Create and Nurture a Design Community

Ruping Ma
7 min readJun 5, 2023

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of SoCal UX Designers, a designer meetup group that I founded in Orange County. So far the group has 600+ members and has successfully organized 50+ events. Many members keep coming back, and I have made like-minded friends. Looking back, I have gained valuable experiences and learnings from the journey of building and maintaining this close-knit group.

After moving to OC, I sometimes felt isolated despite having one of my best friends living nearby. I did not have my own social circle, and I work fully remotely without any colleagues in the area. Therefore, I decided to attend product design meetups to meet more people and expand my professional network. Unfortunately, I could not find any events at the time and thought there were no local UX groups. One day, I watched a video about making friends as an adult, and the one thing I learned was to be an initiator and create the opportunity yourself. It seemed like the only way to go, so I created my own design meetup group on

Social Event as a Starter

After creating the group, I set it aside, thinking it would take a while for people to discover it. To my surprise, when I returned a week later, 33 people had already joined, and I hadn’t even hosted any events yet! I quickly arranged my first event — a social gathering for UX designers to chat and network. For a group starting from scratch, a social event is always a good format. It doesn’t require much effort to host, but it’s a great way to test the waters.

On that day, only 3 people showed up (including myself), but I was encouraged that anyone came at all. I tried a few more times and more people came. It became clear that people out there have the same need as I do — to connect, learn, share, and grow together. These events were great occasions for free conversations where I can take the time to get to know attendees and ask questions like “Why did you come?” and “What do you hope to gain from these events?” It’s like user research, and people’s answers were very valuable to help shape the group.

My first meetup!

Lean on the Audience and Experiment with Ideas

The first few months of a meetup group are all about trial and error. This is the best time to try all kinds of event ideas because you have nothing to lose, and people, knowing that this is a new group, are willing to try things with you. I host events every Thursday, and having social meetups every time became too repetitive. People who have been in the group for a while started to express the need to discuss specific design topics. Naturally, ideas for events popped up, such as structured discussions, show-and-tell sessions, designer presentations, workshops, portfolio reviews, and more. I tried them all in turn. If we had multiple options for the event’s topic, we would post a poll and let members vote. After each event, I would chat with attendees and gather feedback on how we could improve. Sometimes, we sent out surveys to gauge interest in future events. Looking at what other groups are doing online can also provide inspiration for new event ideas.

When searching for events online, people are not interested in the group, but rather if the event is worth their time and commutes to attend (especially in SoCal haha). Our goal is to offer valuable events with topics that match people’s interests, in order to encourage them to come again to the group.

A picture of me hosting a whiteboard challenge workshop.

Shape the Group

When the group first started, I had no idea what to expect, what kind of people would join, or how I wanted to maintain it. However, after hosting a few events, I began to form a prototype of the group with certain principles in mind. As the founder, I am mindful of observing the group’s nature and growing my prototype based on that, rather than having unrealistic expectations. Over time, some principles have been validated, some have evolved, and they have become core beliefs that define the soul of the group.

As of now, our group is relatively small in terms of the number of members and turnout for each event. While larger groups have their advantages, our current group size is very suitable for quality over quantity when it comes to human connections. My goal is to foster more intimate relationships among members rather than solely focusing on professional meetups. Moreover, I aim to create a diverse community in terms of experience levels within the UX field, providing ample learning opportunities for everyone involved. Additionally, I value in-person interactions, so I don’t organize online meetups. However, I have created a Discord server to enhance communication between the organizer and members, though I don’t consider it an online community since there are already many excellent ones available. It serves as a supplementary tool.

These beliefs form the foundation of our group concept. They allow us to stand out as a unique fit among other local groups and help me focus on the things that truly matter. As I only have limited time for meetup planning, these principles sharpen my focus so that I can spend time on the right priorities.

Sustainable Operations

To maintain this group, I devote my time and energy voluntarily, which sometimes requires a significant weekly commitment to event planning. To prevent burnout, it is important to strike a balance, seek assistance, and establish routines that keep the workload manageable based on the time you can allocate to the group.

Event Framework

After experimenting with various event formats, our group has established a more stable routine. We now follow a structured pattern of social event — workshop — social event — and a flexible slot every month to cater to the diverse needs of our members. Adhering to this framework allows organizers to plan ahead and not feel rushed, and still be able to try new things.


When actively growing a group, it is beneficial to have support and not shoulder all responsibilities alone. Fortunately, 2 months after starting the group, I got two of my recurring members, Benji and Melissa to be my co-organizers so that we can plan events together. Collaborating with co-organizers through a chat group enables us to bounce ideas off each other and occasionally hold video calls to discuss specific agendas. Having committed co-organizers familiar with the context of meetup planning allows us to dedicate more time collectively to the group. This expanded capacity enables us to accomplish more and add greater value to the events we organize.

Shout out to my dear co-organizers — Melissa & Benji!


Building a list of suitable venues with necessary amenities at affordable prices, considering us as a non-profit group, requires initial effort. Seeking venue recommendations from the group helped me immensely as I was new to Orange County. Factors such as travel time, parking availability, opening hours, amenities, and pricing are important aspects to consider. Once you identify suitable venues for different event types, you can consistently utilize them, alleviating concerns about the location for future events.

Co-living with Other Local Groups

After several months of hosting our group, I began to hear from attendees about other local UX groups. Contrary to my previous assumption, these groups had become dormant during the pandemic but were now regaining activity. Recognizing that we are all voluntary groups striving to provide local people with engaging events, my attitude is always co-living rather than competition.

To foster collaboration and ensure a harmonious local community, our group personally met with organizers from these other groups. Together, we reached an agreement to avoid scheduling events on the same day. Additionally, if multiple groups plan events within the same week, I gladly repost their events on our Discord server instead of hosting our own. This cooperative approach not only prevents event conflicts but also allows attendees to have access to a diverse range of offerings without feeling overwhelmed or having to choose between events. It is through this co-living mentality that we create a thriving local community where everyone benefits.

It’s been a great year, the friendships formed, the knowledge exchanged, and the collaborations sparked within our community have far exceeded my initial aspirations. I am humbled by the talent, creativity, and generosity people have brought to this group, and I am truly grateful for the participation of my co-organizers, as their contributions and presence are integral to the success and vibrancy of our community. We will continue to evolve, adapt, and explore. Here’s to another year of growth and inspiration!

If you would like to attend our meetups, please join our group here. We are constantly looking for speakers and workshop facilitators, please contact me if you are interested!