3 tips from the 2015 AIGA Design Conference on how to revive design

Last week I spent three days with 2,000 fellow designers at the AIGA’s bi-annual (soon to be annual) Design Conference.

Though the conference theme, “revival,” paired with the city it was set in—New Orleans—may suggest thoughts of Hurricane Katrina (which ravaged the city 10 years ago), the intention and significance of the theme was quite different. In fact, as AIGA Executive Director, Ric Grefé, mentioned in his welcoming remarks, “revival” harkens back to the Chautauqua tradition of entertainment and culture for a gathering, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers and specialists of the day—a perfect description of this forum.

The identity, print and motion design for the conference by iamalwayshungry

I’ve gleaned and curated several lessons after listening to many impactful voices at this year’s conference. Here are my top three takeaways from my newest mentors:

1. The lines of “us” and “them” are blurring—and if you haven’t already, embrace it.

This isn’t a completely new concept—with the democratization of design and rise of the DEO, the traditional definitions of business leaders and creatives/designers are blurring. Conference moderator Roman Mars so aptly put it, “the most basic and fundamental job of a designer is to solve problems,” so it’s no wonder that more organizations are trying to integrate design thinking. Bert Aldridge described design as “a proven path through ambiguity that often results in better innovation.”

I heard a resounding need to involve more people in the creative process. Creativity is not a talent, it’s a way of operating. Though while every person is creative, not ever person is a designer. Thus, as Ije Nwokorie explained, the design industry has a huge opportunity to help establish new behaviors, skills and norms that will aid in the great challenges of our times. When we remove the “us versus them” mentality, reframing our role as creative business leaders, we can claim a seat at the table helping to shape and strategically disrupt traditional methods.

2. Creativity through curiosity is key.

Designers are constantly asking “why?” and “what if?” Inquisitiveness fuels good design. Because we are innately process-oriented, as Emmi Salonen explained, it’s often hard for us to balance openness and direction. Michael Bierut noted, “design is a license to trespass,” so let’s take advantage of that license. Designers often get to go places, be surrounded by certain people, and learn things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to, all in the name of design.

Keetra Dean Dixon reminded the audience to always seek the beginners mind, talk to people outside our own design world, and be open to being inspired by unknown things. Mimi Valdés pointed out that it’s important that we feed our curiosity, as curious people are also the most fearless and creative. “When we embrace the risky and remove fear, we make room for growth and opportunity,” said Nicole Frantz. Ultimately, as Patrick Gray put it, “If you only design, as opposed to living your life from a creative standpoint, you’re selling yourself short.”

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