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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: Beyond providing an association for designers, AIGA plays an important role in stimulating excellence in the field of design. I went to the School of Visual Arts to meet with Steven Heller, a longtime editor of AIGA's Journal of Graphic Design and the current editor of AIGA Voice, a blog focusing on design. I wanted to talk to him about the role AIGA plays in fostering dialog among its designers, through publications, events, and competitions.
AIGA has, over the years, put out a lot of different publications. Which ones have you been involved with, and can you tell us a little bit about that? Steven Heller: Well, I have been involved with the Annual, when it was Graphic Design U.S.A. What I was interested in was having an annual that wasn't just a record of the year's so-called best work. I wanted it to have an editorial entity. So in some of those issues you will find there are feature stories, but at the same time, the content has expanded, on one hand, to, at times, be more critical, more broad, because, more than anything else, design is broadening its scope.
It's not just graphic design anymore, or it's at least not our grandmother's graphic design anymore. Lynda: So what do you think the role of competitions and extolling certain design excellence is within AIGA? Steven: Graphic design follows stylistic trends. Sometimes there are form givers who actually lead those trends along. AIGA is there not to ignite them, not to trigger them, but to be a container in which we can view them.
Sometimes it's a matter of just showing other people's work to impressionable, or even non-impressionable people and letting them draw their own conclusions. What AIGA has done through its exhibitions, and particularly through 360, is kind of define what is excellent, from their perspective. I think it serves an interesting role, as all those competitions do, because they are so subjective. It's really based on who is there at the time and who is submitting.
But it also sets up a touchstone against which people can rebel. And I think it's important to have that rebellion, so that each generation has its own voice. I know when I was starting out, I looked at the Art Directors Club Annuals - there were no AIGA Annuals at that time - and I would copy some of the work that I saw, typographically and conceptually, and then I would break the rules. Now, I didn't necessarily break them very well, but that's what I used it for, and I think that AIGA has to serve the purpose of putting some things on a pedestal and then seeing them knocked down.
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