5Q: Marc O’Brien, Social Designer

Marc OBrien headshot

This month I’ve been working to develop a new regular feature called 5Q. Each post consists of five interview questions highlighting the work of some awesome and inspiring creative folks I’ve gotten to know in the last year. Today I’m excited to bring you the first 5Q post, featuring Social Designer Marc O’Brien, who I’ve known a while and hosted a SHOP CLASS session last fall. With a background in design, Marc travels the world facilitating workshops to help solve big-picture problems using creativity and design. I’m absolutely certain he’s going to change the world.


What is a social designer and how did you acquire the title?
A social designer works on projects that have a positive impact in the world, using design as a medium to achieve this.

But I’ll be honest, I love and hate the title, “Social Designer.” I use that title for describing the work that I do so others can grasp what type of design focus on. I cannot wait until we get to a point where “social design” simply becomes rolled into “design.” Should we treat social design separate from design in general?

How will your work change the world?
One person at a time.

Has the economy changed your view on creativity?
Personally, the economy has made things very interesting/challenging for me. I graduated in May 2008, right at the start of the chaos. This set the stage for me to adapt and be more resourceful in my professional career. When opportunities dried up, I had to make my own. As a designer, you work with what you have in front of you—tools, content, constraints. All of this made me a more resourceful person, both with my work and also in my personal life.

The upside about this economy? It made me aware that one does not have to rely on things to be invented by a few and pursued by many. Simply put, we have the ability to invent our own jobs, our own paths. We have the resources in front of us—social media, web 2.0, technology—to pursue our own dreams and goals. We have no excuse not to try and create our own path.

I think often on this quote by Randy Pausch, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

How do you choose your projects? 
I focus my work on whether or not it produces a meaningful, positive impact towards others, towards the planet, towards culture. I also want to inspire/activate others to use their talents in shaping a better future within their own community.

What’s next?
Turning one of my personal projects into something bigger. I started Unplug & Ride last summer and now I want to take it to the masses with UnplugYou. It’s a practice in unplugging from the distractions of updates, phone calls, full inboxes, and to experience the outdoors to gain a new/refresh sense of things—establishing a more balance-focused life.

BONUS ROUND: (Ok, so I lied about the five questions thing. Sue me.)

If you could turn one thing upside down, what would it be and why?
The world. I would turn the whole world upside down. I think a lot of us are far overdue for gaining a new perspective on lots of things.

What’s your motto, philosophy or theme song?
“Proceed and be bold.” – S. Mockbee

What’s your favorite business buzzword, and why?
“Bleeding edge.” Ha! It just sounds so hardcore.

What are you grateful for?
Having understanding/supporting friends and family. They are my backbone. They are the encouragement I need when navigating life and all its fucking twists and turns.

How do you stay motivated?
By surrounding myself with smarter people doing amazing work. Oh, and being in nature… not on my laptop.


Want to know more? Follow Marc on Twitter to keep up with all the latest in social design.


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