The Friday morning crew.

Last week was AIGA’s Design Week here in Chicago, which felt like the perfect opportunity to gather a bunch of smart creatives with donuts, coffee and a pile of post-its to get feedback on the co-op.

We have our own opinions on why we think something like this is needed in the industry, but the co-op isn’t about us - it’s about the community it serves. So, we spent Friday morning with a bunch of brilliant folks, talking about design education, mentorship, meaningful work and ownership. Here’s what we learned.

People largely didn’t feel prepared coming out of school. Some got design jobs right out of school, but the transition felt fast and hard to adjust to. Several people cited a lack of business acumen, any kind of marketing skills or an understanding of how to deal with clients. Most had to teach themselves these skills on the fly.

We also heard a concern that most educators aren’t active in the field anymore, so they don’t have a good grasp on the skills needed today, or the connections required to succeed.

We asked about mentorship and found unmet needs on both sides of the equation, even with existing programs in place. Senior talent loves to mentor and gets energy from watching young folks grow and succeed, but don’t feel like there are good or easy ways to give back. And younger talent are seeking mentorship, but don’t feel like they have clear paths to get the guidance they’re seeking.

If you’re wondering how this is this possible with formal mentoring programs like AIGA, or those in colleges or universities in place, so are we.

We’ve talked a lot internally about the terms “mentor” and “mentee” and the weight that they carry. In almost every instance we can point to in our own personal lives, our best mentors weren’t assigned, or provided through a match system - they came to be organically, by working together, or connecting over something personal. The funny thing about the term mentor is that in the best relationships, it’s often never even used. The connection just… happens. So we’re thinking a lot about how we create an environment that allows for those relationships to just happen, instead of trying to continue to force a structure that isn’t working.

If you want to know how great the Chicago creative community is, go check out our Facebook album from the event and take a look at question 2A. Unsurprisingly, some of the most powerful, most meaningful projects that people worked on were those with positive social impact. Those projects that helped a small fledgling business, or a non-profit that needed it, and made people feel like they were doing good.

But unfortunately, those projects aren’t typically part of 9-5 jobs. There’s a clear disconnect between the place where people get their paycheck, and the place where they do meaningful work. And people have resolved to spending their free time doing work that makes them feel good, because they’re not getting that need fulfilled at their jobs.

You already know that we’re big on democratically owned businesses, but what we didn’t know was if the rest of the design community shared that desire for a change in the way ownership was handled. So - we asked. And found out that a number of folks are frustrated by the way work is handled in agency environments today. The clients with the biggest budgets and the biggest names dominate the pipeline of work, even if it’s at the detriment to the mission or vision of the company servicing them.

Other folks expressed frustration with the work being done - that it’s boring, routine and safe instead of delivering something truly creative and unique. And others felt a lack of inspiration from agency leadership - because of the reasons stated above, and also because the leadership often doesn’t represent the interests of the rest of the firm.

We finished up by asking attendees what types of things they would be interested in the Design Cooperative becoming. A place to work? Yes. A place for resources and jobs? Yes. A place to help facilitate mentoring and guidance? Got affirmation there, too. Which is all great news.

A place for resources and jobs? Yes. A place to help facilitate mentoring and guidance? Got affirmation there, too.

We’d love to hear from more of the community as we start to prioritize which pieces of this to tackle first. If you’re reading this and didn’t attend our Design Week event, we’d appreciate five minutes of your time to run through the survey questions here. And if you did attend Design Week, would you consider sharing that link with your friends and colleagues?

We’re also happy to hear your thoughts however else you want to share ‘em. Shoot us a note at