The fastest growing, inclusive, and online design community for designers of all backgrounds to connect, share resources, and participate in virtual events!
Design Buddies was founded in April 2020 as a Discord server by Grace Ling, as part of her self-taught journey going into design, having come from a pre-med & bioengineering background. During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in early 2020, she noticed a growing demand for designers wanting to network and interact with each other, after job losses and layoffs were being conducted globally.
Since the inception of Design Buddies, our server has become a place to gather, develop, and prosper. We provide design resources to help members launch their design career, host online events (eg. AMA-style panels, workshops, even a Book Club!), remote & location-specific job opportunities, and portfolio and resume & cover letter critiques. All of our resources will remain free to stay true to our inclusivity mantra.
As of October 2020, Design Buddies has grown to 8,000+ members, and it will only get bigger & better as time goes on!
As a key member of the founding Discord Admin team, my initial duties are similar of that of a typical online forum moderator role - to watch the server, answer any questions that members may have, and resolve any issues that could arise. (Surprise, trolls still exist in online communities with an older demographic!)
It turns out that due to my ENFJ personality being shown online (What happens when you're locked at home during a pandemic), Grace enjoyed the amount of support I was giving out to members who were also starting their careers as budding designers, and the level of discussion being displayed in our Discord channels, such as the #general channel.
Because of my high level of engagement, in addition to Grace's dedication for wanting to build Design Buddies into eventually, the largest online design community in the world, I self-created the DesignOps role to fulfill our Discord server and maximize its workflow to its fullest potential.
A new and emerging field in the design industry, DesignOps was coined by the fathers of User Experience (UX) Design, Jakob Neilsen and Don Norman.
DesignOps is defined as "the orchestration and optimization of people, processes, and craft in order to amplify design's value and impact at scale."
It is a term used to address challenges such as:
This was my first time ever being placed in a leadership role like this, after having worn the "Coordinator" hat in areas such as graphic design, visual design, and communications in school clubs for so long. Of course, I didn't know what to expect in a role that I've never been in before, so I did what I normally do whenever I'm learning on a new topic: do my research via readings I can find online.
Resources that I found online pertaining to DesignOps included the DesignOps Handbook from InVision, a bunch of Medium articles, and designops.lol/resources. From all of these findings, I took common trends that can be used to follow 3 main areas of DesignOps, and how following these 3 areas can bring value to an organization, as seen in the image below.
Let's start with...
The Design Buddies Admin team uses two communications tools to stay on top of things - Notion for "Organize", and Discord for "Collaborate". We also use a third tool, Figma, but only for visual purposes, such as our website and design system that will be discussed further in 2) How we get our work done.
On Discord, where Design Buddies was all born. We have an #admin-chat channel in which the Admins use this for everyday communication - sometimes time-sensitive things, if need be. This is accompanied with the #admin-meeting Discord stream for our weekly Sunday evening sync meetings at PDT time.
The Neilsen Norman Group asks, "How do we ensure that professional-development practices treat [members of an online community] like humans first?"
Humanizing Design Buddies, not just the Admin team, but the entire server itself, encompasses so, in many unique ways. Even in online, casual messaging apps that we use, like Discord, we're still communicating with other users - they're also human beings, only that they're behind a computer screen and are located in different places all over the world.
One great example is how our founder, Grace, will always provide transparency and availability to everyone in our server. As she was once discouraged from those for wanting to pursue design, she doesn't want others to experience the same hardships she once did.
Now that Grace is in a position to give back to others, she recognizes and acknowledges her privilege to those who are just launching their design career by:
As mentioned earlier, when the Admin team uses various tools like Notion and Discord in order to stay on top of things, we also use these tools to improve the efficiency and quality of the design work we do, and standardize its processes.
Having gone back to my roots in design since Summer 2020, I had to re-learn a lot of things all over again - one notable thing being, user research methods. I learn best when I can apply the material that is given to me in a practical manner; in this case, me, along with the rest of the Admin team, utilizing various user research methods in order to emphasize and resonate with our members, in which the user feedback we receive can support the community mission & brand of Design Buddies.
We employ a number of methods, such as surveys, focus groups, and A/B testing.
Visually speaking now, when it comes to harmonizing, or systematizing our design workflow, the Admin team uses Figma when it comes to our ongoing design system, and WordPress for maintaining our website.
