Why 2011 will be a pivotal year

Change is everywhere, everyday. It can seem relentless and unexpected, even daunting in anticipation. But it can also be exhilarating.

We are surrounded by “new.” New economy. New channels. New communities. New civic perspective. New social contract. New opportunities for innovation. New expectations of designers. New designers. New markets.

New acceptance of both new and old attributes for design: strategic, problem-solving, cross-disciplinary, sustainable, authentic, simple, multicultural, empathetic, human-centered, global, socially responsible, open source.

Designers must take advantage of this momentum. Why? Because demonstrating relevance and leadership during this time of change will create opportunities to add value to business and society, which in turn will strengthen the design profession—and secure its future.

AIGA will use this year to pivot toward the objectives outlined in the “Mandate for 2014,” developed from member input and considering the elements of change occurring around us. As we move forward, it is useful to look back at the specific instruction from members that continues to provide guidance on this change.

The mandate from members:

  • AIGA should place a higher priority on contributing to long-term benefits for the profession, such as building stronger demand for design in the future—and less emphasis on individual member benefits.

  • In advocating design's value to business, AIGA should focus on the results of design strategy as a competitive advantage—developing case studies of business effectiveness and defining the value of design on business objectives.

  • In tone, the AIGA experience should focus on younger designers' interests and needs, in order to attract the next generation of designers to membership.

  • In content, programsshould reflect business practices, leadership, values, ethics and standards, in order to respect the interests of mid-career and seasoned designers.

  • AIGA should focus more on facilitating opportunities for member engagement, member originated content, member involvement and the expression of personal opinion than on reinforcing its authority.

  • Reflecting the interests and needs of students and emerging designers, AIGA should develop programs and activities that highlight opportunities for social responsibility, social engagement, sustainability, multiculturalism and diversity. These are critical to the long-term strength and relevance of the profession and AIGA.

By 2014, the organization that members have envisioned will begin to develop these characteristics. But already, you'll see significant change manifesting beginning this year.

How AIGA is answering the mandate:

  • Our national competitions have changed; design excellence will be defined with an emphasis on design's effectiveness as well as aesthetics. Categories have been changed and simplified to recognize the range of design disciplines involved in many projects and AIGA will begin to focus on case studies on the process and value of design.

  • Our web presence will change significantly later this year, redefining the AIGA experience to focus on member- and chapter-contributed content. (If you would like to be involved in beta testing, let us know.) The site will offer daily examples of design excellence, with opportunities for member input as well as expert jury opinion.

  • AIGA is working to create a strong core of programs for professional development. The first iteration of this will begin in April, when you'll see a new series of webinars, focused on professional practice and new technologies shaping the design industry.

  • Our newest program Design for Good, launching later this spring, will help designers assume a role in the broader business, social and cultural environments. Through working with nonprofit and community organizations on projects for the social good, designers will expand appreciation of the value of design and design thinking.

  • Our conferences are changing. You may already have noticed that our Events section is populated with smaller, more focused events organized by our chapters. “Pivot: AIGA Design Conference” in Phoenix this fall will take a new form for national AIGA conferences, in which the focus will be less on the main-stage presentations and more on smaller sessions fueled by the profession's most passionate and influential voices. Come to Phoenix for the conversations we are all eager to be having. While AIGA is shifting, this conference will take on all of our challenges, revealing where each designer must shift toward new perspectives, skill sets and, most of all, contexts, in order to demonstrate that design can defeat habit, enlighten and inspire the public and create value for business and society. We hope you will join us! 

Through all this change, AIGA is working hard to pivot the organization—toward new means of serving the design community and helping designers to empower themselves. As always, we welcome your questions and comments.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.