In response to Paula Scher’s “Unjustified” essay on Imprint
When Paula Scher wrote her piece entitled ’AIGA: Unjustified — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers‘, I stumbled upon it immediately and submitted a response on April 3. For some reason that response never moved from moderation to “live” status on their website. At this point, were they to publish it, it would look like I hadn’t been following the conversation. So here’s what I wrote in response.
As the outgoing president of the Pittsburgh chapter of AIGA, our regional competition was re-tooled years ago along these lines. Initially renamed “CONTEXT”, the competition asked designers to define the objectives, audience and challenges in creating submitted pieces. We still use these criteria today, even as the competition evolves.
The idea was that the show had grown stagnant, with judges selecting the same kind of work year after year, often seeing the sames firms and clients represented. These works were beautifully designed, of course. Many of them served the purpose the clients requested innovatively and creatively. But there is more to design than beauty. There is also effectiveness. Our chapter’s competition today seeks to recognize work that is “effective, meaningful, and beautiful” because we are convicted that good design can be more than just beautiful.
AIGA, like the design profession, is going through some major changes; as an organization, AIGA is trying many new things in response to feedback we receive from members and non-members alike. I do not speak for AIGA in any official capacity. But I can tell you that from the chapter level up to the national staff and board of directors, the organzation is asking a lot of questions about the future of design and what it means to be a graphic designer in the 21st century. This means trying new things. Sometimes it means letting old things go. But I personally believe that AIGA represents our best opportunity as designers for advocacy and visibility outside of our profession, and that the leadership of AIGA is working hard to ensure the position of our industry well into the future.
Paula, I think the points you raise here are valid and worth discussion; but I also believe AIGA is still committed to showcasing “beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration” in design via Design Envy and through other channels. And I think the comment that “The AIGA membership never believes that their clients respect them” is unfair because many of us – myself included – experience respect, appreciation and admiration every day from our clients. I think the comment is editorially powerful, but if you really believe that, I can point you to throngs of AIGA members I know personally who would disagree. I also take issue with the idea that we, as designers, can learn nothing from the results of this competition. It seems premature to call the contest before we’ve seen its outcome, and I imagine that we’ll be surprised with the number of beautiful, innovative and creative solutions that are selected as part of this show.
The call for AIGA to recognize beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration is critical, and it will continue to be. This shift does not mean a departure from these things, it means that AIGA is looking to show us something different and new, in response to feedback from people like you and others in our community of design. I think it’s fair to say that someone in your position of leadership within design should speak out when they feel that our preeminent professional association is making a mistake; I’m glad that you have and I hope that this esay can be a starting place for dialogue on this matter. I believe that good design takes many forms. And I believe that the history of AIGA competitions was not an exhaustive survey of the state of design, just as this competition will not be. But I also believe that the changes the organization is making come from the right place with an eye on the right future.
If you have thoughts on this topic, head over to imprint to check out the original contribution and add your voice.