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A rose by any other name would sound as sweet, unless it was completely ignorant of all the other kinds of design professionals that really aren’t a part of its membership base and didn’t really consider if its actualization would really solve any problems
Guest Editorial by Andrew Twigg
Seems that recently the AIGA changed its official name. I’m an AIGA member, but I hadn’t noticed this until I looked at Design Observer this morning. I was at first a little surprised, and definitely interested in what this name change could be. But when I clicked on the link to the page on the AIGA site announcing the name change, I can’t say I was totally thrilled. Was this for real?
I don’t think a name change is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly a name change is useful when the name of an organization fails to communicate what that organization does. And name changes have been used by countless organizations wanting to reinvent themselves (some even for the wrong reasons… think Altria). But when an organization makes a change, shouldn’t it really help the organization?
I remember finding out about the AIGA while I was a junior in college. I wasn’t in a graphic design program, but I had stumbled upon an issue of Communication Arts over my spring break. As far as I knew then, AIGA was just the name of the organization. I didn’t have any idea what the acronym stood for, and I wanted to pronounce it like one would many other acronyms (think laser): so I began referring to the organization as “eye-gah”.
This may have been lazy ignorance on my part, but that was soon corrected as I took my first design job where my co-workers and art director debated the merits of joining the organization. Saying “eye-gah” was a hard habit to break (after all, I had been doing it for nearly two years). But I finally got my act together and started saying the name letter-by-letter.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2004 that I actually joined the AIGA. And now, around a year later, the AIGA decides it’s no longer the “American Institute of Graphic Arts”, it’s “AIGA, the professional association for design”. I didn’t notice this in my 11/15 Chicago Chapter newsletter (ok, I didn’t read it. I think I was “busy” the day it came.) From the newsletter:
“Our official name has changed from ‘American Institute of Graphic Arts’ to ‘AIGA, the professional association for design’. This change results from continuous recommendations from members over the past decade (and more) in search of a name that reflects the evolution of the profession from its earliest roots in graphic arts. Yet, despite the desire for a name that was more inclusive, there is also a strong interest in retaining the legacy of AIGA. This resolution aims to address both interests. Now it is time for us to move together to give solid equity to the promise of this new identity.”
There’s more silliness to this name change. From the AIGA website announcment:
“Now it is time for us to move together to give solid equity to the promise of this new identity. IBM, AARP, MCI, ESPN, CSPAN and others have discarded their names and moved to using an acronym because as they grew, their businesses encompassed much more than their names indicated…
“We encourage active members to join many of your colleagues in using the initials ‘AIGA’ after your name in email signatures, business cards, etc., to show your support of the profession and your commitment to the standards for professional practice.”
Can someone please tell me how using the initials will help the cause? I mean, sure, it will help get the AIGA name out there, but that doesn’t help anyone understand it. And I love that this decision is justified because IBM, AARP, and others have made the change. Like mom says, if all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?
Maybe I’m missing something. I mean, I certainly think there were problems with the name. If you told a random person what the organization was before, there would most likely be some confusion, particularly if all you said was “AIGA” anyway. To have explained what AIGA stood for may have helped to explain the organization, if that person were familiar with graphic design as a concept. But the new name is long. How likely am I to say “AIGA, the professional association for design” when I mention the organization in conversation? And this name change isn’t even prominent on the AIGA website. It’s just in the page footer!
Additionally, this name seems a bit misleading to me. Is AIGA really trying to be THE professional association for design? What about fashion designers, interior designers, architects, sound designers, set designers, industrial designers, floral designers, software designers, and all those other kinds of designers I can’t even think of? What about all of the other organizations that already exist for those kinds of designers (such as the International Interior Design Association - IIDA)? Don’t we think they’ll get mad when all of their members defect to AIGA?
I have a feeling that this isn’t the intention of AIGA. Or maybe it is, but if so, no one is saying so - at least not at this point. Either way, if this is supposed to solve some kind of identity problem or communication issue, I think this needs a revisit. I don’t claim to be the genius with the solution, but I’m disappointed that this change seems to lack the clarity and vision I’d expect from what’s supposed to be the leading organization for my profession - whatever that profession is. In the meantime, if I mention AIGA, I’ll still have some explaining to do.
Andrew Twigg lives in Chicago where he has a design practice and teaches part time. He has been a member of AIGA, the professional association for design since the fall of 2004. He still has to explain the name and what he does to most random encounters.
For other misadventures in rename, visit Salon’s “The Name Game”