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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: The gallery opening that night was a huge success, and there were streams of people coming in all night to check out this year's exhibition. It was a living example of how sharing great work can stimulate creativity and foster dialog; however, there is so much more to AIGA than just showing exemplar work at its gallery in New York. AIGA has many programs and initiatives, at the national and international level, to evangelize the importance of design across a wide spread of different industries and disciplines.
I was curious to learn more about their programs that encourage the development and the education of designers at all levels of their careers. So what are the primary goals of the AIGA? Ric Grefe: The primary goals are stimulating thinking about design, getting designers excited about design again, but also those who aren't designers. The second goal is demonstrating the value of design, which is about getting a shared voice that articulates how design creates value. Lynda: Can you give us some examples where design is in effect that people who are not designers might not realize? Ric: Oh, absolutely! I mean, how can we use design in a way that is important to every individual in their real life? So there are two areas where we have explored that, and I think that we can make a significant impact.
In one area, it's in the civic experience. And there, in our Design for Democracy Initiative, almost the entire experience between the government and the governed is about asking for, or giving, information. Now, if we could simplify that process so that we can make the complex clear and get people to trust their government, it would make a huge difference, in terms of their involvement in civic experience. Another area where many people don't think about design first, but in fact, it can make a huge impact, is in some of the global problems that face people around the world.
They can be the problems that the UN had adopted as the Millennium Development Goals about education, access to clean water, child mortality, those sorts of things, or they can be common sense things that we worry about, whether it's disease or hunger. But in each of those cases, what's significant about designers is that they can take a look at a problem and they start, not with the institution that's providing the solution, but they start with what the human need is, and they can focus on what real people need.
They can take a look at a problem and lay out many different options. And then they can come up with innovative solutions that may be high-concept and low-cost. We certainly have examples of that where we have challenged every design college in the world to assign a problem on fresh water, which is called the Aspen Design Challenge, and there are any number of different examples where whether it's in an impoverished county in the United States, whether it's in the CDC's concern about early warning systems on disease, whether it's on issues of food or finance, where designers come up with really innovative solutions.
The third area, which is the traditional professional association's role, is empowering designers across the arc of their career. People at different points in their career have different needs, and certainly in the earlier stages of their career, it's fundamental coping skills and learning tools and techniques. Then as they reach their late 20s, early 30s, what becomes really important is practice management. Lynda: Business. Ric: Business. Ric: You are right. At that point, they are starting to think about, how do I commit a lifetime to this practice? The area that they frequently aren't taught is the practice management, the business skills.
We have got a relatively rich resource on the Web now, the Center for Practice Management, that includes resource materials. Another element of that, which gets at the heart of AIGA, is developing professional standards, so that they can be used with clients. And that really says the membership in AIGA gives a designer a mark as being a professional who meets certain professional standards, critical in terms of the relationship with clients. So the professional standards are part of that, as well.
And then the real challenge is what do people need at later stages in their career? It's interesting that when we serve our members, we find that they are looking for mentors who are younger than they are. Lynda: Circle of life. Ric: It is. That's right. AIGA can provide that, where you can be enriched at the beginning of your career or at the end of your career, and it's by doing it with each other.
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