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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: An interesting aspect of AIGA, that I had no idea existed, was shown to me by former AIGA President Sean Adams, when he took me down to the basement of the National Design Center into the Adams Morioka Archives vault that houses materials from AIGA's extensive library of design artifacts. Lynda: I never knew. Now is this what I see online? Lynda: Is this the same design archive? Sean Adams: This is. Sean: When you see the picture online, and it's this sort of beautifully well-put-together room. It's been incredibly organized by the AIGA staff.
They keep it beautifully, you know, all the pieces in place, new things come in all the time. It's incredible. You just walk around the room, and I mean, look at that. It's a Paul Rand, original. Lynda: Wow! Oh, my gosh! Sean: The scary thing, of course, is if we were in Smithsonian, they would insist we have like funny gloves on, but here you can simply call and set up a time and come in and-- Lynda: Oh so that's how the archives are used is you can book time? Sean: You can book time. You can say, look, can I have a couple of hours? I want to come, and I just want to go through materials.
It ranges from something like the piece that Rand did to this beautiful cover I think that Tom Geismar did, which is great. Lynda: Wow, that's gorgeous. Sean: I am going to so steal this idea. Sean: It's a good one. Lynda: It is! Sean: It's not just like older stuff. Sean: There is like Kit Hinrichs' fantastic book. Lynda: I have that book. Yeah. Sean: Which every designer should have. Sean: And then these flat files back here are filled with medalist materials. Lynda: Oh, wow! Sean: So every medalist that - Lynda: Okay, well back up one second, because what we're looking at is AIGA materials Lynda: that were created for AIGA, right? Sean: For AIGA, right.
Lynda: Whereas we have another design archive, which is filled with the Lynda: competition submissions. Sean: Right. Sean: So if you've submitted something, then that's in that competition archives. And then we kind of have a third ancillary archive, which is of course the AIGA Medal, which is the highest honor that a designer can receive in their entire profession. Lynda: And we are going to witness that at the Gala tonight. We're going to see three new medalists. Sean: Tonight, three new medalists, inducted then to college and so those materials when a medalist is chosen.
So when I call you, no doubt in the very near future, and say Lynda, you are getting the medal. I would then say, could you send me materials? You would send it to us, and they'd end up in these flat files. So that fictional 24-year-old student from Nebraska could come here and open it up and say -- Lynda: So how old are the oldest pieces here in the archive do you think? Sean: The medalist program goes back over 80 years. So we should in theory have some examples.
Obviously, now we are far more uptight about maintaining the history than they might have been in 1923. When I think they just sort of thought it was like, well, we're just commercial artists. I came across this the other day which I thought was miraculous. It's Deborah Sussman's work for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Lynda: I totally remember those. Sean: So beautiful, and even the signage guidelines. Lynda: The colors - that is so cool. Sean: It's beautiful, and every drawer is filled with like these incredible wonderful pieces, and I needed then up to Stefan Sagmeister's Jambalaya poster, the chicken head cut off poster, right next to Herbert Bayer original.
Lynda: It's so gorgeous. Sean: It's just -- it's this wealth of richness in here that you could spend a week in here, and get the entire history of design from the very best people doing their very best work. Lynda: Right. Sean: You have to be at the top of your game. You have to do your best work, because you know that the work that you are doing on something is going out to of course all of your peers, and everyone you know. So everything is racheted up just that little bit more. I think that's when why you find some of these materials that are the most beautiful incredible things that -- I don't know.
I have a special love for all of it. I know these archives so well, and I just love looking at them and finding things.
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