I know a ton of people in the online marketing industry. If someone were to ask me to refer them to a reputable SEO, PPC, or linkbait firm, I'd have no trouble finding someone I could send them to. When it comes to web designers, however, I'm kind of stuck on a drop-shadowed-gradient-filled desert island.
A sad panda, drawn just for this blog entry
I get quite a few requests for web design work, and I always feel bad turning someone down without having someone to refer them to. There are plenty of designers out there that I admire, but I've never actually done work with any of them so I can't vouch for their reputation. Also, a lot of the designers I admire probably wouldn't be too interested in taking on freelance stuff anyway (Dan Cederholm, for example).
Working at SEOmoz, we took on way more SEO clients than design jobs. When we did take on design work, I always did it myself. If we outsourced anything it was usually either link-building, paid search stuff, or back-end web development, so my connections in the design industry are pretty much non-existent.
Referrals aside, I also want to absorb the cleverness of other designers. I've soaked up a ton of knowledge from folks in the online marketing industry, now it's time to learn more from the design industry. I want to steal their brain-meats, basically.
I'm going to SXSW this year and I'm hoping to meet some more designers and developers. Maybe I'll wear a giant shirt that says "talk to me, I draw vectors." If that fails I'll fall back on plan B: Slipping roofies into the SXSW punch bowl and then stuffing business cards into the mouths of unconscious designers.