This past October 28th through October 31, the Organization of Black Designers (OBD) held their 7th DesigNation conference in Detroit Michigan. The last OBD conference I attended was in 1996/7 in Philadelphia. I had only been in the industry for seven years working as an Art Director for Income Opportunities, a general market business magazine for the small business, home office owned by Essence Communications. Somehow I stumbled upon OBD and was amped to join because I had been searching for other black designers—hell, designers of color period. Since I knew Essence wasn’t going to pay for me to go (despite the hype, Essence really wasn’t all about black solidarity), I would go on my dime.
Once I got to Philly, I was blown away. Never had I’d been in the same room with one black designer but now I was in a meeting hall with hundreds of designers from graphics, fashion, advertising, industrial, exhibit and more. Literally, I had goose bumps all over me. The sessions were amazing, meet folks who I would work with years later and the overall unity was uplifting. Immediately I began looking to make plans for the next one. Only thing is the next conference was for years to come after that. Internal issues had plagued OBD the following years and I lost track of them. Seen ads for upcoming DesigNation conferences but they never materialized as far as I had known. In 2006, I learned that they would be in Atlanta but now I was attending the HOW Conferences so I was torn between the two. I decided to got to HOW that year but vowed I would make the next DesigNation.
Jump to 2010, OBD was heading to Detroit and I was asked to speak. Despite all the issues plaguing OBD over the years, the need for it was still very necessary. So I agreed and put my reservations to the side. I wanted to know if OBD was going to be like what I saw fifteen years ago.
How strong was it? What was the interest? When I got to Detroit and hit the registration table, I realized this conference was significantly smaller than what my first experience held. The trouble plagued years of OBD had impacted its presence. The conference didn’t have big numbers—it felt very much like a small family reunion. There wasn’t a huge campaign about the conference (I had only found out about it 4/5 months earlier), the program was more of a work showcase rather than informational sessions and not a strong showing for the job/portfolio fair.
However, what I did find was that the interest, drive and motivation for a venue dedicated to designers of color IS STILL VERY STRONG. The tales from the designers who spoke were compelling, funny, motivating and informative in a way—more than I had expected. I revised my presentation after seeing others to really answer the session question I was given and glad I did as my co-panelist had been called away for business. I realized that the thirst of seeing designers like ourselves was overwhelming from recent graduates to business owners. The fact that David Rice, the President/Founder of OBD, was determined to have the conference go down despite all the obstacles was very inspiring to me. For his determination, General Motors gave $10,000 to the OBD Scholarship Fund to help future designers of color find their creative paths—something David has been trying to achieve for years. Despite the less than enthusiastic response to DN7, it was still an experience I’m glad I had. I was able to network (something which I don’t do very much), help impart my knowledge to attendees and see what a strong creative vitality Detroit has to offer.
DesigNation is slated to be there over the next 3 years and so I want to commit to OBD my help as a member and as a design professional of color to make future conference as bold, dynamic and informative as the first one I attended so many years ago. All of our help is needed to continue this for us now and our future generations.