Here at People’s Liberty, we like to highlight the work of our grantees, as well as share the stories of our leadership team. In an effort to introduce you to our core staff members, we asked Program Director, Megan Trischler to tell us a little about herself:
Q: What brought you to PL?
A: My background is in graphic design, but I’ve always been much more interested in how I can use design to impact cities and impact the people in those cities. My first collaboration with the Haile Foundation was in 2012, when I had a chance to work alongside Eric and help him bring a few wacky project ideas to life. I was really attracted to the way Eric and the Haile team were thinking about their role as philanthropists; namely their proactive approach to finding/creating interesting projects to fund. In 2014, when Eric began thinking about what a “civic lab” could look like in Cincinnati, I jumped on the opportunity to be involved in the thought process. Our early research included a 3-month road trip to explore other civic spaces around the country. The process of defining and building People’s Liberty continued from there. Eventually I realized that the concept we were designing was basically my dream job, so...here I am.
Q: What do you do at PL?
A: My job is centered around all of our design and storytelling. That means I oversee all the visual and verbal communications coming from this place. Along with that is our residency program. Our residents are the storytelling engine behind PL, so I oversee all the work that they do, making sure it’s consistent and excellent all around.
Q: Has leading the residency program helped you grow in your role at PL?
A: Yes. I think when you're trying to teach other people to do something, you inherently learn a lot. I’ve taught in undergraduate design classrooms in the past, and I recall that presenting new information to students requires that you really know the information. I feel that I’m growing in the sense that I’m trying to figure out and develop new techniques to teach and present information, whether that’s how to write an effective blog post or how to kern your type. My job has evolved from being a designer that does design all the time, to being a designer who builds the systems for other individuals to do the work effectively and grow in the process. It’s been a great and rewarding challenge.
Q: How did you transition from being a designer to a program director?
A: Design for me is ultimately about developing systems and processes, which requires thinking about the series of steps that need to happen to get from A to B. So I find that being a program director is just a natural extension of being a designer. Trying to figure out how to best equip and empower the residents is a great design challenge. I feel like I use design constantly. It might not always be a visual output (although I do still like to get my hands dirty and push pixels every once and awhile), but I feel like being a program director is absolutely a design job.
Q: How do you see the residency transforming in the few years that PL is around?
A: My career trajectory has been a little bit unusual for a graphic designer. As I look back and think about why that is and what’s allowed me to do that, I realize that it’s been a series of great people and mentors who have invested in me and constantly provided that next jumping off point. So, I try to be that person, as hard as it can be some days, for every resident that comes through our door. Who are you? What do you care about? What do you love? These are the questions I’m constantly asking, sometimes literally, sometimes via a project challenge I might assign.
There are so many ways you can work as a problem solver or designer today, many of which don’t involve sitting in an office, mastering Photoshop.™ There are plenty of opportunities out there ready to be scooped up and figured out. Sometimes younger designers just need that confidence boost. They need a champion. Someone saying: “Go. You can do this stuff. You can figure it out!” I hope we’re helping develop those kind of people. People who go out there and do things!
My dream would be for every resident to leave this place and head in a totally different direction than what they expected. I don’t want this to be another career stop on the way towards what they would have done anyway. I want this to be a rubber wall that bounces them in a totally different direction.
Q: Do you feel that PL has made a significant difference in the community?
A: I think it’s fair to say that we’re still early in this. Many of our grantees are out there doing things they may not have done if it weren't for the support of PL. I also see the success and impact of PL in other programs that are starting to creep up in the region. For example, the City of Cincinnati launching a $10K grant program. I see PL as an influencer in that regard.
Speaking again about the residency, I’m in touch with every single resident that's gone through the program so far. I’m always eager to find out what they’re doing post-residency; where they’re going, who they’re working with, etc. I think I sometimes unintentionally (or intentionally?!) try to embed the idea in people's brains that you don't have to just go and work at an agency. Go and invent something and take a little bit of a risk! You’re young!
Q: Is there any individual/group of people that influenced you in your career?
A: When I was a student, the words “social design,” “design for good, “impact design,” et al. were starting to come onto the design scene. The idea of using my skills to do more than just sell stuff was really appealing to me as a young designer. I definitely had some influential teachers that helped me pursue some really meaningful projects in the city of Detroit. After I graduated, I had an opportunity to do a project with a nonprofit called HERO in rural Alabama. During this time, I was around some amazing individuals who were putting their money where their mouth was—rolling up their sleeves and really getting involved in their community—not just sitting back and complaining about it but really doing things and building stuff. That was the first dose of “oh wow, I don't just have to sit at my desk and design and make smart posters. I could actually go and do some things that have a significant impact and use my design skills to do something really beneficial.”
So yes, there were a handful of people early on in my career that were positive encouragers. Today, my partner DJ is my biggest champion. We nerd out about design everyday. And we challenge each other, and push each other...which is helpful. He’s my leveler, often helping me see the big picture when I complain about the small stuff that so often bogs us down. The team at PL is also hugely influential. Eric is the one who gives me the license to just go and do stuff. His trust and confidence in me has been a real game-changer. You need that when you’re first starting out; someone who’s willing to give you the keys and let you explore, but also someone who’s ready to step up when you need him and not let the fall hurt too bad. Jake has been more of a mentor than he probably knows; he’s really helped me figure out how to lead more effectively. Aurore too; I think the sensibility she brings to the team has been really impactful.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: Working in the philanthropic sector has been really interesting. Our big goal with PL is to demonstrate a new way of thinking about philanthropy. That in mind, I’d love to continue to explore where that goes. However, something that I miss at the moment is the actual doing. DJ and I will start a studio some day; when the time is right.
Q: If you didn’t have to work to make money, what would you be doing
A: I get bored pretty easily. I also don’t sit still well. (I’m working on that). We like adventure. I don’t do well with beach vacations. Maybe I would be traveling and just “cool hunting” for inspiration. I also have a list of personal design projects that I want to do that I just can’t seem to make time for. I would still be working even if I wasn’t getting paid. I have dreams that someday I will apprentice on a vineyard. I want to do something creative. And making wine seems like a great use of time.
Q: If you could give your younger self a piece of advice with the knowledge you have now, what would it be?
A: I would say to my younger self: “Megan, life is too short for tight clothing.” I believe that. Keep it loose people. I guess I’d also say: “Calm down. It’s going to be fine.”
Do you have what it takes to join the Society of Mad Philanthropists? The People's Liberty residency application is open until Friday, March 25th! Click here to learn more.