Key Takeaways from the 2017 AIGA Conference


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The American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA) is the nation’s oldest and largest professional association for graphic design. With over 70 chapters and 25,000 members throughout the country, the national conference—held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota—is a pinnacle of creative inspiration and excellence.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s conference alongside our Senior Art Director, Tom. Over the course of three days, we tried our best to divide and conquer the symposia in order to not only challenge and sharpen our individual skills but also determine how we can use what we heard and bring it back to the agency world here at AOR.


Personal Exploration

Throughout the conference, I was reminded of how important it is to continue to hone your skills. It’s important that we in the design field—and others as well—do not become stagnant, especially since the world around us is always changing.

In his talk, Michael Cina—who has worked in the fields of art, design, and typography—stressed the importance of giving yourself space every day to learn something new. “Inspiration comes from the process of making.”

Dedicating time to new endeavors and explorations is a great way to make sure you’re always growing and learning. Spending about 30 minutes a day provides you with ample time to immerse yourself in something unfamiliar while not allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by it. And in the process who knows what you may be inspired by!


Take Risks and Never Settle

The ideas of exploration and growth were expounded upon by Sarah Doody, founder of the UX Notebook, and many others throughout the conference. In her talk, Sarah reminded us that the work that we do should not confine us or box us in—instead, it should challenge you and take you to places you didn’t even know were possible. It’s important, she said, to “take the risk to get closer to the kind of work you actually want to be making in the world.”

This is a great personal reminder, but I think it’s also applicable to things that we do on an agency level here at AOR. Everything that we put out in the world has an impact on the people and things that come into contact with it.

We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make those experiences have a positive, lasting impact on those around us. As we continue to grow, my hope is that our work continues to challenge us and expand beyond what we ever thought was possible.


Pinterest and Behance Are Bullshit

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down at a roundtable with design superstar—and my personal design hero—Paula Scher. Known for her work ranging from album covers to brand identities (such as the Public Theater and Windows) and her intricately detailed maps, Paula has cemented herself in the history of graphic design. Needless to say, it was an honor to get that chance to chat with her in such a personal setting.

I was instantly challenged when she told our small group that Pinterest and Behance—both popular sources for last-minute design inspiration—are utter bullshit. “Inspiration,” she said, “needs to be properly sourced.”

The proliferation of creative work on the Internet has led to an overall homogenization of design and design culture. Work no longer has a proper context; it just is. And if that is the only place you are looking for inspiration, nothing you create is going to be groundbreaking or exist outside of the “void of sameness.”

Instead, sourcing inspiration from proper sources and understanding design history allows your work to be placed in a proper contemporary context—and ultimately stand out from everything else around it. She provided my group with several more reputable sources for design inspiration, which are listed at the end of this post.

Paula wasn’t the only prolific designer in attendance. Tom and I were frequently star struck by whom we saw, sat next to, or almost got stuck in an elevator with. While we both agree that three full days was a lot to take in, the conference was a fantastic opportunity to get to interact with, learn from and be inspired by such a wide range of people from across the field of graphic design.

“The broader our understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” —Steve Jobs


Design Inspiration

Besides conferences, here is a curated list of inspiring sites and books from our design team.

See our recent work here. And don’t hesitate to reach out.

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