From Design Students to Design Institutions: We’re All Responsible for Moving the Industry Forward

For Centennial Voices, part of AIGA's Centennial celebration of the past, present and future of design, we've invited industry leaders to write short essays that spark conversations within the design community and beyond by sharing personal experiences, reflecting on design history, examining the practice today or imagining the role of designers in the years to come.

Designer and educator (and AIGA Fellow and Medalist) Meredith Davis on the growing role of professional organizations in the design community, and how they must work not only together, but with everyone from individuals to universities to extend the reach and relevance of the industry.

Professions, regardless of the disciplines they represent, share certain things in common. They have documented histories and bodies of literature that transfer knowledge from one generation of practitioners to the next. They have methods and strategies for how work gets done. They have beliefs and values that are evident in their discourse and constitute a sense of what is “good” and “right.” They transmit this knowledge through educational standards and pedagogies that model best practices, impart important theories of action and expose novices to expertise. And they have individuals whose work it is to generate new knowledge as professional practice evolves.

None of these defining activities is accomplished solely by the independent work of individuals, however gifted they may be. The evolution of a profession requires some organized effort to collect, interpret and disseminate the outcomes of good work; to negotiate and articulate standards; and to anticipate where the profession may have new influence. Professional associations and universities serve those purposes. They facilitate the orderly transmission of knowledge and values by convening conversations and publishing discourse. Without them, there would be no culture of practice and no one would argue publicly for the profession’s contributions to society.

Across my 45-year career in design and design education, the profession has matured from its roots in the trades of printing and typesetting. It recognized that “smart” is not the opposite of “beautiful.” I attribute much of the progress to the community of practitioners and scholars that make up AIGA. Its competitions and archiving make it easier to study and teach the history of design. Its conferences and publications raise important issues for discussion by the field but also provide networking opportunities for individual designers who might otherwise not participate in a culture of practice. The association built relationships with other organizations on behalf of the profession, including recent efforts to raise the standards for teaching design with the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. And it identified major shifts in the nature of practice and new competencies for which we all need to prepare.

I believe the next frontier for the organization is support for the development and articulation of new knowledge that not only addresses emerging areas of practice but also accounts for the greater value of design to the public and future collaborators in other disciplines. This is not the “stuff” of a trade or membership organization but instead the responsibility of professional leadership that secures our seat at the table for tackling big challenges of our times. This work will require special relationships with universities and research-oriented practices. And it will demand recognition by the field that standing still is not an option in the world of constant change. I look forward to the next century of AIGA.

Meredith Davis, Alumni Distinguished Professor and Director of Graduate Programs, NC State University; Alexander Quarles Holladay Medalist

About the Author:

Meredith holds masters degrees in design and education from Cranbrook Academy of Art and Penn State University. Meredith has taught design for 43 years and is currently Director of Graduate Programs at NC State University. She is a fellow and 2005 AIGA Medalist and recipient of more than 50 awards for professional practice. Meredith has served on the boards of the AIGA, Graphic Design Education Association, and American Center for Design, as well as the accreditation commission of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, for which she co-authored new standards for communication design. She is a frequent author on design and design education, most recently publishing Design in Context: Graphic Design Theory. Her research is in the application of design pedagogy to teaching other subjects in K-12 schools.