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Final Thoughts – AIGA Boston

Yesterday I flew back from the AIGA 2005 Design Conference. A bunch of thoughts rattling around. I’ll try to get some out.

Bill Strickland is an inspiration. He’s doing great work, and he presents it in great style.

It was fun to see the development of “America: The Book,” presented by Ben Karlin and Paula Scher. Design played such an essential role in communicating the humor appropriately. I can’t say I learned anything, or took away anything, but I did laugh.

I’d never before seen Ze Frank do his shtick, and it was quite good. A finny riff on issues of safety within airplanes. I mean, the guy is, I would think, HBO-standup-level-quality.

I had no idea what Nicholas Negroponte was doing on stage. He talked about his $100 laptop, which was all well and good, but seemed totally irrelevant.

The conference presented both too little and too much. The bulk of time was spent in the main hall, which means that 2500 people (or so) are all watching the same thing. And if you’re not really interested in that thing (say, Paola Antonelli’s content-less slide show of an upcoming exhibit at MoMA), well, I guess it’s a good thing the place was blanketed in free wi-fi. On the flipside, during the breakout sessions, there were around 24 simultaneous presentations. How on earth are you expected to choose? How on earth are you expected to not feel like you’re “missing something”?

I guess my advice would be — less time spent all in the main hall, more time spent in breakout sessions — but with fewer sessions options.

Watching GK VanPatter’s presentation on “Who Will Lead Design in the 21st Century?” really made something clear, and something that resonated with the talk that JJG and I gave on the (arguable) death of user experience. The vast majority of designers in the AIGA audience have essentially become marginalized. Form-makers, while valuable, are being passed by those who are attempting to use design to serve more strategic ends. And these form-makers, it is clear, have no idea. A fair portion of the blame rests on traditional design “journalism” (Print, ID, Communication Arts, etc.) which does everything to laud style and form, and nothing to increase awareness in its audience that such endeavors are becoming increasingly marginalized and commodified. And so when someone would suggest that form-makers are, well, being left behind (as happened in both GK’s and JJG’s and my talk), inevitably an audience member would lash out.

Sadly, the bulk of the AIGA conference, particularly what happened on the main stage, simply bolstered the primacy of form. I guess it’s an open question around to what degree is the AIGA responsible for *leading* designers (which often means taking them where they don’t want to go), versus giving designers what they want (which often means designers getting left behind.)

  1. I too attended the AIGA conference and share close to the same sentiments as Peter does with the addition that there was too much politics involved. At times I felt like I was at a political rally rather than a design conference. I couldn’t believe it when one of the main stage presenters talked about how he designed a couple political buttons as if it was a big achievement.

    On the bright side
    I thought the break-out sessions were great and I did attend the “Is User Experience Dead” session which was interesting and one other that was good. I found these sessions to be the few worth while parts of the convention. I did feel very overwhelmed yet extremely limited by the number of sessions 60 or so and only being able to attend 3. I think they could have planned that a little better. Some of the portfolios that were displayed on both Wednesday by various companies and Friday/Saturday by students were very interesting but I don’t think I will attend next year.

  2. It was nice meeting you (I’m the RIT girl that talked with you, Jesse and Jason).

    AIGA definitely didn’t design the conference as well as they could have. Only getting to see one or two presentations (out of 15 or so) in a day is ridiculous, and some presentations could have presented more new or interesting concepts than they did. Some of the main speakers in the ballroom were interesting, and there were other perks (interesting student work, free drinks, Museum of Science), but I don’t think it should have been the price that it was. It’s good that AIGA is taking feedback — hopefully people will respond. It was fun and interesting in any case.

    Good luck with work!

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  • September 22, 2005

    And, the rest of the (AIGA Conference) story

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  • Perspective September 22, 2005

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