Why double the number of AIGA members?

AIGA has set a goal of doubling its professional membership to 20,000 by the year 2010. Why would an organization that seeks to be the preeminent association for designers—representing the highest standards of design excellence and professionalism—seemingly pursue quantity without discussing quality?

Because we must ensure the profession's impact and relevance.

AIGA has evolved since its founding in 1914, when it brought together a mere score of graphic artists, then consisting of photographers, illustrators, printers, book designers, publishers and lithographers, as well as fine artists.

Today, AIGA counts 10,000 professional members. Yet, we believe the number of designers who are practicing in the United States alone totals approximately 180,000—two thirds of whom work in corporate settings and one third in design studios.

Despite vast changes in the profession, the central interests of members are startlingly consistent with the original ideals: to stimulate thinking about design; to demonstrate the value of design; and to empower designers across the arc of their career. AIGA's mission, recently reformulated, goes even further: to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force.

It's about scale

To meet these goals, we need to create an engaged community, help designers to share information, build understanding for the role of the designer and hence earn respect for that role. The eternal issue is how we can enhance the relevance of design as the society, commerce and popular culture are changing so rapidly around us.

We need scale to accomplish these goals, to develop a cohesive and resonant voice from among AIGA's membership that articulates a consistent story about designing, design and designers. Through network effects, this voice and story will influence other designers to meet the expectations of professionalism that members have set in AIGA's statement of professional standards. Many designers who have not yet joined AIGA may not understand how critical it is for them to be part of a profession that develops a common voice.

It's about relevance

The U.S. Census has just reported that among Americans aged 19 or younger, 42 percent are other than white Caucasian.[1] Yet only 10 percent of the design profession is other than white Caucasian. If the profession is to serve a diverse public, then it must, for business reasons as well as moral reasons, grow to include (and encourage) many more designers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The global economy is changing into one that will be multi-centered, unlike the U.S.-led world economy of the past. This means that AIGA must also work with international peers in order to represent U.S. designers and the high standards for design that they have set.

The present opportunities are as clear as the challenges we must meet in order to sustain the relevance of design well into the future. We believe that consistent messaging about design is important for the profession, as its influence grows in commerce and society. These consistent messages will be heard when they represent a larger number of designers and when those designers show a commitment to articulating them. The more members we have, the stronger the impact we will have in advancing designing here and abroad.

Many are already invested

AIGA's target of doubling its members in the next three years is doable and necessary, given the expectations members have created for us. We need the support of more designers to make it a reality.

Fortunately, the standards espoused and advocated by AIGA are recognized as being critical to the growth of the entire design economy (and as necessary to drive the innovation associated with design's impact on business strategies). We have the support of AIGA's leadership and the involvement of current members. AIGA also has the respect of our colleagues in other fields of design.

We have the partnership of corporate supporters, who know that AIGA's role—in increasing understanding of the value that design can create—also builds a stronger design economy, which will benefit all. For instance, the membership campaign launched early this summer is supported generously by Neenah Paper, one of our earliest corporate sponsors and a company that realizes that AIGA's success adds to its own success. Neenah is invested in the success of AIGA. Similarly other AIGA partners have sought ways to work with us to strengthen AIGA and its membership for the long-term interests of the profession.

It's your profession—make something of it

To double the professional membership and increase our voice and impact, we will need to bring back members who have allowed their memberships to lapse. We must encourage those who attend our conferences and enter our competitions to join. We must encourage new members from among corporate design departments and from groups who have not previously joined. Obviously, AIGA must continue to increase the value of the services we offer, although the enhancements will tend to be in the areas of advocacy for the profession and communication of the value of design to the public, media and business, The true value of each member's investment in AIGA is our ability to strengthen the relevance of a designer's contribution to business, society and culture today and far into the future.

Membership is an investment in the future of your chosen profession. Please join us, become engaged in developing that future, and help us to find new members. As our 100th anniversary approaches, AIGA is gearing up for its second century—yet we are just beginning to take the design profession to the role of leadership and respect it deserves.

1. Roberts, Sam. “New Demographic Racial Gap Emerges,” The New York Times, May 17, 2007.

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.