What is a community designer?


Pretty much every time someone asks me ‘what do you do’ it’s a 50/50 bet as to if my response is met with a puzzled expression. People get the designer bit but the community bit seems to send minds to town planning or wandering if I’m just making things up. I’ve decided to write this in a response to why I put those 2 words together for what I do.

Designer just doesn’t cut it as a label

A while ago I felt that just saying I’m a designer simply didn’t work for me. Sure, I am a designer but that is the top of a rather large iceberg that is what I do. That said, I thought about how other designers deal with this. My mind quickly went to the descriptions like ‘furniture designer’ or ‘fashion designer’. Our online version of this was ‘web designer’ but again that fails to hit the mark. The web is huge now, a vast planet where you can do any range of types of sites. In this vast expanse that is now the ‘web’ calling yourself a ‘web designer’ just doesn’t seem to fit.

I focus on creating communities. It’s quite literally what aside from the odd request from a friend what I work on. I came to the realisation a while ago that designing communities is where my heart lies. I design best when faced with communities. Above that though, it’s what I am happiest doing, and isn’t that reason enough.

Designer second

Whilst I do design, for me putting what I design before that is significant. Design as a word comes with a ton of visual baggage. The mind hops to the visual without maybe thinking so much about the ‘what creating’. I often explain community design as being for designers that get a kick out of psychology more than making things pretty. That’s quite a broad stroke but there’s reason behind that probably fitting for another article, but the point stands.

The community is probably more important than designer bit. Yes, I am a designer and that’s part of my dna to be honest I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. My love, my passion is with communities and what I can design for them. It feels right being community first in my label.

The other candidates

On my quest for a job title, I passed on many other labels. BuddyPress designer was one of my first attempts. I stuck with that for a few months but it just didn’t seem to feel right. Sure, I use BuddyPress for most of the work I do. But that leads me to have to explain BuddyPress before I even get to the ‘what I do’. It seemed to place a hurdle. I also don’t always use BuddyPress, a few of my jobs are on a more consulting basis when the structure is already done. Whilst this is rare, it is something that can happen.

Maybe social network designer? Considering my view that you should build communities not social networks (a discussion for another blog post) this was straight out the door with a kick in the behind.

I tried on many labels over the time I was thinking about this. None felt right until I tried community designer. From the start this just seemed to say it. It had designer second, it simply said what I designed. It fitted from the start. I was aware of other uses of the words community design such as the EU, but despite this it didn’t feel like ‘no go’ label.

A little mission

In saying I’m a community designer I never intended it to be a bit of a mission to get it recognised, however as time has gone on it’s becoming aware to me that many don’t even think of it as a possible to focus on. I’m very keen on designers discovering what fits them and focusing on that. I don’t in saying this think I’m the only designer focusing on communities. I would though, be over the moon if more designers chose community design.

This ‘mission’ to some extent applies to other areas online. As designers we use that term as a blanket swamping any website. I think that can be dangerous to do. As the platform grows, matures and becomes more complex; each type will require different skills as a designer. I don’t see this as bad or good, just evolution.

A long explanation for a short summary about what I do

It’s not a short explanation but this is why I call myself a community designer. It’s not out of ego, it’s out of thought, out of a passion for what I design. I call it like someone would say they are a car designer, a make-up designer. In short, I call myself a community designer because I am.

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