How to Succeed as an IDSA Chapter Leader

by Dan Hamilton, IDSA

Feb 20 2020 - 3:09pm

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When IDSA asked me to write a 2019 recap for our chapter, IDSA Kansas City, I instead started reflecting not just on 2019, but also the three?years before that. It seems fitting, as?new leadership is set to take the reins of our chapter,?to?look at where we are and how we got here.

To start, when I became Chapter Chair in January 2016, I had virtually no idea what I was doing—and if I’m being 100% honest, I had no intention of being a chapter officer at all. However, one conversation led to another, and before I knew it, I was officially named the Chair for IDSA-KC. Of course, my first task was to update my resume and LinkedIn profile, as well as get a photo and bio submitted to IDSA so it could be posted to the website. All well and good.

But then what? I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I should be doing, and I didn’t know where to begin.

At the advice of my contacts at IDSA, I reached out to other chapters and leaders within the community. Through those conversations, I got tips and suggestions that ranged in scale from small to grand, and all of them were valid.

Yet it quickly became clear to me that I was going to need help. There was no way I could do this alone. Luckily, fate answered in the form of an email received from a designer relatively new to the KC area and looking to get involved with IDSA. I replied to that email, which led to us meeting for coffee a few days later. That was the first time I had met Gil Manalo, and that simple coffee meeting was all it took for us to realize that we shared a love of design and a desire to offer something special to our ID community. Within a week, I officially had a Vice Chair in place who would prove to be the secret ingredient to our chapter’s success.

Together we continued to meet the community, from individual designers to owners of design studios and companies that employ industrial designers. We reached out to the students and faculty at area universities with Industrial Design programs. We became engaged with the design community as a whole, connecting with professionals and leaders from other design fields such as Graphic Design, Architecture, UI/UX Design, etc. Our philosophy was simply that the bigger we made our network, the bigger our footprint would become, and the more valuable the chapter would be to our own members.

In addition to networking, we also wanted to host events and meetups—and this is where we had to go through some trial and error before we really found our groove. To start, we had a couple of coffee meetups; and while they were only sparsely attended at first, we also understood that we hadn’t yet built up any regularity or momentum with the group at that point. The key was going to be just sticking with it.

The big breakthrough occurred when Gil and I met with the owner of a local design and fabrication company who himself was an ID graduate and former IDSA chapter officer. Over cheap beers at a little dive, we got to know him, and then got him to commit to hosting a studio tour event for us. Little did we know how amazing his company was going to be to work with, and how big of a splash the event would prove to be.

A group that was barely pulling four or five people to attend a coffee meetup was astounded when 55+ people showed up for the studio tour and reception. It was then that we knew there was something here to build on.

The next couple of years were a continuation of that strategy: constant networking, regular meetups, and putting together three or four larger events throughout the year. Not every event was a home run (the one and only attempt at doing a “Happy Hour,” for example). But over time, we saw more and more people becoming engaged and attending our events and meetups. Today, we are beyond proud of the shape the chapter is in and the momentum it has gained.

Before signing off, I’ll share some of the things that we learned about running a chapter that might be useful to others. However, I must stress that these are only things that we found that worked for us. Each chapter and community might not respond the same way, so you will want to adjust and tailor your strategy accordingly.

Regular Meetups

One thing we found was that there is something to be said for consistency when it comes to maintaining your presence as a chapter. We try and hold a coffee meetup every month; and as much as possible, we keep it at the same time and place (9am on a Saturday morning). We’ve had to change the venue a couple of times, due to logistics, but we now have a go-to spot that we can rely on to be big enough to hold us without having to make a reservation. These meetups are at no cost to the chapter, and the only planning we need to do is pick the time and place, and then get the word out.

Content versus Social

In the beginning, we had an eye on holding events that were very content-heavy and geared toward ID people in the area, with guest speakers, presentations, demonstrations, skills/learning, studio tours, etc. However, depending on the event you are trying to plan, the logistics and budget can quickly become prohibitive. Instead, we tended to focus on more social and networking events that were easier to plan and budget for. We also noticed that these events were well attended and enjoyed by our members and non-members alike, which leads to the next tip…

Open Door

Our policy from the beginning was that we were not going to restrict our events and communications strictly to registered IDSA members. We reached out to everyone who had an interest in IDSA or who worked in the design world. Our philosophy was simply that even if someone wasn’t yet a member, the very fact that they were there helped provide the value for the rest of the group. As ambassadors for IDSA, we always encourage people to consider membership, but we never required it to attend any of our events.

Get Help

The big lesson I learned early on was that I needed help to run this chapter, which I was lucky enough to get in the form of not only my Vice Chairs, but also other leaders and organizations that were willing to help us in our mission. It was eye-opening to see how many people and companies were willing and eager to jump in and help us out by hosting events or just sponsoring us when needed. All we had to do was reach out and connect with them.

That wraps up the extremely abbreviated version of my insights and reflections on serving as an IDSA chapter officer over the last four years. The entire experience has been such a profound one for me, considering the people I’ve met, the conversations I’ve had, the events I’ve attended, and the overall community I’ve gotten to be part of.

If you are reading this as someone about to take on a new leadership role within IDSA, I encourage you to open yourself up to the amazing experiences it will bring. If you are reading this as someone who has not yet served, my advice is to give it serious consideration in the future, as it will change you as not only a designer, but as a professional and a leader.

It has truly been a privilege to serve our Kansas City ID community—and I am proud to now hand the keys to the next team who, I have no doubt, will take this chapter to an even higher level.


If you’re a current IDSA member and would like to submit a blog post on anything related to industrial design or IDSA, contact Leah Pickett, Communications Manager, at leahp@idsa.org.