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Gain Vision, Gain Value

The promise was big:

Gain will demonstrate the value of designing as a strategic process that adds substantial value to business and organizations. Influential designers and visionary business leaders will describe how they have initiated fundamental change in their organizations, their industries, their product mix and their bottom line by making design part of their culture. Presentations will provide both designer and corporate views on the process and consequence of value created through fostering new knowledge, generating better ideas, cooperation, increased goodwill, effective problem solving, collaboration, community vitality, and, of course, beauty, effectiveness and ROI.”

Personally, I always prefer the AIGA design + business events over the pure design presentations. I don’t need to see another presentation where a designer gets up on stage, shows his/her work to an audience… “see how great I am” .. with the audience reacting “…oh I want to be just like him/her one day”… it just does not give me much. The design + business conferences on the other hand, usually offer a chance to pick up new thinking, new tools, new understanding that I believe I can apply to how I conduct business, how I might adjust my strategies in my work.

Yes, the design + business conference costs money, but I believe the investment more than pays for itself. Yes, you might be able to pick-up a book or two and get many of the discussed concepts, but there is a dynamic in a lecture or presentation that cannot be delivered in a book.

While Gain did not necessarily fullfill the promise as outlined above completely, I think the conference did deliver. As with any conference there are always highlights and lowlights. I did not attend every presentation therefore I can’t judge them all, but I feel I caught plenty to ponder on. Plus one of the great things about this conference was the networking opportunities, and the connecting with friends that I had met at other events before. The web-based networking system in place was an interesting approach to help participants connect with each other. It seemed much like a dating network, but people sure were driven to the macs in the member lounge to find participants with shared interests.

Speaker hightlights for me included

Larry Keeley Innovation strategist, The Doblin Group

Keeley showed that if design professionals don’t want to become a commodity they have to look in the future, figure out how they can position themselves to be the shapers of a new design landscape… who wants to compete for $25 logo jobs or $260 per page websites?


James Ales Art director, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Jim Ales demonstrated how supporting a dynamic organization with an energetic and intelligent visual brand can generate a profitable response.
This guy, in my opinion, pulled off a great presentation. His presentation was simple, but had depth. He showed samples of his work for the aquarium, why it worked, what kind of a response it triggers (in $ for donations) week after week. but most of all he brought an emotion to the stage that I have not seen for quite some time. What a nice surprise.


David Brancaccio Co-host, “NOW with Bill Moyers”

Not one of the speakers, but as moderator essential in shaping dialogue and making connections. What a difference a good moderator makes. David was smart, quick and just an excellent guide troughout the program.


Patrick Whitney Director, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology

Patrick Whitley showed how they use research to come up with better strategies and stronger solutions. He showed how it works in theory and then showed how it worked in an acual project. Very smart. Very well presented.

Lowlights included

Sir Paul Judge Chairman, Royal Society of Arts

If I’m not mistaken, this guy, Sir Paul, was one of the keynote speakers. What happened? The brit forgot that he was presenting to design professionals. There might have been something to what he said, but the way he presented it was an embarassment. Makes you wonder how he made it onto the bill. But it also showed how much value design could really add.


Paula Scher Partner, Pentagram

In the middle of her talk, a completely uncalled-for low-blow at the UPS logo. The presentation itself I would rate mediocre at best. Actually, not even that… “make a friend high up in the foodchain of your customer’s firm” and “clients are evil”… Haven’t we all heard that too many times before… I certainly did not hear an explanation on how to explain to ordinary people how extraordinary design can be. But that’s what I think she was supposed to show us.

Ivy Ross with panelists from three design firms
Executive vice president of design and development, Old Navy

Again, a presentation that maybe had good intentions, but it missed its mark by putting on a lousy show. While it showcased that there are exciting possibilities there for designers to capitalize on with their ideas — if they just believe in what they are doing and realize the potential. Other than Scott Flora, none of them seemed convincing in what they had to say/show.

What made this conference special to me was a combination of things: Good speakers, good conversations, good venue, seing old friends, good bars (…) a dinner with some good Speak Up friends.

update: thanks to kirian, here the link to the
Gain Resources

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Oct.20.2004 BY Peter Scherrer
Mark’s comment is:

Gods, that first paragraph reads like something from the dot-com era... what year is it, 1997? I think there's a "paradigm shift" or two missing in there...

On Oct.21.2004 at 06:19 AM
Joseph Szala’s comment is:

I don’t need to see another presentation where a designer gets up on stage, shows his/her work to an audience… “see how great I am” .. with the audience reacting “…oh I want to be just like him/her one day”… it just does not give me much.

Thank god someone else feels that way. I always felt like a bit of a design snob after leaving events just like that. I always end up feeling "It was OK, not brilliant, not horrible, just okay." It feels good to know I'm not alone.

On Oct.21.2004 at 09:02 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

1997 = pixel icons

2004 = A business and design conference that sold out months in advance and according to attendee feedback, was on a whole, truly successful in its purpose.

For anyone interested, conference resources have been posted.

Thanks Peter.

On Oct.21.2004 at 11:20 AM
ps’s comment is:


thanks for the link to the resources, when i checked last they were not up yet. (or i missed the link) i have to point out that making these available is another major "positive" of the conference as it is difficult to listen, take notes and digest to all the speakers over a few days.

On Oct.21.2004 at 11:27 AM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

thanks & thanks

On Oct.21.2004 at 11:42 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I have never attended a GAIN conference. Is the dynamic between attendees much different than the AIGA's national? Meaning, are people more serious, or more focused on networking (even if it's with other designers like at national)? I assume it's an "older" audience? Are there wild drunken parties?

