Head, Heart and Hand: Modern design practice

In 1914, AIGA was founded by a small group of printers, illustrators and publishers as the American Institute of Graphic Arts. The term “graphic design” did not even appear for the next two decades, until coined by an AIGA member.

Over the years, AIGA has remained vital to the design profession by constantly adapting to changes in focus within the communication design field, from book and type design (Fred Goudy signed the articles of incorporation) to editorial design in the 1930s and 1940s; corporate identity design in the 1950s and 1960s (as multinational corporations grew); brand design in the 1980s and 1990s; and interaction design, motion design, design strategy and service design as the millennium dawned. After deliberations with its board and chapter leadership, AIGA changed its official name in 2005 to “AIGA, the professional association for design,” to reflect an evolving profession and welcome all design disciplines. This consistent growth and development, serving design’s legacy and its new forms and dimensions, is central to AIGA’s role in the design community.

As AIGA approaches its centennial, there exists a moment to redouble our recognition of the critical attributes of modern design practice. This practice is not a reflection of any single skill, such as craft or a way of thinking. What makes designers most valuable are the interrelated dimensions of their contribution: head, heart and hand.


Designers often wear many hats during a single project, serving not only in a “designer” capacity but also consulting on branding, marketing and communication strategy. The designer’s role in solving complex problems and forging strategy resides in the head.


One of the designer's unusual attributes is the ability to join creativity, inspiration and empathy; it gives him or her an advantage in crafting human-centered solutions to problems. The designer’s heart is fundamental to his or her interest in improving the human experience and is manifested in work that has positive social impact—as well as an aesthetic and business value.


Ultimately, what makes designers unique is their talent for crafting beautiful, engaging solutions that make experiences meaningful, clear and even emotional. While “head” and “heart” speak to AIGA members’ activities relating to business and social impact, design’s power and special gift is found in the hand, or craft.

Designers may emphasize different competencies as they approach different engagements. Yet the characteristic that makes all designers unique is their capacity to balance head, heart and hand, which are driven by inspiration, creativity and thoughtfulness. AIGA is committed to representing design that achieves excellence through this fusion; AIGA’s activities will inevitably vary in their emphasis on each attribute but they will always be grounded in a respect for the talent of the designer.

We welcome your comments. How do strategy (head), empathy (heart) and craft (hand) fit into your daily design practice?

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.