What happens when over 100 graphic designers come together in one room? A revolution of sorts, jump started by two women with courage and a lot of spunk. Their manifesto? To connect graphic designers in the Champaign-Urbana community. Their strategy? Start a new organization called CUDO and take over the world (and have fun while doing it).
All last week, the local design community was buzzing with anticipation about this thing named CUDO (Champaign Urbana Design Organization). Who are these two chicks named Maya and Madelin? Is pink really their favorite color? The only way to find out was to show up at Luna on Friday night and attend their "coming out" party.
When I walked into Luna at 6:30 p.m., the party room was already full. Beer and wine was flowing and Luna's waiters were passing out tasty treats like tuna carpaccio. Although they were expecting 50 people to show, the room already looked jammed packed with many more heads. Some of Champaign-Urbana's top design professionals were present. Al Fleener from Surface 51 was there, and so was Dustin Wood and Barry Abrams. I saw Cope Cumpston from UI Press, Heidi Kellner from Wolfram Research, Derrick Stembridge and Matt Freden from Precision Graphics, Chuck McKenna from Macmedia, and many others. Then there were the design groupies — the spouses, friends, and partners of designers (yes designers need love, too). As a Parkland College design professor, I also saw several of my former students and a few up-and-coming designers as well.
Around 7 p.m., Maya Bruck and Madelin Woods (the founders of CUDO) introduced themselves to the crowd. Like many people who moved to Champaign-Urbana, Maya said she relocated here from Chicago because of her boyfriend. She currently works as a designer at Wolfram. Madelin is a townie who's about to graduate from UIUC. Surprisingly, she's not a design major; instead she'll receive a dual degree in advertising and Spanish. Christina Tapp, their most recent recruit to the executive board, also joined them in the spotlight. Christina is a designer at Surface 51 and a recent Illinois State University graduate. Together, they made a presentation to the crowd sharing their vision for CUDO — to give designers a voice and a hub, and to grow the design discipline before taking over the world (or, at least Champaign-Urbana). Their first slide on the screen? "Yo."
Now that's how to start a conversation.
I know from personal experience how much time and energy it takes to host an event like this. As a former board member of the old Ad Club of Champaign-Urbana, I served for three years helping to organize events, speakers, and awards shows. Even for big events like bringing "star" designer April Greiman to town, it was a challenge to get people to show up. So how did Maya and Madelin pulls this off? Maybe it was the color pink. Or maybe it was with the help of Facebook. Either way, these people are wired and inspired.
"People came up to me all through the evening to express how excited they were that we started this organization," Maya told me. "I can't wait to see how this organization unfolds. Based on the responses Friday night, I think we're in for a great time with CUDO."
"I think Friday night was a wild success," added Madelin. "I think it was pretty obvious that the design community in C-U is very diverse and a lot larger than anyone had anticipated. After seeing everyone there Friday night and talking with people, I am just overwhelmed with enthusiasm and inspiration, and I think that the design community in general is just teeming with creative potential to make this something that not many communities are lucky enough to have."
It's true. If you're a graphic designer in Champaign-Urbana, there's not much of an opportunity to network with other designers. The old Ad Club of Champaign-Urbana recently merged with the Springfield chapter of the American Advertising Federation, and I think its only event this year was the annual ADDY awards. If you lived in Chicago or a larger city, you would most likely have joined AIGA, the national organization for graphic designers. So why not start a C-U chapter of AIGA? "Too expensive," says Maya. "We looked into that and found that annual dues would have been $295 for professionals. Instead, CUDO's membership fee is only $25 for professionals and $15 for students."
Smart. Being affordable and therefore, more inclusive, seems like a great idea to me. So I wrote them a check for $25.
So what's next? "What really excited me on Friday was meeting the people who specifically came up to me to offer their help, particularly with the website," says Maya. "Developing a dynamic website that's full of resources and network opportunities is a project that's near and dear to me, so it was just great to see how many people volunteered to make it happen."
"We're hoping to expand our team in order to get a solid infrastructure built to keep this organization sustainable," adds Madelin. "We want to be able to provide exclusive opportunities for the community, and keeping it fresh takes a lot of effort. Until we can get our feet on the ground, we will probably be hosting a lot of similar social events to get people acquainted with each other while simultaneously working to put together some larger events, such as the Pecha Kucha."
Pecha who? "It's a fast, high energy presentation format for creatives that originated in Japan," says Maya. "There's one coming up in Chicago next month and we'll most likely go up to check it out." Apparently there are regular Pecha Kucha events in every major city in the world, so why not in Champaign? Don't we want to be just as cool as Budapest?
So whether you're a graphic designer, web designer, illustrator, photographer, filmmaker, media artist, or just a curious type who wonders what graphic designers smell like, get in touch with CUDO and stay tuned. I have a feeling this organization is going places and I, for one, will be going along for a wild ride.