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Some thoughts on the DC design scene from a Baltimore-bound Oregonian

Caitlin Weber, formerly of the Sunlight Foundation, on the good, the bad and the bro-y.

In her five years in D.C., Caitlin Weber made her way into the design scene, slowly but surely. (Photo courtesy of AIGA, the professional association for design)

D.C. was the first design hub departing Sunlight Foundation creative director Caitlin Weber got to know up close. Now, she is skipping town to enroll in a social design master’s program at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore.
Originally from Oregon, Weber found herself hitting the limits of the local design scene after graduating from Western Washington University, a member of the unfortunate class of ’08.
“The Portland creative scene is like, very tough to get jobs in,” she said. At the nonprofit where she worked, “I was the only creative person in that office.”
She had her eyes on the East Coast, and soon gravitated to one city that had been more or less spared by the economic crisis.
“The biggest concentration of jobs was in D.C. because the economy here didn’t crash the same way than it did in other cities,” she said.

Baltimore seems smaller than D.C., so I am hoping the community will maybe be a little bit more tight-knit and a little bit more experimental.

She was hired by Sunlight — conducting interviews on Skype — and was eventually wowed by the strength of the design community here, after moving in 2010.
She joined groups like the (now defunct) Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington and the evolving D.C. chapter of AIGA.
Here, she met like-minded designers who echoed her desire to “use my powers for good, not evil.”
And the industry reflects this, she said. “Everywhere you go, an agency will say something like, ‘Oh, we do a lot of work for nonprofits.'”
Caitlin’s partner, Canvas’ Justin Higgins, is making the move with her to Baltimore.
The only hiccup, she said, was a certain clique-ishness in the mainstream design scene.
“It felt very exclusive and very male-dominated and bro-y,” she said.
She recalled one Cut&Paste-style tournament that “turned into a frat party,” with contestants asked to “design while twerking.”
Weber expects pretty much the opposite of her new home.
“Baltimore seems smaller than D.C., so I am hoping the community will maybe be a little bit more tight-knit and a little bit more experimental and grassrooty,” she said.

Companies: Canvas / Maryland Institute College of Art / Sunlight Foundation

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