On Oct.22.2004 at 11:20 AM
ps’s comment is:

as i tend to skip the national conferences its hard for me to say, but certainly the average age is probably higher. the people attending are often running their own firms or are in decision making positions. networking and discussion be more business oriented rather than saegmeister's latest book. some designers bring their clients along. as far as the wild parties are concerned: i don't think age matters.

On Oct.22.2004 at 11:32 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

From the http://www.aiga.com/content.cfm/aboutaiga" target="_blank"> AIGA website:

AIGA, the professional association for communication design, is committed to furthering excellence in communication design as a broadly-defined discipline, strategic tool for business and cultural force. AIGA is the place design professionals turn to first to exchange ideas and information, participate in critical analysis and research and advance education and ethical practice...

Here's a blue-sky moment that I floated in an earlier, personal email about AIGA initiatives like GAIN:

Wouldn't it be great if these presentations could be taped, then offered as a streamed presentation — with or without accompanying slide presentations — for a nominal sum? The AIGA would have another revenue stream with minor distribution costs, more members could have access to the information, and an impressive professional resource could be developed which would contribute to both professional growth and "communicating the value of design to the business community and the public".

On Oct.22.2004 at 04:30 PM
Rob’s comment is:

AIGA is the place design professionals turn to first to exchange ideas and information, participate in critical analysis and research and advance education and ethical practice...

As a very active member of AIGA, and on our local board, I think this statemen is more a wish than present reality. I nice thought but I think the organization has a lot more work to do before it truly becomes what it seeks to be.

Events like GAIN are really the way to go, I unfortunately was unable to attend, because they add value to how designers look not only at their work but their clients as well. And on Mr. Kingsley's point I agree, streaming access of events and presentations, particularly keynote speeches, etc. would be a great thing for AIGA to offer on the national site. The GAIN site itself is a great resource and it would be great to expand on its offerings.

I really feel that AIGA as a national organization is slowly heading in the right direction in addressing many of the issues it faces as the only national design organization in the US. I for one, something I voiced at the AIGA Leadership Retreat in St. Louis, would really like to see something get done with the American Design Council. It would be nice to have an organization that acts as a clearinghouse/common ground/central depository for the many professions that use the process we know as design. Similar to the functions currently operated by the British Design Council in the UK.

On Oct.23.2004 at 04:08 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

Almost all of the organizations that we so admire who promote design in other countries -- like UK's Design Council -- are partially or fully funded by their governments. The AIGA, like the AIA, the IDSA, and the SEGD, receives no government funding and relies entirely on membership dues, fees for competitions and conferences (like Gain), and the energy of an army of volunteers.

This makes comparing US design organizations to British (or Dutch, or German, or Swiss, or you name it) ones rather depressing. Or maybe inspiring, when you consider how much we achieve with relatively limited funding.

Given the current political and economic climate, this situation is unlikely to change regardless of who's elected in November.

To answer Armin's question, the AIGA's business conferences are smaller, more low key, and perhaps more serious. There are less big/lavish galas, but probably more settings where you can have an intimate conversation. The crowd also seems a little less heterogenious: there are fewer students and academics, and probably more mid career and in-house designers.

On Oct.23.2004 at 04:56 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Depressing yes, considering our government's less than stellar record on supporting the arts. I can imagine the incredelous looks, or possibly blank faces, I might get if I strolled up to the hill, knocked on my senator's door and said, 'hey, we need just a little money each year to help promote design. can you push the bill through? if the british can do it, certainly the mighty and powerful US should not be outdone."

And inspiring knowing that it's up to us to get it done any way we can with whatever resources we can bring to bear to the cause.

Personally, I'd like to see AIGA sponsor more events like Gain, possibly in coordination with other organizations such as the Design Management Insititute and Interational Insitute for Research which holds at least a couple of conferences every year focused on design and branding. I feel the more we pitch the relationship between business and design, the better designers will be able to talk the talk of business and the better business will begin to better understand designers.

On Oct.24.2004 at 12:34 PM
David Womack’s comment is:

"Wouldn't it be great if these presentations could be taped, then offered as a streamed presentation — with or without accompanying slide presentations — for a nominal sum?"

We are working on a dvd of the conference presentations which (I think) we will make available for sale to the public as well as to conference attendees. We do try to make as many resources as we can avaible after the conference to those who weren't able to attend. Usually with minimal success. It is unexpectedly difficult to get the speakers to provide transcripts of their presentations. We are also looking in to webcasts--but we would have to figure out some way to recoup the costs. Would anyone pay to watch a webcast of Gain?

On Oct.27.2004 at 11:38 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Would anyone pay to watch a webcast of Gain?

I would pay $25-45 to download single presentations. Knowing that in most conferences not all presentations are worth the price of admission I would unlikely pay a larger fee to watch a whole web cast. Having quicktimes (I know, they'd be huge files but…) archived for reference would be quite an amazing resource.

On Oct.28.2004 at 08:42 AM
Keith Damiani’s comment is:

Making presentation videos available (either as single presentation downloads, or one large DVD) would be a great resource, even--or especially--for those of us who attended GAIN. I, for one, left the conference with some fantastic inspiration, and it would be wonderful to revisit some of the better presentations from time to time (excuse the approaching pun) to regain some of that inspiration. People like Christopher Hacker of Aveda, James Ales of Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Minda Gralnek of Target painted clear pictures of the potential of both design and one's individual passion to have a positive impact on business.

On Oct.28.2004 at 05:28 PM
Randy’s comment is:

I'm looking forward to receiving the DVD, which to my understanding is free to current AIGA members. In the future, I think I would prefer downloadable QT files; save the physical materials and keep the archive web-based. Either way, I'm very pleased that AIGA is extending more conference resources to members.

The Voice site offered a healthy number of transcripts, which I referred to often.

On Nov.11.2004 at 12:39 AM