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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
To commemorate AIGA’s 100th anniversary,
we asked design leaders, thinkers, and practitioners to reflect on
the past, present and future of the industry in short personal
essays that we’ll publish over the remainder of the year as part of our
Section: Inspiration -
Celebration, personal essay
Why market a city’s filthiest objects? Gignac comes clean about the importance of package design, creating a side business, and life after garbage.
Section: Inspiration -
design thinking, interview, Voice
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