Why has AIGA withdrawn from Icograda?

AIGA recently resigned its membership in the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (Icograda), effective January 1, 2010. Although we still respect and support Icograda's activities, we can no longer justify the investment of membership funds.

In an effort to explain our decision and maintain transparency, I've outlined the background on the relationship and our decision. Your comments and questions, as always, are welcome.

AIGA's role in the discussion

AIGA joined Icograda in 2005, already firmly committed to the concept that creativity and design transcend national boundaries, both in their inspiration and their impact on society. We were encouraged to join in order to vote on launching the International Design Alliance (IDA) in 2005, the first step in transforming Icograda into a pan-disciplinary organization that welcomes all designers, regardless of specific disciplines.

AIGA has been an active, constructive and supportive member of Icograda over the past four years. We have advocated a role for Icograda that would support the future of design, which will require designers be prepared for a design economy that is global, with a sensitivity toward other cultures, an understanding of the principles and practices of sustainable design, and an appreciation for the designer's contribution to problem solving through integrative thinking and problem solving using all available media.

Momentum on becoming pan-disciplinary

After four years of negotiations with the associations representing industrial designers and interior designers—our partners in the idea of the IDA—the Icograda board voted in October 2009 to create yet another task force to study the issue. This means that the multidisciplinary vision for design representation could not begin until after the 2011 General Assembly, and even then may take several more years—a timeframe we consider neither certain enough nor rapid enough to justify our continued support.

AIGA will continue to work actively with existing international partners such as INDEX: and Cumulus; we will also maintain our strong ties with individual design associations in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Financial considerations in the decision

AIGA members are experiencing reduced services, and many worry for their own jobs. Every one of AIGA's initiatives and expenses is being carefully examined. The current economy has impacted this decision, if only because it forces us all to be efficient in our use of resources. And the term “resources” does not only refer to money. Our investment in Icograda's success has always involved our participation in its activities and governance as well, which takes even more precious resources: time and energy.

Similarly, we have decided that AIGA must focus its limited money, time and energy on advancing the interests of its members in achieving a relevant role in this future. We are accountable to our members and we must commit our resources where we believe they will have the greatest impact in preparing designers (whether AIGA members or not) for a meaningful role in the future economy.

Accountability for the future

The future of design hinges upon the ability of designers to gain inspiration from each other and communicate effectively with local markets. The more AIGA can help its members create connections with designers in other countries, the stronger our membership will be—so AIGA must be part of the global design community. This is accomplished in ways both direct, such as our efforts to bridge designers through AIGA China, and indirect, such as our involvement in international organizations that benefit our own members.

We believe the current course of Icograda is not one that positions it effectively for relevance and leadership in the 21st century quickly enough. Some will disagree with the decision AIGA has made, which was intended to accelerate a process that we believe is in Icograda's—and the design profession's—best interest. Some will say we are too impatient; we would argue we are being prudent in committing resources and priorities in a world that is changing at warp speed.

AIGA continues to hold Icograda in high regard, and as Icograda adapts to the current and future dynamics of the design economy we will be there to support it as best we can.

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.