Reflecting on Indiana Design & Innovation Week

The whole idea behind Indiana Design Week was providing a platform for communities to convene and assess where they are. I realized pretty quickly in planning this, my ideas were bigger than the market would support.

It’s a tricky place to pull events off because so much of the energy is locked within closed organizations. It’s not that people hate your ideas, they’d just prefer you do it their way. So I knew from the start, that ID+IW  would require independent money and the timing of that wasn’t really available this year.

So I decided with a few months to go, that we’d create a decentralized event and let local people stage their own activities. It was less about defining what we meant by “design” or “innovation” this first year and more about seeding the idea. Much like a good alpha test, I wanted to get people thinking aloud about what these terms meant to them, rather than imposing constraints.

Moving forward, I think the noble goal of creating an event that’s broadly accessible, challenging and forces Indiana to think about what “design” means and how to project that message to a wider world to assert Indiana’s place — specifically as it relates to digital spaces and tech — is an idea worth doing.

Whether I’m the person to lead that effort is a different idea entirely. The thing about convening local events is you need to have some kind of passion beyond “this is a good idea” to sustain the energy necessary to mire through the muck of finding a team, getting them singing in the same hymn book and ensure that the payoff is something broader than good feelings when it all pans out. Indiana is where I live today, but it’s not where I’ll stay forever.

Being a martyr for ideas isn’t really the best look for me. Having lived in other underserved places, I have come to the conclusion that I’m not best equipped at this stage of my career/life to be somewhere that doesn’t already have infrastructure or support in place to cultivate community. Every place has its quirks, but there’s something to be said for being in a place where there’s already dozens of groups doing what you want to do, rather than showing up and having to always seed the first thing. It’s not to say there isn’t something invigorating about seeing a place get “cooler” (Whatever that means) or that I don’t feel like I have a unique perspective on what that looks like based on having lived in different pockets of the country.

Starting things is exhausting. Each time you do it, you’re essentially staking your reputation, energy and time into something that might not blossom simply because the conditions weren’t right. It’s a lot like working in a science lab, except…without any of the rewards of science.

While communities keep trying to woo big companies, so many of the little things required to entice people to move go beyond the party trick of “If we bring jobs, it’ll force people who’d never come here to live here.” It takes investment in the little things, signaling a change in the ways of doing business and everyday people who put their money where their mouth is, with regard to initiating small-scale change.

Design Week will be back, but I’m really more interested in developing a forum for one last series of conversations about what it means to create innovation and design change in a world filled with transition.