Design in Community
The Seattle Design Festival tells a story. This story culminates in an annual celebration of our design community each summer, but the connections we forge within that community, and the stories they have to share, last throughout the year. Follow along with Design in Community, as we highlight some of the design stories from our community through photos and sound.
Matthew McWilliams, a long-time volunteer for the Seattle Design Festival and creator of the festival’s storytelling initiative, Design in Community, has often found solace in riding his bike. But the pandemic had forced him to find new ways to enjoy the benefits of cycling. As the pandemic worsened, McWilliams migrated from riding his bike in his building’s parking garage to cycling virtually. “All of sudden, I felt cut off,” explains McWilliams. “So I went ahead and purchased a turbo trainer and a subscription to an online riding app.” It opened his perspective to a world that he did not anticipate encountering.
“Riding virtually has been fascinating,” he says. “You interact with individuals. You interact with groups. You also interact with narratives. “It gives you sense for the way that groups form, how they form, why they form.” He found a form of community. But he also learned that those connections could become tenuous in large group rides that lacked a sense of shared purpose and belonging. “Sometimes a shared narrative falls apart,” notes McWilliams.
Each wave of the pandemic brought new challenges. After the omicron surge in late 2021, McWilliams approached the Seattle Design Festival staff about other opportunities to contribute. “I had wanted to do something that was a bit more creative [and] would lend me a greater sense of personal agency.” Conversations about the festival’s needs after its recent reorganization and rebranding led to others about the importance of creating a platform that would enable designers to tell their stories about their processes, practices, and communities.
McWilliams related to the ways designers may not have a place to share their journeys, particularly with the way the pandemic has altered the personal narratives of many, resulting in alienation and even trauma. “There are a few things about me that most people don’t know or fail to appreciate about me,” says McWilliams. “I am an assault victim. I’ve been part of an addiction system. “And most challenging of all has been the fact that I’ve lost someone quite close to me to suicide.” As he finds comfort and purpose in riding virtually, McWilliams believes Design in Community can offer similar benefits not only for him but for others.
“Design in Community grants me permission to drop into a place, to slip into someone’s draft and to have this moment where I enjoy another someone else’s essence,” he notes. Through that essence, he finds grace. “There’s motivation. There’s intent. And there’s a choice,” explains McWilliams in describing some of the components that help form a draft. “And oftentimes it reflects that the work was worthwhile and that it’s worth coming back to visit again.”