As you probably know, a vigorous discussion is taking place
about AIGA, its role and the criteria for its current competition, initiated by
article by Paula Scher and followed by a second, with a
recommendation on future competitions. The conversation highlights how strongly
many designers feel about AIGA and its values.
reveal several insights for the leadership of AIGA, most importantly that we must
do a better job of communicating the values that AIGA firmly embodies,
the changes being made to serve members better and the context for these
changes. Many of the
comments show that we have failed to communicate a course of action well
enough, and some of our long-time advocates have felt their voices were not
heard in advance of decisions.
Three primary issues
were raised in the discussion:
competition seeks to develop narratives about how designers approach the
challenges outlined by clients and how one articulates the value great design
contributes. Members have increasingly expressed interest in this type of
resource for more than a decade, asking for tools that can be used to prove the worth of professional design to clients and the public.
Some feel strongly that this approach ignores the attributes
of great design that drive so many designers, including, in Scher’s words, “beauty,
creativity, surprise, innovation and inspiration.” That was not the
intention. While the entry form calls for a more specific narrative around
projects that are entered, AIGA fully expects that the jury will consider
beauty and creativity essential components to a successful design.
perspective that would help the discourse is to understand that any change is
neither total nor irreversible. This year’s
competition is considering how we can add to the narrative of design, and its
purpose and impact. Two other traditional competitions are not being
conducted this year—not
because their underlying premise is extinct, but because they would benefit
from rethinking their form. How do you continue to set a standard for design,
based on respected opinions, while assuring that the pool of design considered
in the competition is even larger and the results occur more quickly and
Several people indicated that by focusing on just one
competition where entries are judged on effectiveness, AIGA seemed to be
shifting away from what makes great design special. That is not the case. While
it is true that AIGA has moved toward supporting more than just the
inspirational attributes of design, we are also experimenting with new ways to
surface design inspiration—through a redesigned AIGA.org that encourages
participation and portfolios posted by members and chapters, a daily curated
blog called “Design Envy,” and plans, not yet implemented, to create
parallel channels of juried selections and member-generated recommendations of
In addition, AIGA’s board of directors has been working hard over the
past year to identify the right positioning for AIGA to prepare for the
organization’s next hundred years of serving the design profession. The board has
established a commitment to championing the aspects of design that depend upon
hand, heart and head, giving equal and increasingly deep attention to craft,
social impact and strategy. This positioning doesn’t emphasize one over the
other, nor is it meant to diminish creativity and inspiration.
Many participants in the conversation indicated an interest
in preserving AIGA’s commitment to retaining traditional competitions such as
“365” and “50 Books/50 Covers.” The focus and criteria for “Justified” make an
implied statement about the form of the traditional competitions, not their
role. In an era when designers are seeking inspiration on websites, blogs and social
media regularly, the idea of bringing a jury together annually to select the
best design of the year based on submissions by a relatively small number of
designers who pay to submit entries (750 designers entered “365”, 350 entered “50 Books/50 Covers”) seems
anachronistic, particularly when there are so many other design competitions. Changing
the competition this year was not intended as a statement about the value of
great design; it is a statement about the means of identifying work that
Earlier this year we explored the role of competitions, described the changes in “Justified” and the reasons for the
shift. The direction emerges from the “Mandate
for 2014,” which was adopted unanimously
by AIGA’s chapter leadership in 2009 and further refined in 2011. These changes
are the result of listening and observing carefully and soliciting thoughtful
consideration from members and the national board of directors over the past
decade. The intention is to make AIGA as relevant as possible to the design
community that is emerging, as well as to honor the design greats who have preceded
Ideally, AIGA should be judged not just by the
activities of the national office, but also by what we are doing together as a
whole community including chapters and members. While there was a time when
national activities defined AIGA, now they are meant to complement the member
and chapter experience.
listening, particularly when opinions are expressed with such passion. We know
we failed in communicating both our continuing strong belief that AIGA is
central to sharing examples of great design that others can aspire to and
our concern with coming up with a process for competitions that is more
appropriate to the times (including building out the narrative of why design is
successful in context).
follow-up article this week, Paula Scher proposed a process for competitions in the
The AIGA creates a series of shows that are 5-year retrospectives on individual topics. For example, the past five years of data visualization, or typography and font design, or environmental graphics, or identity design, web design, or book design (electronic or otherwise), or whatever is a viable and interesting category. The shows are free to entrants and the judges are required to know about and recommend relevant work that wasn't entered. The show then becomes a fair survey of what is going on in a given area. There would be an exhibition at national headquarters, it would travel and there would be a beautifully designed catalog of the show. (The catalogs are for sale, and are not given away for free to AIGA members. There can also be an app for sale as well.)
We welcome suggestions
here that propose new ways to celebrate design that are consistent with today’s
media and practices.
Questions you may
want to consider in your replies:
What do you suggest?
Richard Grefé is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. While guiding all of AIGA’s activities, his most significant contributions are in strategy, formulating new initiatives to enhance the competitive success of designers
and advocating the value of design to business, government and the public.
AIGA Insights is a collection of articles and webcasts that together reveal the thought processes behind key organizational decisions. We welcome discussion from members and the broader design community.
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AIGA Insight, AIGA news, governance
Earlier this year, several board committees were formed to ensure that AIGA is launching its second century as a “sound, accountable, focused and relevant organization.” Read the update from two committees that examined the way AIGA is governed and organized, and whether financial practices are adequate for oversight and accountability.
In 2014 AIGA turns 100. AIGA is celebrating this moment by looking forward toward inspiration, relevance, leadership and opportunity for every designer in the decades ahead.
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