It all started with a letter.
Phoenix Design Week, the largest independent design fair the Valley has ever seen, was conceived, planned and executed solely by the collaboration of a large group of volunteers. PhxDW was created to showcase what makes our home a player on designâ€™s world stage.
Spearheaded by the reclusive Mark Dudlik, PhxDW is the solution to a problem he knew affected every designer in the Valley; as a group, they needed to improve.
â€œIn February, I wrote an open letter. It took me a month of editing and considering it, and I finally released it in March,â€ Dudlik said. â€œI said something that we were all thinking: We needed to make our city better. That message alone seemed to get people excited enough to sign up.â€
And sign up they did. Agencies and freelancers from nearly every Valley city converged on local co-working spot Gangplank for weekly meetings. Egos were put aside, schedules were adapted and everything came together. Local designer Jeremy Smith had specific goals in mind: â€œTo celebrate, and unite the ideals of local talent,â€ Smith said.â€ To do something. To be different. Get started.â€
AIGA Arizona and Jim Nissen of Switch Studio lent their considerable professional presence to help legitimatize the work the volunteers had already accomplished, adding to the growing sense of community. â€œBefore DW, from where I was, there was no community. I knew few designers and fewer who cared about a community. Phoenix has always felt like a disconnected collection of individuals,â€ Andrew Coppola, a freelance designer and web developer for Mezzomind, said. â€œI really think social media, as trendy as that is to say, is helping to invigorate the city’s communities. I was happy to discover a ton of designers and cool people through Twitter and Design Week planning.â€
The week-long event kicked off with an artist reception at Kitchen Sink Studios, where a variety of posters designed by local design school students were on display. Santy Integrated hosted the second artist reception on October 21, featuring an array of writeable glass inviting attendees to leave their mark. Terralever wrapped up the last of the artist receptions on Thursday evening.
Typophile, a limited-release series of short films about typography, carried the momentum into the weekend. Over 200 people attended the showing at Madcap Theaters.
The core of the conference started Saturday, packed with two days worth of panelists and speakers carefully chosen by Dudlik and company. On the committee was Tanner Woodford, an ASU faculty associate. â€œWe had a list of speakers who applied, another list of speakers that were suggested and a much larger list of speakers we liked as a group,â€ Woodford said. â€œIn the beginning, we attempted to choose speakers who could speak to the idea of community, and who seemed passionate about Design Week.â€
It didnâ€™t end there. Saturday night culminated with a party, hosted by the Clarendon, which showcased the whoâ€™s who of the local design scene. Alliances were formed, drinks were consumed and old friends were reintroduced. â€œAlthough I really enjoyed several of the guests and local presenters, I got way more out of hallway and lunch conversations. I don’t think this is a catalyst to “fixing” anything, but it certainly made the less social people recognize that there’s a lot of talent here,â€ Jason Ayers, Aricosa president, said. â€œThere were a few of us older natives that were talking about similar events/movements that happened in the past, but all agreed phxdw really has some staying powerâ€“mainly due to social media.â€
The events allowed the usually shy designers an outlet to connect, share and discuss what they had experienced throughout the week. No one seemed unaffected, as creatives were finally all in one place, eager to discuss what had kept them apart thus far. Coppola was excited. â€œThe lack of creative culture I would personally attribute to the extremely conservativeness of this city. The major corporate culture here sucks the life out of real grassroots creative culture. It has been very difficult for niche groups to flourish,â€ Coppola said. â€œArizona is a very interesting place. Given that so many people are transplants from other more culturally diverse cities, I find it highly interesting that we have such a dearth of culture.â€
The sentiment behind Coppolaâ€™s comments seemed to be shared by all those involved as they headed into the final day of the event. Even non-designers got into the action. â€œI learned of some new designers and design shops which are a parallel industry to my industry,â€ Adam Nollmeyer, a local photographer, said. â€œI prefer to work with great people and at an annual meeting there is a higher chance that I’ll meet new creative people that hadn’t yet come out of the woodwork.â€
The last day began with a parody Phoenix tourism video, highlighting some of the downsides to living in Phoenix. Saturday’s keynote speaker Debbie Millman moderated a panel on Phoenix’s creative class, while Sunday’s featured speaker Chaz Maviyane-Davies shared his views on the controversial subject of creative defiance.
The organizers for the event would like it to be an annual affair and know they have lots of room to get better. While, nearly 400 people attended during the entire week, Dudlik knows there’s more to come. “Nothing was solved, but things were set in motion that cannot be undone. We made some real change. Now its just a matter of keeping that momentum and energy going.”