Some Thoughts on AIGA

Guest Blog Post by Mark Dudlik, Executive Director of Lost Creature

I’ve been an adamant supporter of AIGA for years, as a leader in the Arizona chapter and through my involvement with the organization as a whole. The group is the best and most important organization for the advancement of design and the design practice. Recently I moved to New York, and work just a few blocks from the national office.

So, writing this post has me feeling some mixed emotions.

At the most recent AIGA retreat in Philadelphia in June, a somewhat unprepared offer was put before the chapter leadership: the idea of selling the AIGA headquarters and using those funds to further AIGA’s mission. There was some serious backlash from the audience, mostly related to the lack of a clear strategic and long-term plan once that sale was completed. There was also support for the idea, I believe because many view the building in New York as an extravagancy and a tie to the past.

After this initial round of feedback, the national board put the building sale on hold, presumably to create a strategic plan and get more input from chapter leaders. But at some point during the building sale “being on hold” a letter and brochure were created that can only be described as completely misleading and disingenuous. The article compares the two options of moving forward as “status-quo” vs. “transformative.” According to this document, there are no downsides to selling the building, and anyone who would say otherwise is old and irrelevant. It’s intellectual bullying, nothing less. I think most people agree this could have easily been presented with less bias.

Why is this presented as if the only way to accomplish the transformative side of things is through the increased revenue from a building sale? Is it not possible to further the goals and initiatives of AIGA National without selling the building? And more importantly, even with the sale, with the increased funding, how will these things be accomplished? A bigger balance in the bank doesn’t suddenly make everything better.

No, for me, the main problem with this entire conversation isn’t about whether or not we keep a building, but what do we do for the next 5, 10, 20 years, with or without the money gained from it. Why are we only being presented with a superficial half-measure of strategic forethought? Why is not a single downside to this move presented to the membership. I’ve never seen a pro/con list that was only Pros.

I’ve heard many responses from chapter leaders about this. Things such as “I’d rather have money than a building” and similar sentiments that are entirely focused on dollar signs, without discussing the full weight & value of the space, and without fully comprehending the lack of information about what will happen after the sale. “We’ll buy another building and have more money to do stuff” is not a plan.

And lastly, even with everything being presented, I still feel that the “transformative” options are merely baby steps towards really enhancing and moving the organization forward. I don’t know what those plans should be, but if the building sale takes us two steps back and one step forward, it has accomplished less than nothing.

Either way, I believe AIGA has the potential to continue being a relevant and truly transformative organization. I just wish it would be honest with its members and with itself, on how its going to accomplish such things.

Some points in summation:

•  The building sale is not what’s the problem, the lack-of-plan for afterwards is what’s concerning. 

•  The information is being presented in a misleading way. It’s not an equal representation of two options, it’s a pitch for one side.

•  Many transformative changes could be accomplished without this sale.

•  Even the transformative options aren’t enough, there should be bigger plans for the future of AIGA

•  I continue to support and endorse the power of the AIGA organization, despite this current situation.

•  No matter what happens with this, the chapters can and will continue to thrive and be the main drivers of change for the organization.

For the articles that spawned this post, please visit Ric Grefe’s post about AIGA’s future & this post on Design Observer written by several past AIGA Presidents & AIGA Medalists.

(Full disclosure: I now work at SVA with Debbie Millman, co-author of the Design Observer post. I had these opinions before moving to New York, and was not swayed or directed to post this by anyone.)

md_avatarMark Dudlik is Executive Director of Lost Creature as well as the Acting Director of Operations/Graduate Advisor of the Masters In Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York.