Preparing for AIGA’s second century

2014. AIGA turns 100 years old and the profession is celebrating design, inspiration, the extraordinary growth of the profession and AIGA’s role in building a true community. AIGA is celebrating this moment by looking forward toward inspiration, relevance, leadership and opportunity for every designer in the decades ahead.

Great design involves craft, strategy and social impact; this conviction is central to AIGA’s future direction. AIGA encourages designers’ aspirations in all three areas, and recognizes that great design—well executed—is the principal distinction of our members’ contributions. With a membership of 25,000 and growing, AIGA’s strengths include a representative voice for all designers; a visible commitment to the ethos of the profession; and chapter activities that promote inspiration and engagement of our large and diverse membership. AIGA’s focus is on emphasizing broad leadership and a myriad of approaches to enhancing the strength of chapters and the involvement of members.

As we celebrate AIGA’s history with activities and events in communities throughout the country, we are also pursuing a newly articulated strategy toward what AIGA must be to serve both young and seasoned designers in the years ahead.

Last year’s very lively, critical public debate helped to refine our direction. Our strategy is your strategy, outlining how we can play a role in advancing the profession for the future. A key step in assuring that we launch our second century with a sound, accountable, focused and relevant organization occurs through the work of several committees over the next several months:

Governance:  A committee chaired by AIGA co-president Drew Davies and consisting of former board members Robin Tooms and Connie Birdsall, as well as former AIGA president Nancye Green, is reviewing AIGA’s current governance policies and practices. In addition, our governance counsel, Hugh Webster (Webster, Chamberlain & Bean in Washington, D.C.) is reviewing all policies. The committee will also review options for alternative governance models.

Finance: Current AIGA treasurer Darralyn Rieth is heading a committee that includes former president and treasurer Doug Powell and chapter presidents council chair Andrew Twigg; the group is reviewing AIGA finances and financial practices. AIGA’s auditor, Amish Mehta (Friedmann LLP), will present audit findings to the board and is available to advise the committee. AIGA’s executive committee will be formalized as an audit committee to assure regular oversight of the financial condition of the organization. The committee will also review the financial implications of the 2012 shift in membership fee structure and engage the full board of directors in a discussion of the impacts.

Strategic planning: AIGA board member Andrew Blauvelt is chairing a committee to further refine AIGA’s strategic plan as the basis for setting AIGA’s direction through 2020 and as means of enabling the board to set priorities in resource allocation decisions. The committee includes AIGA board members Kim Baer, Jenny Lam, Kevin Perry and Andrew Twigg, as well as AIGA members Gaby Brink, Clement Mok (a former president) and Elysia Syriac. The strategic plan will be discussed with chapter leaders in April and refined at the leadership retreat in May, at which time it will become the guidance for decisions about the FY 2015 and 2016 budgets and published for member review and comment.

Communications: AIGA board members Kim Baer and Kevin Perry are co-chairing a committee to review the organization’s greatest challenges around communications, from articulating more complex issues around organizational change to embracing new platforms for member engagement. Allan Chochinov, Andrew Twigg and Brendán Murphy will participate in this review.

New office requirements: An advisory committee including, at a minimum, Anthony Russell, former AIGA national president, the executive director and an architect will inform the programmatic needs for the purchase of new physical offices for AIGA, suited to the organization’s evolving roles.

Leadership succession: A committee of board members and outside experts chaired by AIGA national co-president Sean Adams will consider the association’s leadership needs following the current executive director’s planned retirement at the end of 2015, including a review of the ongoing duties, responsibilities and compensation of the CEO. This committee will begin its work in October, following completion of other committees’ work, since they will define both the trajectory of the organization and the requirements of the next director's role.

Chapter presidents have also helped us recruit participants in a number of task forces, on: reassessing the allocation of dues to chapters, identifying new programs to celebrate design excellence, defining a member participation platform, developing a process and guidelines for a Chapter Innovation Fund, and transforming the student member experience.

For each group, after initial work pulling materials together, there will be an open discussion of all of the findings and recommendations with members this spring. The process and outcomes will be transparent and encourage member involvement. These reviews are part of our effort to develop a sound foundation for AIGA in the 21st century, serving new generations of designers in design practices inconceivable just 20 years ago, let alone a century ago.

From experience, we can say that no board in the past 20 years has been so assiduous in its commitment to ensuring the allocation of AIGA resources be directed in ways that will advance the profession in meaningful ways.

It is always gratifying to know how passionately many feel about AIGA, and we count on members’ input into decisions about the future. We welcome any thoughts that you would like us to consider on how AIGA is governed, its financial conditions and how we can improve communications. We will consider every comment in our committees; future Insight articles will address each subject; and Adobe Connect sessions will be scheduled for member input on recommendations. All of the findings will be published on

This will be an important year for AIGA. Design has never received greater attention from business and the public. The year's greatest advantage will be to frame an AIGA that looks forward and adapts to playing an agile role in supporting the profession as it continues to reshape itself.

We are excited and welcome your involvement, concerns and support.

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.