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As a long-time member of AIGA and newly elected member of its national board of directors, lynda.com founder Lynda Weinman was invited to attend the organization's annual design awards gala in New York City last fall. A few days before the event, she spent some time getting to know some of the AIGA’s key members and touring the organization's offices and archives.
Lynda's journey introduces us to the professional association for design, through the eyes of some of the most talented and influential designers of our time. Lynda visits AIGA's National Design Center on Fifth Avenue, home to the breathtaking design archives (dating back to the 1920's) as well as this year's premiere of 365: AIGA's Annual Design Exhibition. She also touches down at New York's School of Visual Arts and at Sterling Brands, the largest brand consultancy in the country, located in the Empire State building. Those interviewed include executive director Ric Grefé, national AIGA president Debbie Millman, former president Sean Adams, and editor Steven Heller from Voice: AIGA’s Journal of Design.
Lynda Weinman: Hi Karen! Thank you so much for joining us and congratulations on being a medalist. Karen Goldberg: Oh, it's fantastic! Lynda: Could you introduce yourself to our audience? Karen: My name is Karen Goldberg. And I've been a graphic designer since I graduated from Cooper Union in 1975. My first job was at CBS Records. No, that's not true. My first job was at CBS Television, and it was really there that I was introduced to what it was to work with pros and to be around the best people possible.
And it was in the 70s when CBS Television was really the place to be. When I left CBS Television, I moved on to CBS Records. It's really where I think my whole life changed, my whole perception of design exploded. And then from there, I think I'd had enough of corporate life. I mean I've said this so many times in so many interviews, but it's really the truth. So I went in and started my own studio.
It seemed like the logical move to do, to go from record covers to book jackets, and frankly, that was the work that was out there for a freelance person like me. I've still done record covers as an independent. I actually did Madonna's cover which was, looking back on it, now it's kind of bizarre because who knew? What's a Madonna? You know I mean -- Lynda: Oh, it's before she was -- it was her first -- Karen: It was her first cover, first album. So there were things that I had done outside of CBS Records, but really the lion's share of a lot of my work for many years were book jackets.
And I also think that book jackets were under the radar. As soon as they -- anything, anything, whether it's record covers, book jackets, whatever you're doing, as soon as it becomes trendy or chic or sexy to do them, eh, it's over to some degree. Then everybody is watching. There are too many cooks, too many people at meetings, too many people with opinions, and then you kind of have to move on to the next thin, the under the radar thing, which is hard to find, not always easy. I think that I was lucky. Right place, right time.
Lynda: And talented. Karen: Yeah, I mean hopefully, but I think that it is about really just curiosity, wanting to do it, just genuinely wanting to learn, and to be in love with the challenge and to be in love with design and art, and not think of it as two separate entities. And it's just I liked being there. And I still do, and I search all the time for that next inspiring, motivating -- Lynda: Project.
Karen: -- project or group of people or -- Lynda: Challenge. Karen: Yeah, which is few and far between, frankly, and not only because I'm older and wiser and established, but because times have changed. And I do think that I really was at the right place at the right time with the right energy, the right interest, or curiosity, or fire in my belly, or whatever you want to call it. One of the things about book jacket design and especially because I was doing so many books, I was doing like 45 books a list, sometimes three and four times a year.
Lynda: Wow! Karen: That it really was like being an artist in a studio, where you were really working not only on individual covers, but you were really working on a body of work where you could make a mistake. You could make a clunker, but you knew that you had the opportunity to make five more and five more after that, and now when I have little things here and there, or I don't have this constant flow, I get really frustrated and I'm not happy.
I'm spoiled. It's like sitting in first class. You can't sit in coach anymore, and when you've had that opportunity, you want more. It's just -- it tastes too good. That's one of the things that I think few young designers, or maybe designers in general, I don't know, don't have these days. Lynda: Why do you think today it's less possible than it was before? Karen: It was a much smaller world then, and there were fewer people. And I was just one of those fewer people and you're kind of discovered, you know.
Lynda: What role did AIGA play in your career? Karen: For me, AIGA is it, and this is why getting this award is so amazing for me because this is the one I've always wanted. This is it. This is the Oscar of graphic design, and I did get a call. I guess it was in like the year 2000. Janet Froelich was president of AIGA chapter, she called me up. She said, "Would you like to be on the board?" And I went, "No. I don't do boards," and she said, "Oh! Come on!" And I said, "No, leave me alone," basically. Like click.
And then she faxed to me the list of people who were going to be on that board that year coming up, and it was just a list of people that I either wanted to become friends with, didn't know well, but wanted to be know them better, people I admire, and I thought, "this is nuts." I'm doing this. We had a ball, and I like tasks. I like to bite right into something. Even though I think I don't, when you give me the challenge I do it a zillion percent.
So I was very active. And then two years, there was a gap of two years when Alex Isley was president, and then Alex asked me to be president, and I wanted the job because I was very, at that point, entrenched and I had a lot of ideas and I really wanted to do it, and I did it and it was absolutely everything and more. I really love the organization because when it's good, it's great.
Lynda: Yeah, it's really kind of an honor to be a part of it and to be able to influence people and give back and share and inspire and educate and all the great things that -- Karen: It is. It's a very holistic way of approaching what we do. The most important part of being a president of AIGA, in the chapter, was to bring in the notion of inclusivity. I wanted members to feel like they mattered.
Lynda: Well, I know, on behalf of everybody, congratulations again, on being a medalist and-- Karen: Thank you! I can't think of anything more fantastic! Really!
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