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More than a year ago, I wrote an article on why, in the age of social media,
designers should belong to AIGA. A recent article in Applied
Arts engaged the Canadian design community and the Society of
Graphic Designers in a discussion on what role a
design association should play and the responsibility of
designers to be active, not passive participants. In AIGA's
near-hundred-year history, voices both for and against professional
design associations have never been louder, in part because of the
many immediate channels the public can use to be heard. But I
assure you—we hear you and we are listening.
For those who feel AIGA should focus on something other than
what we are currently doing, it is useful to step back from this
institution and consider what it represents. AIGA is a community of
more than 20,000 designers who have voluntarily joined together for
four main reasons: community, information, understanding and
respect. They seek a common voice that will help to build both the
design profession and the design economy, which is of benefit to
them as well as society at large.
Our members find sufficient value to join and renew. So while
some may feel it is not valuable, 20,000 people do—suggesting it
does have value to a significant population of creative and
aspirational design professionals. The personal values or
preferences of our most vocal critics do not make AIGA, the
institution or its members, irrelevant. We earn our members'
loyalty by providing something that is important to them, and the
relationships they form through active membership are among the
most significant in their
AIGA is, in fact, admired by the other associations for its
agility, adaptiveness and scale. We listen intently to our members;
we survey them and we evolve to meet their changing needs or even
to anticipate them. Our mandate for 2014
is precisely this kind of adaptation.
If AIGA were to go away—not to mention what it might do to the
community, its networking and its information sharing—design would
lose a voice on behalf of the profession, a voice that articulates
the value of design and designers' relevance to business, the
government, the media and the public. There would also be a deficit
where AIGA has promoted professional standards and ethical
considerations that define the profession. It would be every
designer for himself or herself in explaining the designer's role
and the value design brings to business and society.
The means of collaborating on thoughtful discussion of
curriculum improvements would be lost. There would be no entity
pursuing a greater understanding of American design at the
fundamental level among foreign markets, which will define the
future of our designers in the global economy. No one would be
sharing success stories among designers, seeding stories in the
media about design, seeing that businesses understand that design
thinking is not simply a creative term for the processes that
management consultants follow but something that trained designers
do well. Who would argue for designers to gain a greater role in
their community, a role as a strategist rather than a wrist, and
against practices like
spec work that limit the earning potential for designers?
An organization of 20,000 and growing cannot be elitist. In
fact, we are careful to avoid dictating style or content in any
medium, and membership is not limited to any one group. AIGA seeks
to be authoritative in only one capacity: to stand for the
highest expectations of professionalism so that all designers
receive the respect and opportunities for success that they
deserve. (An example of this is the recently updated AIGA standards of
professional practice, to which each AIGA member is called on
to uphold in his or her daily practice.)
The leadership of AIGA is representative of our volunteer
chapter leaders nationwide and our membership as a whole: from
around the country, from practices large and small, of various
disciplines and backgrounds. The current board of 16 national
directors hail from Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, Berkeley, San
Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, Raleigh, Los Angeles, Boston,
Houston, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and New York. Some of their names
are more familiar than others, but all are accomplished, talented
and committed to fostering an AIGA that serves the profession
We are eager to serve the interests of all designers—a
group that is defined by those who decide to join AIGA, advocate
for the profession and work with us to address the issues of most
importance to advancing the profession.
Designers who join AIGA expecting to receive tangible benefits
equivalent to the cost of membership are likely to be disappointed.
AIGA supports a range of
benefits, but places greater importance on intangible benefits
such as increasing the size of the design economy, the perceived
value of design services, the understanding of design services and
the potential of a future with respect for all designers. Within a
competitive marketplace, designers need a voice that will improve
conditions for the practice of design that give them a chance to
grow and thrive.
The cost of membership is an investment in our advancing the
understanding of design, designing and designers. It is less than
is necessary to promote the value of design effectively, so AIGA
raises two to three times the amount of membership income to
supplement the members' investment.
AIGA welcomes any designer to
join—at a price that is lower than most other professional
associations. Recognizing the challenges faced by those entering
the profession, we've also lowered the price of entry for emerging
designers through a four-year associate membership level.
Our interest in social media lies primarily in the desire to
listen to members and the larger design community, to provide
timely industry and membership information, and to answer questions
from members. Not coincidentally, our network across platforms is
the strength that allows us to reach designers on issues that
should concern them—the
recent IRS notice is a good example of this—because they serve
a broader design public, regardless of membership.
We hope that what we believe is important to the future of the
profession earns your trust and support. If not, tell us what you
need and we will see if we can work with volunteers in the
profession to make it happen. AIGA is its members; it is not
a monolith and it is neither tone-deaf nor elitist. It may not be
for everyone; it may not serve every designer's specific needs;
however, there is little that AIGA does that is not meant to
benefit every designer with a stronger future.
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’s chapters allow our members to form powerful social and
professional bonds through conferences, competitions, lectures and
Section: About AIGA -
AIGA’s 15-member board is elected by the entire professional membership
and plays a crucial role in determining the mission of AIGA.
Section: About AIGA -
Click here to learn more and submit your nominations!
Daniela I. Fuentes
AIGA Los Angeles
Member since 2015
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