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As the new Obama administration adopts a progressive vision and
a mandate for change, the nation is expectant with both optimism
and apprehension. The design profession has in large part felt
encouraged by the prominent role design played in President Obama's
campaign and by his continued promise of openness, transparency and
effectiveness. So we rightly ask, what role can design play in
fulfilling government's potential and addressing the challenges of
Although Thomas Jefferson may have been the first design thinker
to occupy the White House, the most comprehensive recent approach
to design in government was initiated by Richard Nixon, in 1973,
who said in his address to the inaugural assembly of the Federal Design
Improvement Program: “There should be no doubt that the federal
government has an appropriate role to play in encouraging better
the policy brief (2.3 MB PDF)
What would it take to reach the same level of collaboration that
existed between designers and government in the 1970s? In November
2008, leaders representing the major U.S. professional design
organizations, design education accreditation organizations and
Federal government agencies involved in design assembled at the
U.S. National Design Policy
Summit in Washington, D.C., to develop a blueprint for a new
U.S. national design policy.
Redesigning America's Future, a policy brief documenting
the group's recommendations, has been sent to all members of
Congress and the incoming leadership of major U.S. cabinet
departments and agencies. Insofar as they support AIGA's mission to
advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital
cultural force, AIGA will actively pursue the implementation of
four actions within the context of the summit report.
AIGA has developed a
set of recommendations in support of design's role in the civic
experience, many of which reinforce and complement the findings of
the Summit. Here is a list of the most far-reaching objectives of
this advocacy agenda:
One of AIGA's imperatives is to demonstrate the value of design
by doing valuable things. Under this directive, AIGA
has been active in election design work, as AIGA Design for
Democracy, since 1999. AIGA's design guidelines
for election materials have been adopted officially by the
federal Election Assistance Commission and are slowly being
implemented in states and counties across the country, and AIGA is
an active participant in many of the think-tank discussions on
We have encouraged local jurisdictions to use the AIGA Designer
Directory to find local designers to implement the guidelines. AIGA
has also helped to place
designers in two Secretary of State offices (Oregon and
Washington) to aid in implementing the guidelines, and has extended
an invitation to help other states hire designers in this critical
role. There is still much more work to do.
AIGA works in a variety of national
forums such as the National Design Policy Summit and the
Council on Competitiveness, made up of CEOs of major corporations
and presidents of universities, to advance design as part of a
national agenda on competitiveness.
The purpose of AIGA's involvement with these organizations—as
well as the Aspen Institute and INDEX: via the Aspen Design
Challenge—is to see that designers become part of policy
discussions, demonstrating that designers can make a meaningful
contribution through their mastery of integrative design
In order to bring citizen attention to the potential for design
and also to alert the Obama team to this issue, a small group of
passionate AIGA volunteers—led by David Gibson and Ann Harakawa, of
Two Twelve Associates, and Sylvia Harris, Office of Sylvia
Harris—have formed an advocacy
project to craft a specific set of recommendations on the role
of communications and service design in improving government
service. This is an action-oriented initiative that will include a
web presence to invite wider volunteer activism.
AIGA's next steps will involve creating briefing materials, an
advocacy strategy and an advocacy kit for grassroots support to
encourage the involvement of all members in advancing our
This is a unique opportunity for designers to make an impact and
improve the role of democracy in our everyday lives. Let's make
“change” more than just a campaign slogan.
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.
NEW YORK—February 20, 2014. AIGA is celebrating its
centennial by awarding a special class of 24 design leaders with the
prestigious AIGA Medal, the highest honor of the design profession.
NEW YORK—February 11, 2014. AIGA’s Design Leaders
Confidence Index ticked upward in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 101.26,
up from the previous quarter’s 95.94.
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.
Evelyn R. Davis
AIGA Las Vegas
Member since 2001
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