Share your voice on AIGA’s future

AIGA is beginning its second century in an era of massive change. Now is the time to lead an evolving profession in new ways.

AIGA’s board of directors invites your perspective and encourages your vote on options for the future. We are presenting to you a strategic framework for AIGA and two very different options for the future. This conversation has implications for how AIGA will allocate staff, facilities and financial resources for the future, which activities will be possible and what AIGA will be like for the next several decades.

Why change now?

The internet, social media, open source opportunities and the attitudes of new generations have changed the role of all associations, not just AIGA. All professional organizations must transform to remain viable and vital.

AIGA was founded as a small club of dedicated designers seeking to celebrate great design. Today, AIGA gives 24,000 designers a collective voice about design excellence, the value of effective design and the potential for design to improve the human experience.

The greatest assets we have are dedicated and energetic members and chapter leaders who create countless opportunities for designers to connect, collaborate, celebrate and grow, nationwide, every day.

Today’s members want a relationship based on clear values, participation, the opportunity to contribute, a sense of ownership, rich experiences, and, more than anything, relevance.

The choice of futures presented here is one that results from working with hundreds of designers, experts, boards and chapters, as well as leading strategy and positioning firms, to develop a vision for AIGA’s future. The planning process resulted in little divergence of views. The same major themes emerged throughout:

  • Members and chapters are the nexus of the AIGA experience.
  • Membership engagement is the key to viability and loyalty.
  • Members expect greater means of connecting with one another.

AIGA is proposing transformative change to address these needs. The timing is urgent simply because of the pace of change around us. Fortunately, AIGA is fiscally sound, has a strong membership base and continues to grow. We are proposing change now to assure a robust and relevant resource for the next generation of designers.

Choose which option to pursue for 2020

What might AIGA look like in 2020 under each of the two options being considered?

OptionStatus quoTransformative
ImpactAIGA focuses existing activities on the proposed strategic direction, and launches few, if any, new initiatives.AIGA invests in transformation by selling 164 Fifth Avenue and creating an endowment to generate investment income and fund new activities.
Staffing1722, including increases in content curation, service design, professional development
Facilities11,000 square feet: vertical five-story building with gallery in retail district with a mortgage and line of credit8,000 square feet: horizontal collaborative co-op space with ideation and webcasting spaces in vibrant district, debt free 
Focus on design
  • Maintain Design Archives
  • Modestly support special initiatives: Living Principles, Design for Good, Design for Democracy
  • Two biennial conferences (AIGA Design Conference, Gain: Design and Business Conference)
  • Justified: AIGA Design Competitions
  • Advocacy on behalf of the profession
  • Develop digital collections and video interviews of prominent 20th century designers to augment the history of design in Design Archives
  • Increase support for and engagement in Living Principles, Design for Good, Design for Democracy
  • Two biennial conferences (AIGA Design Conference, Gain: Design and Business Conference), increase video resources
  • Justified: AIGA Design Competitions and others
  • Advocacy on behalf of the profession
  • Increase AIGA’s role as a global leader among global design communities through international activities; develop channels among U.S. and international designers
Focus on designers
  • Resources for members including salary survey, Design Jobs
  • Distribute digital versions of Design Business and Ethics, professional standards
  • Develop a professional development program based on periodic webcasts and partnerships, including AIGA Yale program
  • Make modest annual contributions to Worldstudio scholarships
  • Resources for members including salary survey, Design Jobs
  • Develop print materials and actively advocate model design education curricula among design educators
  • Develop curricula for programs based on cultural diversity
  • Develop and partner with programs to introduce design to children, with resource materials for chapters and members
  • Edit, publish and distribute a new edition of Design Business and Ethics
  • Develop robust professional development program, including Women’s Leadership Initiative, executive education, Yale program
  • Invest in student members
  • Endow a long-term AIGA Worldstudio Scholarships program
Focus on members and chapters
  • Membership development
  • Chapter development, including dues subventions, leadership retreat and Chapter Advisory Council
  • Membership development, including outreach to underrepresented groups and disciplines
  • Chapter development, including dues subventions, leadership retreat and Chapter Advisory Council
  • Develop a member participation platform to facilitate connections among members
  • Creation of $1M Chapter Innovation Fund
  • Support for regional conferences organized by chapters, develop and publish video archives of content 
Focus on organizational viability
  • Maintain six months’ financial reserves
  • Pursue government and foundation grants within limited bandwidth
  • Maintain current staffing levels 
  • Establish endowments of $13 million and fund higher levels of financial reserves
  • Invest staff resources in developing non-dues revenue sources
  • Actively pursue government and foundation grants
  • Increase project staff in the near term to activate transformative activities; continued employment would depend on activities generating revenue
  • Purchase of new office space with cash to eliminate debt service

