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Up Next for AIGA: Next and 2015

In less than three weeks thousands of designers will ascend upon Denver to gather, chatter and lather about our profession at the 2007 AIGA National Design Conference, Next. Unlike 2005’s ambiguously titled Design, or 2003’s ambitiously titled The Power of Design, this year’s edition is decidedly clear(er) on what it will offer: “Explore the value of design and seek to answer the question: what’s next?”. A tall order for sure, and a worthy topic for musing but, perhaps, a rather incongruous theme in contrast to the nature of graphic designers?

The theme for the conference will serve, in part, as a vessel to deliver the results of AIGA’s Defining the Designer of 2015 initiative in partnership with Adobe that was launched “to define the professional requirements of the designer of 2015 — to forecast the needs, skills and roles of the designer of the future.” (You can hear about the findings on Saturday’s 2:15 affinity session from Adobe’s Joan Bodensteiner and Ric Grefé, executive director of the AIGA). “Designers are the intermediaries between information and understanding,” writes Grefé in an accompanying editorial to the initiative, “And yet, there is a vulnerability to this vision — they can react to what is asked of them, but they do not always anticipate their own future as clearly.” What Grefé sees as vulnerability, I see as our strongest asset: Reaction.

Of course, on paper, Proactive reads better than Reactive, but as a skill that designers have developed over the decades — fueled by evolving technologies, shifting economies and morphing cultures, and emphasized by the variety of clients, personas and deliverables we deal with from project to project — reaction may be what makes our services, skills and sensibility valuable. As has been made evident over the years, especially as discussed early on here at Speak Up, defining, prescribing (and even proscribing) what graphic design is and what graphic designers do is a prohibitive endeavor, especially if consensus is what one is after… “The desired outcome of the Designer of 2015 initiative is to define about six general types of designers who will be needed to address communication design problems in the collaborative environment of 2015.”

With or without definitions, graphic designers — maybe I should make the distinction, successful graphic designers (and we all know what success in design entails) — have survived, and thrived, dandily since the heady corporate days of the 60s and 70s and into the turbulent 90s and early 00s, simply by adapting and reacting to client needs, market demands and social expectations based on their knowledge of design principles (typography, language, composition, delivery, etc.) coupled with their own personal understanding of business and culture — reacting to these variables by producing context-appropriate, time-sensitive, zeitgeist-specific solutions that are visually engaging… Hopefully. As designers, we draw from what is happening around us at the moment, and based on what has come before it, keeping pace with the information that everybody is experiencing at the time… Reacting. This should not be a bad word for designers. It should be embraced.

Despite being reluctant to forecasting an irremediably unpredictable set of “needs, skills and roles of the designer of the future”, I’m eager, as I am every two years, to hear what designers (on the big stage, the little stages and outside the restrooms) are doing and thinking — whether for the now, or for the Next.

[Disclosure: I was on the advisory committee for Next. My views, as always, are my own. No one asked me to write anything about it.]

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PUBLISHED ON Sep.26.2007 BY Armin
darrel’s comment is:

"initiative in partnership with Adobe that was launched “to define the professional requirements of the designer of 2015"

Surprisingly, it was determined that the professional requirements that are necessary are a fully licensed copy of Adobe CS12 and the Font Folio CD.

On Sep.26.2007 at 10:26 AM
felix’s comment is:

Well said!


On Sep.26.2007 at 12:45 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

I'm finding - by sheer accident of survival - that the next phase of MY design world is interaction with corporate executives and my design associates directly without reps, advertising agencies and go-betweens. Once we actually have a dialogue and they realize that I'm not nearly as flakey as they assumed, we actually get somewhere towards solutions.

It's taken me years to have the confidence to talk directly with, say, a group of banking experts pulled together by a large investment company client. But to get to the heart of the matter I had to. I'm not shy.

My humble opinion is that designers need to be less isolated, and by doing so, they get off their high horse about superiority and their insecurity understanding of new directions in commerce. If the Future is anything it's a wider conversation about solutions opposite to the "fortress mentality" that is crumbling. It's about to make some big changes if Bush and friends don't nuke us into oblivion in the meantime. I think there's room for optimism.

On Sep.26.2007 at 02:51 PM
Alana’s comment is:

In my experience, designers remain isolated (to widely varying degrees) for practical reasons. The most common/important one is maybe that there's some kind of inversely-proportional equation betwixt how innovative/creative a person can be, and how practical/patient they can be. It's hard to humbly toe-tap when one's burning up with vision. I suppose that sounds a bit dramatic. Regardless: most designers need handlers. The ones who don't end up in management.

On Sep.26.2007 at 06:27 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Interesting take on this, Alana, but "handlers" always seem to BE a kind of management. I've gone thru quite a few and find that I can negotiate and handle my own affairs pretty well.
I AM isolated in so many ways, being in a new city now, and I'm trying to break thru that.Most of my work comes from elsewhere. Atlanta just doesn't seem to be a design town. Anyone else have a suggestion about it?

