7 Things You Should Know About The DC Design Community

DC breeds a culture of creativity. With design agencies, startups, artists and freelancers aplenty, it can be hard to navigate your way through the creative jungle of the District. For that reason, the good people at General Assembly organized the first Introduction to the DC Design Community event last night. The reputable panel included designers from EightShapes, nclud, iStrategyLabs, CHIEF, Huge and Rock Creek Strategic Marketing.

Photo taken by @pgleger

Hopefully you were one of the many flannel-wearing creative minds in 1776’s packed room. If not, grab your Wacom tablets and Moleskine notebooks. Here are 7 key takeaways you should know about the DC Design Community.

  1. Design is very much digital.
    “Many DC design agencies formed because of the new internet which couldn’t be solved by in-house creative teams. They filled a niche that organizations couldn’t do themselves because historically they were [focused on] print production. People needed more websites and less brochures.”
    Zach Goodwin, Creative Director at iStrategyLabs

  2. Nonprofits have come a long way.
    “I came to DC to work with Nonprofits. Many nonprofits believed if they spent a lot on their brand or design it would look like they don’t need money so they fought design. Since coming here and working with this community, there’s been much development. Nonprofits are really seeing the value of design and are embracing it.”
    – Ashleigh Axios, Art Director at Rock Creek Strategic Marketing & The White House

  3. Startups are design minded.
    “Only in the last few years has Silicon Valley [introduced] design oriented venture capital funds and design mentorships. Here, DC startups come to the table with design in mind. It’s not an afterthought anymore. This mindset helps keep things fresh. We’re not jaded.”
    Maxim Leyzerovich, Senior Experience Designer at nclud

  4. Notice a correlation between elections and cultural transitions.
    “DC follows an election cycle closely. Cultural transitions happen when elections happen. New people roll into town then we all have a new mindset. Working with Egov was as difficult as rolling a rock up a hill. It was a culture that shunned new technology. But then new people come into town who [had] a different mindset. People began to embrace technology more.”
    – Dan Brown, Founder and Principal at EightShapes

    “Every 2 years it’s a new cycle here. A couple of major DC agencies spun off of political campaigns. The Presidential Innovation Fellows this year have been working on innovative contracting tools and RFP-EZ to make it simpler to work with the government. Right now it’s hard to jump through hoops [with the government] but eventually it’ll get easier.”
    – Maxim Leyzerovich, Senior Experience Designer at nclud

  5. More design agencies attracts more design talent. 
    “Many people skip over DC for Chicago, New York City and San Francisco. The more agencies that are here, the more we become a magnet for creatives. There will be a snowball effect attracting more designers and talent…and that’s a good thing for the DC Design Community.”                               – Richard Bloom, Associate Creative Director at Huge

  6. The contracting process is the biggest public sector hurdle.
    “One huge challenge in working with government clients is the contracting process. It’s complex. You need to hire specific people to get over that hurdle, a process that is not creative at all. Once you get the contract, there is as much creative freedom as you want liability. Be smart about what you’re doing. The process is regimented and linear. It is distinctly different than what agencies are used to and sometimes they have a hard time coexisting.”
    Chris Lester, Cofounder at CHIEF

  7. Check out all of these DC Design Community Resources:

While people may associate DC with stodginess and red tape, the DC Design community proves the opposite. Agencies, design shops and freelancers have and will continue to push the limits of what the public and private sector can do. “Local firms [like Rock Creek] have created State of the Union graphics that have dominated Twitter for their visual creativity,” shares Leyzerovich. Perhaps this is due to the 2-year DC cycle theory or because of the fact that we have agencies who simply do great work. But it will eventually get easier because of these initiatives.

“You may think there’s less freedom for an institution [that] has been here for a long time, [but] there’s tons of creative freedom [and] opportunities to reinvent style guides,” explains Axios, who expresses the given challenge in working with government clients. “We’re trying to set the curve in the right direction for other agencies and push the envelope on what the government can do.”

Curious to learn more about the DC community? Check out the recap article for the Intro to the DC Startup Community event and make plans to go to the Intro to the DC Data Science Community later this month.


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Written by:
Stephanie is Lead Designer and co-founder of Landmark, a navigation app for walking directions based on photos of buildings and landmarks. Stephanie was a guest at Y Combinator’s prestigious Female Founders Conference and was profiled in The Washington Post. Actively involved in the DC community, she is a co-producer of the DC Tech Meetup and is actively involved in encouraging technology education and mentorship for women. Follow her on Twitter @nguyenist.
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