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Can an individual designer be successful and fulfilled without
AIGA? Yes, of course. So, why join?
Designers are, by nature, independent and tend to not be
joiners. Yet there are several reasons that designers often cite
for joining AIGA: the interest in being part of a community,
the need to share and discover information about design and
its practice with others, and to create a voice for the
profession that can build understanding and respect
for the profession.
Do these reasons still make sense in an era of social media?
If access to the names of others and free information are the
only value you seek, then a virtual forum may be all you need. If
you are interested in deeper interaction with others, face to face;
if you'd like to contribute to the cumulative knowledge and
understanding of design; and if you would like to help in
developing a voice that can articulate and promote the value of
design, then AIGA offers that opportunity to invest in the future
of your chosen profession.
Professions such as law and medicine have gained stature and
position in society and the economy by having individual
practitioners choose to associate with each other and share
resources to build a stronger future: by documenting its legacy,
developing standards of professionalism, building a stronger future
for the profession and giving voice to the profession's aspirations
and value. Without a professional association, there are many
practitioners, each making his or her own way, perhaps speaking at
cross purposes, perhaps each having to educate every potential
client in isolation.
AIGA builds the social capital of the design profession by
creating a community with strong social ties—online and offline—and
by articulating the standards of professional practice developed by
that community. The ties AIGA encourages among designers are
important for more than mere social reasons. These ties help
designers—who often work in relative isolation—develop personal,
social and professional relationships with other designers. Once
this occurs, there is the opportunity to develop a form of civic
virtue for the community: social networks and the norms of
reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.
Social connections are important for the rules of conduct that
they sustain. When there is a strong sense of shared and mutual
obligation, there is a greater likelihood that professionals will
treat their colleagues and competitors with the kind of respect
that they wish to receive.
AIGA not only serves the purpose of creating a community and
developing connections among members, but it encourages members to
articulate and observe the standards by which they would like to
operate, both individually and collectively. While AIGA provides an
authoritative voice on standards, it is actually the strength of
the social network of the community that endows those standards
with authority. The standards are only effective if each member of
the community acts in accordance with them, trusting that all
fellow designers will honor the same code of conduct. This trust
results in collective trustworthiness, if designers know each other
and respect each other. Short-term altruism yields long-term
self-interest in a professional community.
The interactions that create this sense of community and nurture
its real benefits are not the strong bonds of friendships one might
expect, which actually occur only rarely. Loose ties—known as
bridging relationships—have an even greater impact on civic virtue,
for they extend the norms into new areas beyond your close personal
The issue for many is whether this role—creating a trustworthy
community—is one that should be funded by members and whether it
has a value for every professional and should be an investment in
the profession each designer has chosen.
AIGA is an expression of the profession: it codifies and
projects the attributes of design that warrant respect for its
practitioners. Perhaps individual designers feel it is an
unnecessary pursuit, except that they too want to benefit from a
public understanding of what they do, why it is valuable and what
the expected standards of professionalism should be.
We sometimes forget how young the design profession is. AIGA, as
the oldest society of communication designers in the United States,
is less than a century old, and the term "graphic designer" is even
younger. For AIGA, this creates a special responsibility to
encourage its members to develop a kind of social order that will
enhance the growth of the profession and success of all designers,
not only themselves.
Many of those who question the value of AIGA want, nonetheless,
to benefit from the shared values of the profession and its
history; those who join recognize the value choose to invest in
these attributes of professionalism for both their own benefit and
for the benefit of all who practice design.
There are certainly ways that informal networks such as social
media sites can be just as vibrant and successful as professional
associations, without being at cross purposes. AIGA embraces the
flexibility and immediacy of social media as a viable complement to
the association model. We do not restrict AIGA Facebook
groups to current members, and we encourage all interested
designers to connect on social media sites.
For those who are current members, we sincerely thank you for
your continued support and the contribution your support has made
toward building a respected profession. And for those of you who
are not currently members, we hope that our role has been able to
assist you in some way and we look forward to a deeper relationship
in the 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.
NEW YORK—June 6, 2013. To help
designers and firms leverage new possibilities and address future
challenges, AIGA has teamed up
with Adobe to ask design leaders to envision how their studios will evolve over the next few years.
NEW YORK—May 14, 2013. AIGA’s Design
Leaders Confidence Index was unchanged for the first quarter of 2013,
at 101.62 compared to the previous quarter’s 101.72. While the aggregate number
is not statistically different, there is optimism in the details.
Each year, AIGA provides a report of
activities and accomplishments to members and stakeholders; the current
report is shown here in full.
M Evelio Mattos, Jr
Member since 2011
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