In addition to the more prominent orgs such as the ones above, you can also search for local chapters or local orgs. Usually these have more clout and can better connect you to the local community. I’ll list the ones that I know of in San Francisco, but even if the same ones don’t exist in your city, it’s possible your local organizations follow a similar format. If not, that’s something you could pitch to them (for example, organizing a portfolio review event or a mentor night).
Aside from talks, mentoring and portfolio events provide opportunities to connect with people and companies you’re interested in and improve your skill at showing the work itself.
Andi Galpern organizes the Cascade SF events. In addition to design talks, she hosts mentor nights where attendees get to show their portfolio (or ask for career advice) with up to four mentors. I’ve been mentored there and provided mentorship and can’t recommend this format enough.
Julie Stanescu runs Rethink, which hosts informative events (you can also find recorded talks online) and they pack a big crowd. Interestingly enough, Julie started Rethink when she first moved to San Francisco as a way to build a forum for design discussion and connect with great designers here. So if you find yourself in a place that has no design communities, consider bootstrapping one yourself.
Every year SF Design Week runs a series of varied events and workshops for designers of all stripes for over a week-long series of talks, workshops, and office visits to design agencies and tech companies. I also recommend checking out their studio crawls—it’s when agencies and companies open up their spaces for attendees to check out, connect, and learn more about the work.
Figure: SF Design Week
SF Design Week brings designers of all stripes together for over a week-long series of talks, workshops, and office visits to design agencies and tech companies.