What does AIGA do with what it hears?

We listen carefully. We give our utmost attention to what we hear from our members—whether in our daily conversations or as a result of biennial surveys, such as the one conducted last year. I recently reviewed some 1,800 open-ended responses—exceeding 90 pages—to look for concerns we can address or patterns where we are failing your expectations. We are sincerely committed to being a model professional association, which means being responsive to you, our members, and doing it professionally, effectively, efficiently and responsibly.

As we enter 2008, AIGA resolves to make improvements based on what we have heard from you. These “resolutions” add to what you can expect (and hold us accountable for) in the year ahead.

Let's start with an easy one: “Make Ric more accessible.” This Insight column is one way that we hope to address this concern. I'm easily approachable and eager to discuss issues you may have, so if you see me, let's talk. And you can always reach me at grefe [at] aiga [dot] org.

There is a flip side to this, which is making sure that at chapter events all of you find ways to reach out to other members. A frequent entreaty is to “encourage chapters to develop ways to make introductions easier for younger designers,” who come to social activities but still feel like outsiders. This is not necessarily a failing of AIGA or the chapters—it is a personal challenge. Many of us are on the shy side, and designers are no exception. One of the strongest values of AIGA is the sense of community and yet new and younger members often feel as if chapters must be dominated by cliques, because others are socializing and they have not met anyone. Please break down this misperception by introducing yourself to others you do not know at chapter events as a way of reinforcing the community.

Overall, the most compelling comment we received in terms of guiding AIGA's priorities is: “I want to know more about how to learn, evolve, educate and promote myself to become the kind of designer we admire, giving me and my philosophies on design a chance to thrive.” This is a wonderful way of summarizing AIGA's goals; no number of board sessions on branding could have stated it better.

We have filtered your comments into 28 immediate action items for 2008 that we have already begun to address. We will report on progress periodically through the year and then solicit your feedback again next year. Here are our promises to you, divided into several sections.

  • Customer service

  1. Improve responsiveness to phone calls and email messages. Be friendlier, too, at both the national and chapter levels.
  2. Offer the option to automatically renew memberships.
  3. Allow members to opt out of different types of mailings.
    • Member benefits

  4. Offer better health care plans. (We're very close to having new options for you—watch for an announcement soon!)
  5. Arrange for discounts on design magazine subscriptions.
  6. Encourage chapters to offer events at no cost to members.
  7. Encourage chapters to mail announcements earlier.
    • Professional development resources

  8. Help designers to become better business people. Reinforce the contents and activities of the Center for Practice Management; offer more legal and practical advice; provide links to other resources and more business and marketing tools for solo designers and small firms.
  9. Not all designers are just starting out—focus on mid-career designers by offering: resources for continuing education; career counseling; hands-on seminars; and programs on specific issues such as billing, work force decisions and health care concerns.
  10. Not all design is paperless—offer programs on paper education (e.g., a guide to paper companies), printing education and tools.
  11. Develop models for collaborative design and help the profession make this transition.
  12. Make it easier for members to get involved in national initiatives.
  13. Drive more professionals to add portfolios to the website.
  14. Promote the AIGA Designer Directory as a place for potential clients to find designers.
    • Focus on particular groups

  15. Pay more attention to experience design, motion graphics and interaction design at local and national levels, in all activities.
  16. Provide more assistance to students making the transition from school to work.
  17. Establish affinity groups of publication designers, interaction designers, motion graphics designers and corporate or in-house designers.
  18. Strengthen AIGA's commitment, services and activities for corporate designers.
  19. Present opportunities for dialogue with illustrators and photographers.
    • Tangible value for members and society

  20. Produce several beautifully designed artifacts each year (posters, publications, annuals)—avoid becoming a solely digital experience.
  21. Continually improve the online experience at www.aiga.org to ensure the site is accessible, navigable and rich in content and resources. (An upcoming article will elaborate on these efforts.)
  22. Publish a “business-speak” book about the value of effective business design.
  23. Develop an AIGA paper on ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines and other issues of importance to environmental design practice.
    • Improvements to specific programs

  24. Provide better descriptions of conference presenters in early promotional pieces (don't assume they are famous).
  25. Invite more young professionals to speak at conferences and events—they are not just the future but the present!
  26. Diversify the types of positions offered in Design Jobs to include more office roles (e.g., trafficking, account executives, writers, production managers).
    • Attention to possible biases

  27. Ensure that AIGA's activities are as geographically diverse as its members—avoid having “an East Coast bias.”
  28. Always remain nonpartisan and balanced.

Expect reports on how we meet these challenges throughout the year. AIGA is determined to warrant the trust of its members and, in the process, to become a model of a service-oriented professional association. We can only achieve these objectives if you keep us informed of your concerns and hold us accountable.

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.