How do we explain the importance of design to others?

AIGA is committed to enhancing designers' relevance, leadership and opportunities for success. One of the greatest challenges comes in finding ways for those outside the profession to understand how valuable the character, training and experience of designers can be in solving complex problems.

In our quest, we have powerful allies in the management consultants and analysts of the world who are struggling to determine what it will take to drive competitiveness, innovation and value in the era of the “new normal”:

For instance, Ernst & Young, in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit, recently surveyed 520 senior business executives and interviewed an additional 30 senior executives and high-level experts. They found five responses to globalization:

Competition: The rise of companies from emerging markets has changed the game and the outlook for business.

Expansion: Despite the downturn and concerns over state intervention, companies are still expanding internationally.

Innovations in innovation: Companies must rethink strategies to ensure that innovations developed in one country are commercially viable in others.

Management diversification: As companies deepen and broaden their presence in international markets, the need for culturally diverse management teams becomes all the more pressing.

Policy matters: Business will have to engage with governments and other policy makers on global issues such as protectionism, regulation and trade.

Among the means of addressing these imperatives, Ernst & Young found the power of inclusive ways of thinking: Diverse viewpoints generate the lively debate that can create new ideas. Diversity powers innovation, which helps businesses to generate new products and services. This in turn nurtures a spectrum of talent that reveals new aptitudes in unexpected places. Each of these conclusions is a perspective to problem solving that AIGA is trying to help members develop; AIGA is also finding forums in which it can convince business leaders that the teams that respond to these challenges should include designers.

CEOs surveyed by McKinsey & Co., the paragon of management consultancies, say that among the global forces businesses must face are:

The great rebalancing. The coming decade will be the first in 200 years when emerging-market countries contribute more growth than the developed ones. This growth will not only create a wave of new middle-class consumers but also drive profound innovations in product design, market infrastructure and value chains.

The global grid. The global economy is growing ever more connected. Complex flows of capital, goods, information, and people are creating an interlinked network that spans geographies, social groups, and economies in ways that permit large-scale interactions at any moment. This expanding grid is seeding new business models and accelerating the pace of innovation. It also makes destabilizing cycles of volatility more likely.

Pricing the planet. A collision is shaping up among the rising demand for resources, constrained supplies, and changing social attitudes toward environmental protection. The next decade will see an increased focus on resource productivity, the emergence of substantial clean-tech industries and regulatory initiatives.

AIGA is working hard to help designers play a meaningful role in innovation, understand global trends and consider the environmental, economic, social and cultural implications of their work.

The Conference Board, an independent research association for economic and business knowledge, believes that challenges such as how to adapt our approaches toward fostering innovation can only be addressed by increasing the creativity of the workforce. And it is concerned, when looking at the educational system of the United States, that not enough interest is focused on creativity.

In addition, John Hagel, author of The Power ofPull, talks about the big change from an era in which knowledge bases created power to one in which knowledge flows represent the power. He believes one of the professions with the adaptability to take advantage of this shift is design, because designers are agile, curious and open to the unexpected. According to Hagel, creativity and empathy are powerful attributes in this new era.

Each of these observations places in perspective the forces behind AIGA's current activities. Our imperatives are to enhance the profession's relevance, leadership and opportunity. The attributes we believe are critical to relevance and leadership are infused in our conferences (such as October's “Gain: AIGA Design and Business Conference”), competitions and exhibitions. Through opening channels for our members with international design organizations and our work with global institutions like UNICEF, INDEX: and AIGA China, we are working toward a design discipline and profession that is inclusive, multicultural and global in scope. The Living Principles for Design, Compostmodern and the Aspen Design Summit develop and demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and socially responsible action. Our advocacy at the Aspen Institute, TED, Pop!Tech, World Economic Forum and The Council on Competitiveness all point toward strengthening the role of design among other leaders, while explaining the value of design thinking.

We are convinced that if we remain focused on relevance and leadership, opportunity for design will grow consistently and dramatically as the new normal finally emerges. Innovation continued to develop throughout the years of the Great Depression, and we believe that today's need for design will drive our influence and success.

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.