On Sep.27.2007 at 10:29 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

In my experience, designers remain isolated (to widely varying degrees) for practical reasons. I'm sorry to hear that these are your experiences, however, my advice to you is: get out more; swing in different circles; and befriend open-minded (or extroverted [not isolated]) people.

Regardless: most designers need handlers. What a hasty generalization, and I'd like to see your statistics on this matter, because it's really the opposite. Although, maybe you mean 'handlers' in a different way than I interpret. Please define...

On Sep.28.2007 at 07:55 PM
Brad Gutting’s comment is:


The designer of the future will be strikingly similar to the designer of today.

1. They will have to be able to design
2. They will have to get shit done on time and on budget

A designer's relevance, as always, will depend entirely on the value they provide to their client--a commercial client has different expectations than a social/political client. Both demand results. This isn't new.

Why does this discussion continue to exist? To paraphrase Elvis Costello, its a bit like dancing about architecture. Isn't it?

That being said, its still FUN to talk about it. I'm with Armin--I'm damn curious to hear what people are thinking and to see what they're doing. It strikes me as a bit silly to ponder what it'll be like in eight years--as in, yes, we largely react to things, so...what's this chitter chatter going to achieve?--but okay. Fine. If that'll spark the dialogue, cool. Better than nothing.

Too often I get the sense that the AIGA is just desperately trying to convince anyone--anyone!--that design is really important. Certainly, many people do not realize that, but the organization's posture is often defensive, like its trying to justify or prove something to a dubiously captive audience. Unnecessary. The language in Grefe's editorial is grandiose, big, bold, elegant and totally empty. It's a re-hash of everything that's already been said a thousand times, presented as being so new, so vital. Yawn. It's fine to think and speak in broad strokes, but "design" will continue to "happen" in the action of creation. Some "blue sky" thinking is always advisable, but its amazing how much more you accomplish when you're actually DOING as opposed to talking.

On Sep.29.2007 at 08:06 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Twelve years ago How asked me to write an article for their tenth anniversary predicting what graphic design would be like in ten years (i.e., two years ago.) I was wrong on most particulars but perhaps right on the broad strokes toward the end.

The good thing about AIGA projecting only 75% of a decade is that they should have 25% less chance of being completely wrong. I don't know what having 23 people working on it does to the chances for accuracy. I'm sure some economist has written a paper on that subject.

On Oct.02.2007 at 10:41 AM
felix’s comment is:


Speaking of �skating to where the puck will be� and Pentagram charging $750 per hour, I find it, well, weird, that no one has attempted to forcast where Paula's latest co-op with HP and Logoworks is headed. I hear sometime in the near future you'll be able to walk into an Office Depot, select a layout design in one of Paula's "Business" lines and while you're there, you can add another icon from the logoworks morgue. Mind you, anyone who has spen time studying logoworks' whore business model knows the bulk of that work was done for $25.

On Oct.02.2007 at 02:30 PM
Brad Gutting’s comment is:

Anybody catch Michael Bierut's essay on Design Observer a couple months back? It was about how there's nothing wrong with designers making things look pretty.

To that I say: Bravo!

I like making things look cool and I imagine the rest of you do as well. "Cool" has many, many different manifestations. I guess we're all just looking for ways to justify this pursuit. If you're trying to justify it to yourself...well...that's unfortunate. This job's way too fun to feel so guilty about.

On Oct.02.2007 at 03:11 PM
felix’s comment is:

This job's way too fun to feel so guilty about.

Sure. If you design soley for Toys R Us and Jack Daniel's. I did a branding job from the Florida law firm G&T last year (via a little known New York City design firm). Now, most of you don't know who G&T is. Hell, I didn't... till I read about them on the front of the New York Times some months later.

Y'see, G&T was the employer of Jack Abramof. Also, they represented Geroge W Bush in 2000 during the "recount". Hmmm. I wonder who else worked on that incredibly important 2000 supreme court case?

John Roberts. (source: Jeff Toobin, CNN)

Yeah, our business is way too fun to feel guilty about

BTW, It only took me 9 months to get paid on that piece of crap miserable job. I felt so guilty I gave a sizable portion of it to Moveon.org, which was then spent on shaming Tom Delay.

Guilt then turned to pleasure (he was toasted).

On Oct.02.2007 at 03:31 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Felix, for God's sake, the next time you feel guilty and want to GIVE money away I'd suggest sending it to ME: I'm buying up real estate on Mars and I can sell you some really nice property.

Off-planet is the future for Design...like those freeze dried food packets all ready to go. Add a 25 cent logo and you're done...

On Oct.03.2007 at 10:42 AM
darrel’s comment is:

Whoa. Paula + Logoworks?

Did that just open a wormhole or something?

On Oct.08.2007 at 01:08 PM