Key transformative changes

We can describe now what some of the most critical changes and new activities would be under the transformative option. Further details would be developed if the decision is made to move forward.

Celebrate great design

Increase content that celebrates great design and designers, including drawing on the digital files of studios of the 20th century as collections in the online AIGA Design Archives. Become the go-to place for video interviews about and by influential designers. Explore new forms of competitions.

Engage designers in their communities

Develop resource materials that will assist chapters in implementing local programs for AIGA-wide initiatives such as Design for Democracy, Design for Good, Living Principles, and an inclusion initiative—activities that help demonstrate the value of design within local communities.

Transform members through professional development

Develop a comprehensive program plan for professional development, including formal and informal content. This program will offer discrete content for designers of all experience levels. Targeted programs would include a Women’s Leadership Initiative to enhance and encourage leadership within the profession and society.

Transform the student experience

Develop programs and activities to imbue students with the same passion that experienced designers have in their work, while helping them to develop the skills, judgment, ethics and opportunities to become successful designers.

Transform AIGA into a member participation platform

Create a platform that allows the organization to thrive in a world of virtual connections. Increase venues for the sharing of ideas, expertise, and best practices.

Transform chapters through collaboration and innovation

Develop a $1 million chapter innovation fund to provide grants to chapters to experiment, iterate, test and document successful programs. Implement new centralized and distributed support systems and resource materials that enable local chapters to focus on programming.

Communicate the value of design and designers more effectively

Develop a comprehensive communication strategy and set up mechanisms to capture stories about the value created by good design. This effort would expand an experienced content team to cover new channels and social media over a three-year period, with the aim of assuring the role of communication designers in the expanding demand for design strategy and execution across media. 

Secure financial viability

Convert the current office space from an asset—which has appreciated considerably over the last 19 years—to a revenue-generating endowment. Currently, the value of AIGA’s most significant financial asset is locked in rather than generating revenue that can be used to serve the membership and secure the long-term future of the organization. Transformative activities would be funded from the resulting endowment, but would be sustained by ongoing revenues within three years.

Financial implications
Net proceeds from sale of 164 Fifth Avenue
Purchase of new offices
Increase in endowments 
Reduction in annual operating costs 
Increase in annual investment income 
Increase in net worth 

What we need from you

  1. In September, we need your advice. Comment on this article and participate in the Adobe Connect session on September 27.
  2. In October, we will need your vote. All members will receive an email ballot in early October as well as a print piece describing the options. A final Adobe Connect session will be held on October 22 and balloting will conclude on October 25.

And just a reminder that an open membership meeting will be held following the AIGA Design Conference on Sunday, October 13 at 10:00 a.m. Central at the Millennium Hotel, 1313 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.

Thank you for engaging with us in this process to create a strong AIGA for the future. We plan to consider every member’s comments before making a decision on the future course for AIGA. If we pursue the transformative option, most changes in services will begin in the fall of 2014, following the detailed plans that are developed each year in deciding how to commit AIGA resources as part of our budgeting process.