We have big plans for Design Buddies. As more people follow and join us, it's naturally curious to wonder about this online community that just somehow blew up overnight.
While our presence lives at our Discord server, we needed to build a website immediately for potential sponsors and to establish a presence in other avenues. I led the UX/UI initiative of creating our website so we could optimize and scale the delivery process from Figma to WordPress in as little time spent as possible.
All of those questions can be answered through the website that we made. A website helps to build an online presence and make an organization credible to those stumbling upon it for the very first time.
As time goes on, Design Buddies is only going to get bigger and better. We have many actionable items we plan to achieve. During a meeting we had with our strategic advisors, Jonathan Javier and Jerry Lee of Wonsulting, the two-man duo suggested to the Admin team that we should create a roadmap with objectives and key results (OKRs) included, in order to pinpoint what we want to get done on a specific timeframe.
Hire more admins → A team that cares for its members and the server, therefore boosting Design Buddies' credibility
Create onboarding for new admins → Helps in an easy transition going into online group moderation
Establish a cadence for Design Buddies outside of the Discord server → Launch social media channels and our website
The success of Design Buddies was all done through organic growth - notably through word-of-mouth. In the first few months when Design Buddies was launching, everyone on the Admin team was promoting the Discord server wherever possible - in Facebook groups, Slack channels, through LinkedIn posts, and even at online conferences! Next thing you know, it wasn't just the admins promoting Design Buddies; some of our most active members went ahead and promoted the server since they loved being in our community so much.
Our members are those of all ages, ethnicities, and come from many backgrounds and locations around the world. Our biggest demographic though, are college & university students. Design Buddies has become a hit with undergraduate and post-graduate students especially, because of two things:
When you're a broke college student, you're paying thousands of dollars in tuition, on top of other finances such as groceries, bills, healthcare - the list goes on. The last thing you want to do is drop more money on something you don't know if you're going to be investing into long-term.
For Grace, when she was self-teaching herself in her journey into design, she taught everything herself for free. She doesn't believe in "gatekeeping", a tactic used to limit and deter access to a resource. Gatekeeping is counterintuitive of what Design Buddies is about, and instead, hinders the goal of being inclusive.
When college students hear the word "FREE", they'll immediately jump in and take advantage of the opportunity. Free resource? Even better!
Design Buddies is a free resource aimed to help those starting off in their design career - sign me up!
It is no doubt that COVID-19 has affected the lives of millions of people worldwide. Jobs were lost, businesses were shutting down, and those felt like they didn't know what to do with their lives anymore.
For those professionally affected by the pandemic, Design Buddies was founded during the height of the crisis in April 2020. Everyone congregated into one space together to share stories about working in the design industry, share tips & tricks on portfolio reviews or writing a resume and/or cover letter, collaborate on a fun side project together, and offer online coffee chats and mentorship services. During these challenging times, more people than ever are forgiving and will offer their help and advice to others who need it the most.
In only a short time span, we've already gotten a few success stories from users that have joined Design Buddies. One of our most active members who wishes to remain anonymous for this case study, said that thanks to the supportive community at Design Buddies, he landed a job opportunity that turned him from rags to riches.
Honestly, if COVID never happened, Design Buddies wouldn't have existed, and I wouldn't be writing this case study right now. We have grown this online design community full of designers of all backgrounds, hailing from places all over the world. Some of our most active members that contribute in our #general discussion channel are from Canada, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Nigeria, and Malaysia - timezones who?
Because of the immeasurable success that has amounted, Design Buddies has caught the eyes of those working at Discord HQ in San Francisco. Some of them have joined the server and even stated it's one of their favourite Discord servers to be in!
We're also partnered up with other online organizations & companies that were created during COVID-19, such as Augment, intern.club, and Figma.
And this is only the beginning. This September, we'll be launching our biggest partnership yet - our free mentorship program with ADPList.org. Founded by Felix Lee, senior designers sign up and devote their time in offering mentorship to designers who are just starting off in their careers.
We'll still be hosting events as usual. Once COVID-19 dies down, many of our members and the Admin team are looking forward to having in-person meet-ups, and even start local chapters in major cities with a huge design population (eg. Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco, New York).
Surround yourself with great people and great things will come your way. The connections I've made at Design Buddies will last me a LIFETIME - I'm super duper grateful to have gotten acquainted from those working at startups, freelancers, or even those at big tech companies like Facebook and Microsoft!