting them for the first time in the physical world. There was a closeness that pre-existed our meeting. I suppose it’s the new-world version of pen pals.
The forum faded away and we all eventually reconnected through Facebook. It wasn’t quite the same, but was still really great to keep a fine thread between us. We still give feedback on projects and get advice on sticky client situations, but are now more in tune with our personal lives. We applaud each other’s successes and send hugs and positive thoughts when someone’s going through a difficult time.
One of our members went through a particularly tough time about a year ago when, through a series of unfortunate experiences, ended up homeless. Someone found out what was going on and we banded together to help him. He had spent so many years helping others through his mentorship and advice, that it was natural for us to help him in a time of need. We did our best to get financial aid to him, in a very complex and silly system. One of the forum members actually had him come to live with him until he was back on his feet. He’d bounced back remarkably and was back doing what he did best.
Unfortunately, even after rallying, his health problems were an issue for many years and he died earlier this year. Finding out this painful news hit us all very hard. One of our own had died. We had a virtual wake and a member of our group put a beautiful poster together with our messages and signatures to send to his family. I believe they were so heartened to see how many friends he had and how many lives he’d touched.
It goes to show how much further our reach can be in the world of social media. Even though many of us creatives would consider ourselves introverts, we’re allowed a certain safety in this meeting of the minds. It gives us the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and makes us realize that we’re really not all that different from each other. We may differ in our background cultures and political views, but in our essence, we’re all just people, living the human experience. We come to value these unorthodox friendships and networks in ways we’d never have imagined.