Willy Wong

About Me

President Emeritus AIGA/NY, Former NYC Chief Creative Officer

Member Type Non-member
  • Willy authored "Designers and Social Justice"
  • Willy Wong commented on the article "What we heard: your voice on AIGA's future"

    In advance of the board meeting on Nov 7, here my comments/questions for the board to consider, point-by-point to the options proposed for 2020: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AiS573s_LHdrdElfbGFPeXhudzFkVDhodDI5TmJ4Y2c&usp=sharing I shared this with Ric and fellow chapter presidents, but wanted to make sure it's part of the 450+ public comments to be reviewed. Ric's original response at the bottom of my note. Organizational transformations are tough, expensive and lengthy. They require constant iteration from the moment they begin because the climate will continue to evolve. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail. Yes, we need to transform. I get it. I'm in favor. And I'm big on risks and huge on change. But, I also try to be as informed as possible before placing bets on a gamble or making a serious investment in any risk-return situation. I get vision, but we need a pragmatic plan that maps us from here to our moving target, the short-term and long distance. To date, I have not read a plan that compels me enough to feel confident about liquidating our primary asset. I can't argue with many of the proposed changes in spirit, but they need tactics. I can vote on tactics. I'd like a firm roadmap that connects the dots on how proceeds from the building sale and achieving each of the key transformations will pragmatically give us greater return for the long haul, net financial strength, relevance, stronger membership base or design community overall and fulfill on mission. More importantly, as I am both a member and a chapter leader (President of AIGA/NY), how will these plans relate back to chapter/national governance? Yes, I've been part of many of these strategic planning meetings that led us to these broader ideas, but in all of these sessions, I found my response as a designer and general AIGA member may have conflicted strongly with my response as a designer in the context of my community and a member of my chapter. Chapters share the foundation of design as a profession, but we all operate as independent legal/fiduciary entities. We all program based on the needs of our local constituents/markets. Some clusters of chapters have more in common with each other, either based on scale or density or member composition. But what works here in New York or another density-high chapter may not work elsewhere and vice versa. Some chapters may not require or be able to sustain the breadth or depth of activity as others. How does this national transformation translate down to local capacity and needs? >> Hi Willy, Thanks for the thoughtful comments. The ascertainment of members' perspective is never just a "courtesy." It is something we take very seriously and we always consider all comments, whether on membership surveys, in chapter roundtables, at the leadership retreat or in conversations all year long. A top priority moving forward is talking through the issue of a stronger chapter leadership platform; as you know, since you participated, this was one of the recommendations that came out of both the summit in February and the Ziba exercises in the roundtables and leadership retreat this year. It is one of the central elements of our proposal for change. We would welcome your participation as part of a small working group. In terms of specific aspects of the proposals, we will be addressing many in an Insight article later this week. However, let me try to respond to a few of your points; many can better be addressed in a conversation. Yes, transformation involves directing existing resources, both financial and human, toward new goals and objectives. And AIGA is committing to doing just that. However, in any under-capitalized enterprise, with little in the way of discretionary resources, it can be difficult to leap from an existing life-cycle curve to a new one, more appropriate to a dynamic market place. This is precisely what we are trying to do: transform AIGA into an organization that proves its mettle in a different environment than it occupied last century, with the change in social media, internet access to information and even social norms toward associations. A short term investment in strengthening an organization in new ways can result in substantial long term growth and relevance. This is what we are proposing with the "transformative" option (and we admit, we got the naming of the options wrong). The issue of scale is an interesting one. At the leadership retreat, we have always been encouraged to go for scale, which can increase influence (and viability, due to its impact on marketing programming and earning sponsorship). However, it remains an interesting conversation, although most criticism from members and nonmembers in recent years has focused on clubbishness or exclusivity, not inclusivity. In recent years, we have been encouraged by members, chapter leaders and nonmembers to be more inclusive; the board, in its adoption of revised mission and values statements this year emphasized inclusiveness. Scale will also fund additional activities that we believe will help to make membership more attractive. The building is indeed an asset that will grow in value. If the intention is to increase the value of an asset, despite the vagaries of the real estate market, it may be wise to simply hold onto the building. If the real value of an asset for a membership organization is to enhance the value of the member experience, then simply holding an appreciating asset is not the best use of those financial resources. There is a very compelling argument that a membership organization should act to maximize the long term value of membership for the profession. This would argue that investing a portion of one's resources in members and their experiences should be the most effective use of resources, if they result in growth and strength within the association and the membership. We are proposing owning another office, creating an income producing endowment and spending a small portion of that endowment to change the organization. Among the opportunities for AIGA to mark its centennial would be to enhance its historic role in documenting great design of the 20th century. This is not an expensive task, but it is one that we cannot fund from existing resources . We are always seeking other external financing (hence the NEA funding). If we find that other funding, we would not use any proceeds. If we are to focus on relevance, leadership and opportunity for designers in securing their success in the future, it is critical that they be positioned as transdiciplinary designers, with the capacity to solve complex problems in a global design economy with sensitivity to other cultures. AIGA can play a role in helping to open effective channels for many designers to connect with colleagues in other countries through relationships with our counterpart associations. AIGA China was a very successful means of establishing a presence for AIGA and U.S. designers in China, although the costs of moving it to the next level were too high at the moment we needed to make the next step, as the recession hit here. It was a very productive investment; then we had to make choices because of limited resources. Our investment strategy is to invest the funds in an endowment with board-designated restrictions. Returns from invested capital will be consistent with market conditions, but in any case will generate more revenue and provide greater flexibility than if it is all in a single piece of real estate that is never liquidated. The organization that will fare best in the future will probably be an organization that is well capitalized, relatively liquid, and agile in adapting to change. We have not identified a building to purchase; the board has not yet made a decision to sell, although it will consider the question in a November meeting.

