AIGA charts a course toward 2020

Constant change is the most overused concept when discussing the design profession. But, unfortunately, this endlessly discussed idea is a reality. Over the last 100 years, AIGA has been on the leading edge of change, and at other times, lagging behind. To be a nimble and vital force, staying ahead of the curve, AIGA has relied on the enormous power of our members’ energy. I cannot recall a time when the members, chapter leaders, past presidents, board members and staff have dedicated such time and energy above and beyond the expected. We all are the heart of AIGA.

But, as we all know, results often require resources beyond human effort. Many incredible ideas are not implemented because they exceed the financial resources necessary. Last year, AIGA was presented with an opportunity to sell the New York office headquarters building. After much discussion throughout the entire community, the board approved the sale. The resources that will come from this should maintain the financial stability of AIGA for decades. For the first time in the organization’s history, we will have access to the resources truly needed to tackle our most important issues.

Of course, more resources bring more responsibility and accountability. Accordingly, we’ve undergone a comprehensive re-examination of processes, functions, programs and goals. Resources will not be approved without a rigorous process defining need, benefit, time, results and costs. The update below details the findings and decisions made by the board in the past few months.

This is a pivotal and remarkable point for AIGA and the design profession’s history. Our choices now will create ripples for decades. We could rest on our past and maintain the status quo, but we choose to take the harder route and embrace evolution. We need all hands on deck as always, but that’s never been an issue with the design community’s passion. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “To reach a port we must set sail. Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.”

-Sean Adams, AIGA president

Update on actions taken by the AIGA board in May 2014

The AIGA national board adopted a revised strategic framework at its May board meeting. The framework articulates four strategic focuses for the organization and clearly supports AIGA’s vision for 2020; the process and timeline for funding decisions are also outlined. This action followed discussion by and support from the leadership of 68 chapters at the annual Leadership Retreat in Denver.

The framework and vision will guide AIGA over the next five years, focusing clearly on four distinct imperatives:

  • Celebrating design in a manner that reaches both the broadest audience and the most influential audience, essentially communicating the influence of design on society, business and the public
  • Providing opportunities for designers to achieve their aspirations and assure their relevance and leadership potential, even as the challenges designers face become ever more complex
  • Recognizing that the strength of AIGA lies in its members and chapters and finding new ways for them to engage with their peers through AIGA
  • Assuring that AIGA, a century-old institution, remains vital, agile and adaptable, as well as secure, as it enters its second century with strong organizational viability

In preparing for its future, the national board undertook a thorough review of all governance and financial policies and practices, aiming at positioning AIGA as an association well-suited to the future. This due diligence confirmed that AIGA meets the standards for a well-governed and responsible not-for-profit institution. One change was recommended: to appoint a president-elect one year in advance of the leadership transition to assure greater continuity. At its May meeting, the board elected Su Mathews to the position of president-elect, to serve on the executive committee for the next year as an understudy to Sean Adams until June 30, 2015.

A board committee presented its recommendations that AIGA increase its focus (and resources) on communications as part of its transformation. The board has made clear its priority on investing in new ways to communicate, and these recommendations will be central to the budget and programs to be proposed for the fiscal year that starts in October.

In the next four months, a broad-based task force will develop recommendations on the best ways for AIGA to celebrate the value and influence of design. In the past, this was accomplished through competitions, exhibitions and publications. The task force will consider how to accomplish this even more effectively in an era of social media, self-publishing and a global design community.

An important element of AIGA’s evolution is the sale of its building in New York. This transaction provides a more effective allocation of its financial assets. The net proceeds from the sale will be invested:

With TIAA-CREF as a long-term endowment, with all interest and appreciation reinvested


With TIAA-CREF in an endowment, from which interest and appreciation can be invested in operating expenses or new initiatives


In an AIGA 2020 Fund to invest in programs supporting members and chapters through 2020


In a special Chapter Innovation Fund to be used as a venture fund for chapter initiatives that might support the development of chapters or membership if scaled across more chapters. This fund will be administered by a chapter-selected committee.


As a next step, and under the advice of a building committee led by former AIGA president Tony Russell, AIGA is pursuing the lease of office space in New York City to support national activities. Additional real estate decisions could be made when the task force on celebrating the influence and value of design makes its recommendations. The task force could recommend a gallery in one location, an exhibition program to use galleries around the country, or a virtual galley (none of which are mutually exclusive).

The work performed by the board, committees and task forces provides AIGA with the platform to pursue its vision for 2020 as an agile, nimble and responsive force in support of design, designers and designing.