Sunday, April 27, 2014

AIGA @ 100

AIGA, the professional organization for design, held its Centennial Gala in NYC on April 25. Although I've heard complaints that the AIGA doesn’t represent most designers and can be snobby—and although I understand feeling peripheral in an organization that can seem clubby—AIGA is a class act. I also love the fact that it's only a year younger than Grand Central Terminal.

In an interview with Krista Tippett, the late scholar Jaroslav Pelikan used the phrase “the centrality of tradition as a force” and “a deep awareness of not only change but continuity.” Pelikan was discussing matters of faith—and I don’t want to equate AIGA with religion, or even a cult—but tradition, change, and continuity are themes central to AIGA. 

Part of the purpose of the gala was to fund-raise. But the gala also served to raise the bar and underscore AIGA’s mission to advance “design as a professional craft, strategic advantage, and vital cultural force.”

This year's inspiring gala honored 24 medallists (more than usual to raise more funds?). Some, like Bob Greenberg of R/GA helped build and run large companies. Some run companies of three to ten collaborators. And three, among them Michael Cronan, who named Tivo and who was a client and friend of a friend, have passed away. The AIGA site has the complete list and links to medallist bios.

I was particularly interested in a couple of honorees, possibly because they began their careers in publishing and I know them a bit, but mostly because they moved to wider and more influential spheres. Gael Towey, who created the distinctive look of Martha Stewart’s OmniEmpire, now has her own company and devises and directs videos about talented women. Louise Fili creates (mostly) food-related environments and packages inspired by her love of cooking and all things Italian. Reinterpreting Italy in her distinctive way, Louise has created work and a world that are hers alone.

In their thank yous, medallists mentioned important relationships, some with clients of decades-long collaborations. Fili got politely political, noting that only 17% of honorees have been women and hoping to see the numbers change. A gent who followed Louise pointed that 90% of the students in his school are women. Hello! The percentage of women students or practitioners in the field does not translate to the same percentage of honors or salaries.

Since it's Sunday and I’m mixing in faith and passion, I’ll note that Charles Anderson thanked God, from whom all creativity comes. He was brave (and/or a true believer) to thus address a secular audience. Anderson also noted that his father, who worked for the railroad, swore that no son of his would be a starving artist but nonetheless gave fatherly support.* Anderson is definitely not starving.

So, here’s to the next century, to the clarifying to civilians (including parents) and clients how designers' contributions mold a project, and to the AIGA continuing to inspire designers to be their best selves.

Louise Fili’s brilliant red costume standing out in a field of neutral and black garb. 

*Anderson's comment made me think of the main character in Stoner, a book I didn’t love but can’t get out of my mind.

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