  • Willy Wong commented on the article "What we heard: your voice on AIGA's future"

    In advance of the board meeting on Nov 7, here my comments/questions for the board to consider, point-by-point to the options proposed for 2020: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AiS573s_LHdrdElfbGFPeXhudzFkVDhodDI5TmJ4Y2c&usp=sharing I shared this with Ric and fellow chapter presidents, but wanted to make sure it's part of the 450+ public comments to be reviewed. Ric's original response at the bottom of my note. Organizational transformations are tough, expensive and lengthy. They require constant iteration from the moment they begin because the climate will continue to evolve. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail. Yes, we need to transform. I get it. I'm in favor. And I'm big on risks and huge on change. But, I also try to be as informed as possible before placing bets on a gamble or making a serious investment in any risk-return situation. I get vision, but we need a pragmatic plan that maps us from here to our moving target, the short-term and long distance. To date, I have not read a plan that compels me enough to feel confident about liquidating our primary asset. I can't argue with many of the proposed changes in spirit, but they need tactics. I can vote on tactics. I'd like a firm roadmap that connects the dots on how proceeds from the building sale and achieving each of the key transformations will pragmatically give us greater return for the long haul, net financial strength, relevance, stronger membership base or design community overall and fulfill on mission. More importantly, as I am both a member and a chapter leader (President of AIGA/NY), how will these plans relate back to chapter/national governance? Yes, I've been part of many of these strategic planning meetings that led us to these broader ideas, but in all of these sessions, I found my response as a designer and general AIGA member may have conflicted strongly with my response as a designer in the context of my community and a member of my chapter. Chapters share the foundation of design as a profession, but we all operate as independent legal/fiduciary entities. We all program based on the needs of our local constituents/markets. Some clusters of chapters have more in common with each other, either based on scale or density or member composition. But what works here in New York or another density-high chapter may not work elsewhere and vice versa. Some chapters may not require or be able to sustain the breadth or depth of activity as others. How does this national transformation translate down to local capacity and needs? >> Hi Willy, Thanks for the thoughtful comments. The ascertainment of members' perspective is never just a "courtesy." It is something we take very seriously and we always consider all comments, whether on membership surveys, in chapter roundtables, at the leadership retreat or in conversations all year long. A top priority moving forward is talking through the issue of a stronger chapter leadership platform; as you know, since you participated, this was one of the recommendations that came out of both the summit in February and the Ziba exercises in the roundtables and leadership retreat this year. It is one of the central elements of our proposal for change. We would welcome your participation as part of a small working group. In terms of specific aspects of the proposals, we will be addressing many in an Insight article later this week. However, let me try to respond to a few of your points; many can better be addressed in a conversation. Yes, transformation involves directing existing resources, both financial and human, toward new goals and objectives. And AIGA is committing to doing just that. However, in any under-capitalized enterprise, with little in the way of discretionary resources, it can be difficult to leap from an existing life-cycle curve to a new one, more appropriate to a dynamic market place. This is precisely what we are trying to do: transform AIGA into an organization that proves its mettle in a different environment than it occupied last century, with the change in social media, internet access to information and even social norms toward associations. A short term investment in strengthening an organization in new ways can result in substantial long term growth and relevance. This is what we are proposing with the "transformative" option (and we admit, we got the naming of the options wrong). The issue of scale is an interesting one. At the leadership retreat, we have always been encouraged to go for scale, which can increase influence (and viability, due to its impact on marketing programming and earning sponsorship). However, it remains an interesting conversation, although most criticism from members and nonmembers in recent years has focused on clubbishness or exclusivity, not inclusivity. In recent years, we have been encouraged by members, chapter leaders and nonmembers to be more inclusive; the board, in its adoption of revised mission and values statements this year emphasized inclusiveness. Scale will also fund additional activities that we believe will help to make membership more attractive. The building is indeed an asset that will grow in value. If the intention is to increase the value of an asset, despite the vagaries of the real estate market, it may be wise to simply hold onto the building. If the real value of an asset for a membership organization is to enhance the value of the member experience, then simply holding an appreciating asset is not the best use of those financial resources. There is a very compelling argument that a membership organization should act to maximize the long term value of membership for the profession. This would argue that investing a portion of one's resources in members and their experiences should be the most effective use of resources, if they result in growth and strength within the association and the membership. We are proposing owning another office, creating an income producing endowment and spending a small portion of that endowment to change the organization. Among the opportunities for AIGA to mark its centennial would be to enhance its historic role in documenting great design of the 20th century. This is not an expensive task, but it is one that we cannot fund from existing resources . We are always seeking other external financing (hence the NEA funding). If we find that other funding, we would not use any proceeds. If we are to focus on relevance, leadership and opportunity for designers in securing their success in the future, it is critical that they be positioned as transdiciplinary designers, with the capacity to solve complex problems in a global design economy with sensitivity to other cultures. AIGA can play a role in helping to open effective channels for many designers to connect with colleagues in other countries through relationships with our counterpart associations. AIGA China was a very successful means of establishing a presence for AIGA and U.S. designers in China, although the costs of moving it to the next level were too high at the moment we needed to make the next step, as the recession hit here. It was a very productive investment; then we had to make choices because of limited resources. Our investment strategy is to invest the funds in an endowment with board-designated restrictions. Returns from invested capital will be consistent with market conditions, but in any case will generate more revenue and provide greater flexibility than if it is all in a single piece of real estate that is never liquidated. The organization that will fare best in the future will probably be an organization that is well capitalized, relatively liquid, and agile in adapting to change. We have not identified a building to purchase; the board has not yet made a decision to sell, although it will consider the question in a November meeting.