The pivotal moment in my design
journey came in 2002 when my seven-year-old daughter, Maya, was diagnosed with
Type 1 diabetes. Through this traumatic crisis, my wife, Lisa, and I recognized
a glaring need for kid-friendly, visually oriented, human-centered tools to
help us, and Maya, adjust to our complicated new life. As designers, our
intuitive reaction to this crisis was to develop a creative solution—a line of
simple, design-driven products for families living with Type 1 diabetes. Over
time we launched a business called Healthsimple, with a vision of filling the
design gap that has become an epidemic throughout health care. This unexpected
personal and professional journey has completely transformed how I see myself
as a designer, businessperson and global citizen, and has illuminated for me
the opportunity designers have to impact the world around us in a powerful way.
As I step into the role of
president of AIGA, I see many parallels between my own design journey and that
of the broader profession of design. As a culture, we face a crisis not only in
health care, but also in our economy, politics and environment. For people with
the right skills, creativity and vision, this time of crisis can become an
awesome opportunity to influence the world around us. Designers possess all of
these qualities, but we cannot assume that we can seize this opportunity by
working in the same way we have always worked. This is true as we build our
individual careers and design practices, and it’s also true as we build AIGA as
an organization. With AIGA
approaching its 100th anniversary in 2014, we have a rare chance—in
fact, I believe we have an imperative—to
rethink what AIGA can be: to reconnect with our traditional audiences, but also
to envision what new audiences we can attract, and ultimately to position AIGA
as a relevant, essential and central force.
In June I attended the AIGA
Leadership Retreat in my hometown of Minneapolis. This is an annual event where
leaders from each of our local chapters (currently 66) come together with
national board members and staff to share, learn, envision and connect. I’ve
been to many leadership retreats before as a chapter leader and national board
member, and it has always been my favorite AIGA experience. However, the
Minneapolis retreat absolutely blew me away. The innovative programming
happening throughout this organization every week—produced almost entirely by
volunteer members across the country—is staggering. From the Clockwork program
produced by AIGA Blue Ridge, where designers are paired with nonprofits in need
of their services, to AIGA Austin’s Design Ranch, a world-class design
conference held in the hill country of Texas, the common thread through all of
the chapter activity I saw at the retreat is designers’ desire to do work that
is not only successful visually, conceptually and strategically, but that is
also meaningful personally and that makes a positive difference in the world
Combine these local efforts with
similar programs on the national level, like the recent relaunch of AIGA.org as
a dynamic hub for content and conversation, and “One Day For Design,” the
passionate Twitter-enabled dialogue on April 13, which saw more than 3,900
people contribute upwards of 30,000 comments about the state of design. Through
events like “New Contexts/New Practices,” AIGA continues to emerge as a center
of vital conversation in the community of design educators. Through the Living Principles for Design, AIGA has built a framework for sustainability for
designers. AIGA, with our more than 22,000 members, is a leading force in the
expanding and evolving landscape of design.
Designers are no longer content to
be intermediaries between information and understanding—we strive to also be
agents of social change. This is an
ambitious aspiration, but one that is an unmistakable priority for the emerging
generation of young designers now entering the profession. This vision was
documented at the 2009 leadership retreat in the form of AIGA’s mandate for
2014, which called for designers to assume a broader role in business, social
and cultural environments—to contribute our skill, creativity and vision not
only to the logo, poster or website, but to influence the core solutions to
complex social problems (oh, and we
can design effective logos, posters and websites, too).
The central question for me as I
step into the role of president is: How can AIGA help members make the changes
necessary to remain relevant professionally and also become influential leaders
in this complex new world?
Like any design business in this
difficult climate, AIGA faces challenges: We must make sure AIGA meets the
needs of designers across the arc of their careers; we must find ways to be a
clear leader in the increasingly cluttered airwaves of the design world; and we
must consider how we can connect with an expanding global audience of designers
and design enthusiasts. With the leadership of Richard Grefé, executive
director, and the efforts of our remarkably overachieving staff, spectacularly
talented national board and energized chapter leadership, AIGA is in a strong
position to make a bold and powerful move.
This October in Phoenix, AIGA will
have its own pivotal moment with its biennial national design conference. At “Pivot”
we will launch AIGA Design for Good, an initiative to mobilize AIGA
members as catalysts of design-driven social change. Design for Good will
provide an array of resources for AIGA members motivated to combine their
creativity, skills and vision to do meaningful work for the causes and issues
that are most important to them, and it will be a bold new platform for AIGA as
an organization to demonstrate the value of design in a forceful way. The
success of this effort to position designers in social engagement—to complement
AIGA’s traditional role in inspiring designers and communicating the value of
design—will be one of my personal priorities.
I’m thrilled and humbled to assume
the role of AIGA president at this critical time in our institutional history,
and I eagerly look forward to working with all of our members to envision what
AIGA will be in our second century.
Doug Powell is a designer and Design Principal at IBM in Austin, Texas where he is helping to build the vision for
IBM Design, a global effort to bring design into one of the largest and most successful companies in the world. Prior to joining IBM in 2013, Doug was an independent designer, strategist and entrepreneur leading successful
projects for a wide range of clients and collaborative partners in health and nutrition, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Lifescan, and Pepsico. Doug recently served as consulting Creative Director for HealthSimple, working in close collaboration
with the Johnson & Johnson Global Design team.
Doug is the immediate past national president of
AIGA, the professional association for design. With more than 22,000 members in 66 local chapters, AIGA is the largest and oldest design organization in the country. He has been a leading force in the successful launch of
Design for Good, the AIGA initiative to ignite, amplify, and accelerate design-driven social change.
A 1988 graduate of the School of Art at Washington University in St. Louis, Doug is a lecturer, commentator and thought leader on design issues, having presented at a variety of national conferences and forums
Bright Ideas on Minnesota Public Radio, the
2011 Mayo Clinic Transform Conference, and the
2012 TEDx ArtCenter.
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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