Stepping into a new century: Sean Adams on the next 100 years

AIGA’s Centennial celebrations have come to a close, but our work is far from over. As we look to the next 100 years, Sean Adams, the president of AIGA’s board, outlines the ever-evolving landscape of design, and how we can better serve the passionate design community that made our first 100 years possible.

2015 marks the beginning of AIGA’s second century. I am pleased to report the state of our organization is stronger today than at any point in history. Today we look out on a profession energized by new media and ways of working. AIGA is in the midst of evolution and change, revitalized by the combined visions and energy of you, the members. Two decades ago we looked out on a different landscape: fear of design becoming a commodity in the digital age, splintering of factions based on media, and a sense that nothing could turn the tide, and our best days were behind us. To some, AIGA seemed to be a monolithic institution unwilling to see the new world and new ways of designing. What brought AIGA back? Our greatest resource, the members and staff, led us with raw courage and common sense, with undying faith that this institution is flexible and strong. It was the energetic activity of volunteers, chapter leaders, the national board, and staff that has created the most dynamic communication design organization in the world.

This year marks the first time in history that AIGA has long-term financial stability. The chapter system is strong and growing. And despite the ongoing pressures of our daily lives, community remains at the core of AIGA. Regardless of the tools we use to communicate, we will always have the need to come together and collaborate, create, and provide assistance when needed. The silo effect of defining ourselves by media we use has subsided. We are no longer a web designer, print designer, signage designer, and so on. Led by the newest generation to enter the profession, we are all again, simply designers, willing to work across all media.

In the coming year, we will face change, complex challenges, and new opportunities. We must continue to strenuously address issues of diversity in the profession. In addition, the membership has given a clear mandate to increase the visibility of graphic design outside the profession. We need to continue celebrating design and designers with exhibitions, events, and publications in all forms. And we must find the ways to enable projects and activities that strengthen the profession to move forward and succeed.

Since AIGA’s founding, our nomenclature has changed many times, and our role is more complex and varied, but the mission written in 1914 remains relevant: To stimulate and encourage those engaged in the graphic arts; to form a center for intercourse and the exchange of views of all interested in these arts, and generally to do all things which will raise the standard and aid the extension and development of the graphic arts in the United States.

There is no doubt that we will continue to debate and disagree. Some will applaud one approach while others will consider it an egregious error. This is the proof that AIGA is a living and vital democratic institution. Whatever our differences are, regardless of our style of work, culture, race, media, or location, we all share an inherent idea of optimism and progress. I often think of a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that seems to describe our spirit, “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”

We have come this far, and made this success not by the hard work of a small elite dictating our course. This has happened by relying on the power of the entirety of the membership, from the student member to the seasoned veteran. Now, more than at any other moment, AIGA is an organization led by all of us. With this dynamic, no goal is beyond our reach.

About the Author:

Sean Adams is the Executive Director of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for In. He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession.

Adams is an AIGA and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been widely recognized by every major competition and publication, including a solo exhibition at SFMOMA. Adams has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. From 1994–2004, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka.