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  • Aspen Design Summit

    The 2009 Aspen Design Summit, a partnership of AIGA and Winterhouse Institute, was held at Aspen Meadows in November 2009. Thanks to generous support from The Rockefeller Foundation and the tireless work of our attendees, the Summit was a tremendous success!

    When the International Design Conference in Aspen was launched in 1949 in an obscure former silver-mining town west of Denver, Colorado, the goal was to bring designers and business leaders together to foster understanding of what design could accomplish. Foremost, design was shown to be a strategic force in improving business and cultural interests and enhancing global prosperity. More than a half-century later, the 2009 Aspen Design Summit restored a kernel of the conference's original mission by uniting designers with the primary beneficiaries of their talents and insights… - Change Observer

    The Aspen Design Summit is an interdisciplinary, global workshop of designers, NGO decision makers, corporate leaders, and experts who work together to design human-centered solutions to problems that challenge the quality of life. The projects are those that benefit real people without the means to address impediments to human dignity and achievement. The projects may benefit people directly or the environment on which human activity depends.

    Outcomes of the 2009 event

    AIGA and the Winterhouse Institute have partnered with Change Observer to report on details and outcomes from the 2009 Aspen Design Summit:

    About Aspen and IDCA

    Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke founded the International Design Conference in Aspen more than fifty years ago. He and his wife Elizabeth envisioned Aspen as a place where leaders from throughout the world could gather to share ideas. Their vision was first realized in 1949 when the Goethe Bicentennial celebration attracted more than 2,000 people to Aspen to honor the 200th birthday of Goethe, the great German humanist. Albert Schweitzer opened the convocation.

    In 1951, two years after the Goethe Bicentennial, Paepcke established the IDCA as an opportunity to bring together designers, artists, engineers, business and industry leaders. That first June, some 250 attendees and their families assembled for four days of presentations on the theory and practice of design. The title, “Design as a Function of Management,” was chosen to ensure the participation of the business community.

    The IDCA, along with the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival and School, grew out of the Paepckes' belief that Aspen provided an ideal environment for nurturing the whole human being. Isolated from the distractions of urban life and inspired by the abundant natural beauty of the Colorado Rockies, people could take advantage of Aspen's recreational, intellectual and cultural resources. They would return home renewed in “body, mind and spirit,” a concept that has come to be known as “The Aspen Idea.” Today, Aspen is renowned for its wide range of cultural activities and opportunities for learning.

    AIGA and the IDCA

    In 2004, the IDCA board recognized that its design conference had been so successful over the years in raising awareness of design and its role in business and society that many other similar conferences had been launched to advance this essential discourse. The IDCA collaborated with AIGA, the professional association for design, to protect the legacy of the IDCA by raising the funds and making arrangements for the archives of the first fifty years (and subsequent ones) to enter the collection (and curatorial care) of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

    At the same time, it was decided that the pioneering spirit of the IDCA, in a 21st century form, would involve demonstrating the role of creativity in defeating habit in society's response to the larger issues threatening humanity. The IDCA was transformed from a conference to a smaller summit, in which design thinking guided the integration of concerns and solutions, often presented in the context of broader forums of decision makers, like the Aspen Ideas Festival or the World Economic Forum, instead of in the form of a design conference.

    AIGA is now responsible for sustaining the contribution originally engendered by the IDCA.

    Past events

    The 2005 Aspen Design Summit was an invitational event held in Aspen by the leadership of the International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA) in partnership with AIGA as an opportunity to rethink the form and relevance of a design gathering in a world facing serious challenges. The 2006 Aspen Design Summit, building on the formative outcomes of the previous Summit, drew a diverse group of design-minded leaders from around the world to work on problems in education, woman-empowerment in the third world, post-Katrina recycling efforts, water requirements in Africa, and sustainable development in urban America.

    The concept of the Summit developed in 2005 was to create, concurrently, a parallel track of engagement by design students worldwide. In May 2008, AIGA, INDEX: and Cumulus (International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media) launched the Aspen Design Challenge, a project to increase public awareness of the challenges in providing universal access to clean water. In March of 2009 seven projects were selected as Finalists and ten projects were selected as Honorable Mention.

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