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Posted on 8.1.11 by Guest Author Doug Powell
In November of 2009 I had the privilege of attending the Aspen Design Summit, a workshop-style conference presented by AIGA, the professional association for design, and Winterhouse Institute with support from the Rockefeller Foundation with the goal of utilizing the power of design to help solve complex social problems. 70 attendees including academics, policy makers, business leaders, philanthropists, and designers, were divided into five multi-disciplinary working teams, each employing design methodology to address an issue such as healthy aging, rural poverty, or disaster relief. The experience of the Summit and the subsequent year and a half of continuing the work begun at Aspen has transformed the way I work as a designer and illuminated for me a deeper way for designers to engage in these important issues—extending beyond the logos, posters, and websites that have historically signified our contribution.
Report from Birmingham, Alabama
One of the roles I was asked to play at Aspen, in collaboration with my colleague Sam Shelton, a designer from Washington DC, was to find a way for AIGA members around the country to participate in design-driven social change work in their own community in the model of the Aspen Summit. Just last week Sam and I joined 20 AIGA leaders from around the country and 20 local community leaders in Birmingham, Alabama for the Alabama Design Summit where four multi-disciplinary teams wrestled with a variety of regional issues, from clean water to edu-tourism. The Alabama Summit was an early preview of a new AIGA initiative called Design for Good, which will be launched at the AIGA Pivot conference this coming October in Phoenix.
Making Connections for Social Change
As designers, we are intimately connected to our communities and we are continually seeing opportunities to address the problems our communities face through creative, design driven means, and we yearn to put our skills to work in a meaningful way to improve the world around us. The challenge is that designers have traditionally been marginalized in the process of social change because we lack connections to the embedded leaders in this space, because our collective voice is not robust enough to rise above the din, and because our methods are considered frivolous. Design for Good will position AIGA as a connector and catalyst in the social change space, activating 22,000 designers in 66 communities by amplifying and elevating their innovative social change projects and linking them to a national network of tools and resources.
To be clear, Design for Good will not be about designers donating their time to worthy causes for free or reduced fees—this would not be a sustainable vision. Through participatory workshops like the Alabama Design Summit, designers will build the skills and contacts necessary to become relevant resources in this category. By taking this leadership position, we will open our design businesses to new markets and sources of sustainable revenue.
As I begin my two-year term as national president of AIGA, I’m energized by the opportunity for this nearly-century-old institution to become a cultural force by tapping into the massive creative capacity of design and designers.