How is AIGA helping designers survive the recession?

These are extremely challenging times for nearly everyone: the level of job layoffs in both industry and service sectors is epic; major companies are either considering or declaring bankruptcy; supply networks are devastated; and credit is elusive at best. While many smaller design firms remain busy, virtually all designers are anxious about the economy. The designers most affected by the recession right now are those in corporate design departments, consumer goods and advertising agencies, but the effects of this recession impact us all.

Signs indicate that the next two years will be difficult for designers. Despite these challenges, this is the time when a professional association can be most beneficial to its members, and AIGA is determined to help the profession survive the recession and spring back, early and strong. There are two ways in which AIGA plans to do this: by helping designers to strengthen themselves during a slow period, and by continuing to increase clients' understanding of the need for designers and design thinking to build competitive positioning as the economy ebbs and flows.

What designers can do

In addition to increasing and refining marketing efforts, AIGA recommends that designers facing underemployment should use this time to strengthen themselves in three areas:

Develop your practice

AIGA's Center for Practice Management (CPM) is an online resource to provide the tools for success to all designers. Chair Shel Perkins' wrote the recent article “Good Advice for Bad Times” outlining six strategies for firms in the current downturn. On December 15, Shel will host a webinar on this subject, at no cost to AIGA members. And while all the articles on are useful for all designers, only members can access the articles from Creative Business, edited by Cameron Foote. Future CPM webinars will offer advice on a variety of subjects, so be sure to sign up for updates at

Upgrade your skills

AIGA's partnership with provides discounted yearlong access for AIGA members to the entire training library on software, including Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4). The educational tools at are widely recognized as the most effective and comprehensive online training available, and AIGA is the only partner receiving this discounted access.

AIGA members can also upgrade their software with a special member discount on all Adobe products.

AIGA will offer the capstone program “Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders” at Yale School of Management again this summer and is exploring a number of additional leadership training experiences for designers.

Be actively involved

Stay involved with AIGA for the community and the network it provides. If you are thinking about giving up your membership, consider the fact that the short-term desire to save money will not yield you the long-term benefits of being a member. Make the most of your membership during this time by attending AIGA events. Get involved in local or national initiatives that will advance our shared objectives as well as your own professional development, so that it strengthens your abilities while connecting you with new friends. Remember, it is the “soft” relationships—gained through networking with those outside your inner circle—that have proven to be most effective in career development.

What AIGA is doing

AIGA is moving decisively so that the strength of the organization is not threatened by the downturn. We have eliminated four staff positions at the national level in order to focus on direct membership service, professional development and communicating the value of design. What has made AIGA a model for other associations is the strength and number of our member volunteers, and we will once again rely on them to take on these challenging tasks on behalf of the full profession.

The cost of joining AIGA will not increase in 2009 and associate level membership has been extended for young designers—from two years following graduation to up to four years of practice—to ensure that membership remains as accessible as possible during the early years of your career.

On the upside, we are seeing an increased understanding of the value of design in leading businesses and the public sector. This is often tied to innovation or positioning strategy, so it will require that we all become effective in defining and advancing the role of design thinking and communication design; if we do not, interest may gravitate toward product design and innovative business consultants. To capitalize on this momentum, AIGA is actively participating as a leader in the U.S. Summit on Design Policy and the Competitiveness Council, and will continue to demonstrate the value of designers and design thinking to government and business leaders.

We believe our voice is finally being heard—that creativity can defeat habit and that the economic recovery will depend upon it. Tell us if there are additional ways in which you think AIGA, as a community, can help. Our power is in our ability to influence the future potential of the design economy, and there is no time like the present.

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.