Pushing the Boundaries of Design at Facebook & Beyond

Michelle Morrison wants to push the boundaries of how people see design.

But how, you ask?

Although she is a Design Program Manager at Facebook, Michelle’s real passion lies in building a community called Designers + Geeks. Designers + Geeks is for people interested in design, art, and technology. They host monthly talks, covering everything from “morally manipulating” your users with Nir Eyal’s help, to how design impacts the cannabis industry. Michelle’s goal is to create content and inspire conversation about how design is constantly evolving in today’s world.

Read on to learn more about how Michelle’s entrepreneurial mindset and background in industrial design allows her to juggle a full-time career, while cultivating a passionate community as her side hustle (and how you can, too!). 

Tell us about yourself in 140 characters.

Design Program Manager at Facebook by day, Designers + Geeks producer by night. Meticulous spreadsheets. Believes in the power of community.

What do you do during (the more or less) hours of 9 to 5?

I drink a lot of coffee and host a lot of meetings! As a Design Program Manager, I work across the entire Design team at Facebook on cultural and education programs.

How has your industrial design background influenced your career and your daily work?

Industrial design is a true intersection of art and science. It has helped me cultivate a deep appreciation for engineering as it meets creative and design. Understanding things like manufacturing is a great analogy for organizational design and people processes!

We know that by night you help run Designers + Geeks. When did that come into your life? What role do you play in the community?

I’ve run the San Francisco chapter of Designers + Geeks for the past three years, where I produce monthly lectures and semi-annual conferences. I do everything from curating amazing talent to working our social channels to checking people in at the door. It’s a scrappy operation with an amazing community!

What has been the biggest challenge in cultivating that community?

The biggest challenge is curating content that excites people. I try to push the boundaries of conversation, hosting talks about everything from mind hacking to how design impacts the cannabis industry. I want to talk about the bleeding edge of design, which I’m proud to reflect in our programming.

What do you believe is the importance of belonging to community that’s outside of your work life?

It’s our human nature to want to belong. Community is so incredibly powerful, particularly in big cities where people are away from their families. Working to build communities like Designers + Geeks, I’ve found that the best connections and conversations come when we open our doors to everyone. We make people feel welcome and that they have a seat at our events. When that happens, you can welcome diverse perspectives and grow together through these connections. Then, like wildfire, your community grows.

With both aspects of your life work — at Facebook and then with Designers + Geeks, you’re kind of at this really cool intersection of marketing, product, design, and community/culture. What do you like about that intersection?

In the startup world, you have to wear many hats at once. I like to think my entrepreneurial spirit translates to my passion projects as much as my professional work.

What are 3 pieces advice you have for someone who loves their day job, but wants to build something on the side, like you?

  1. Do it!
  2. You can find hours in the day for anything you want to accomplish.
  3. Build your own board. Make sure you have a close group of people who can be your advisors, who can help amplify your work, and encourage you when you need it most.

What advice do you have for budding creative communities and the people who want to build them?

There is great power in the network effect. If you can create an experience that is conversation worthy, you’ll see that your budding community will blossom through word of mouth.