THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
Try to imagine a world without design. The Internet would have nothing but text, car dashboards would take hours to figure out, signage would not exist, and restaurant menus would be hard to navigate. Countries would have no flags, companies would have no logos and athletes would wear plain white uniforms. At AIGA Detroit they are working hard to nurture those designers who, in turn, nurture our world.
Founded in 1914 as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA is the oldest and largest professional membership organization for design. A chapter of the national organization since 1986, AIGA Detroit has been reaching out to Michigan’s entire creative community including: designers, educators, art directors, web developers, printers, illustrators, photographers, artists and students. Underlying the organization’s work is a commitment to demonstrating the value of design to businesses and the power of design in our culture
“The best examples of design,” said Melanie Derro, Design and Business chair at AIGA Detroit, “are where it is so successful you don’t realize design was involved. People can interact with it, but don’t realize what went into it.”
Derro, also a Graphic Designer and partner in a local design firm, is about to collaborate with the non-profit Get Fresh. Get Fresh brings fresh food options to local party stores throughout Detroit. “Get Fresh comes with a solution to the problem of access and availability of fresh produce,” said Derro. “Our job as designers is to make the community aware of the product. How do we get the customer to pick the local, fresh option? How do we make the fresh option enticing? How can you change buying habits in a positive way?”
There’s a misconception that design is just the visual – a logo, a brochure, a coffee cup. “But design is more than a pretty picture,” said Derro. “It involves research, analyzing, problem solving, creating solutions. It’s a whole process.”
A good example is AIGA Detroit’s SHOUT program. This mentorship program works with groups of high school students from Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and Cass Technical High School. The objective is to engage students in the design process by developing projects that will make their community better. Student teams, first, assess their community and identify a community issue they want to improve such as school food service or recycling. “Something close to their hearts,” said Derro. Next, students work to create a solution using graphic design, posters and a blog to communicate their ideas.
“We want them to understand the impact a designer can have on the world,” said Derro. “That design is not purely aesthetics. It also has to do with functionality, problem solving and how people will interact with the solution. They learn that they can become the designers of their environment.”
Another AIGA Detroit outreach effort is the Conjunction Project spearheaded by Elizabeth Youngblood, Community Impact Director for AIGA Detroit. “The idea was to get together with a company running on pure energy and pure will,” said Youngblood. “A company that had been around for several years but needed a hand with incorporating design.”
One of their first pro bono clients was Home Furever, a no-kill, animal rescue based in Southwest Detroit. Once the client was chosen, Youngblood put out a call to the membership for volunteers. “One person acts as the Art Director for the project,” said Youngblood. “I function as the Creative Director and other volunteers are the designers.” Together the AIGA team worked to develop an identity system including donation boxes, banners and business cards for the organization. The result? “A neighborhood where enough dogs have been picked up and fostered that residents now feel more comfortable and safe,” said Youngblood.
The Conjunction Project has also provided rebranding design services to the 555 Gallery and designed permanent outdoor signage for the Detroit Black Food Security Network‘s gardens. Their current project is working with the Boggs Education Center, a charter school focused on place-based education. Youngblood’s team is designing an interactive web tool explaining the concept of place-based education.
“Design is everywhere,” said Youngblood. “In an ever more competitive world, good design is how organizations differentiate themselves. It’s become increasingly important, in fact critical, as public expectations have increased. Good design has become the standard.”
Both SHOUT and Conjunction highlight AIGA Detroit’s commitment to the principles of design and its role in making the public more aware of issues affecting their community and creating grassroots initiatives to provide solutions.
AIGA is also committed to keeping talent in the state. “In the past we focused on programs and lectures from national and international speakers,” said Derro. “Now we’re focusing more on local folks, highlighting the area’s talent and opportunities.” This focus on local has helped shine a light on the city’s gifts and assets and played a role in building a community culture of creativity.
“People don’t realize what we have here, right in our own backyard,” said Derro. “There’s a lot of passion in the city for changing the environment. That has enticed a lot of creatives to stay. Many recognize and are empowered by their ability to make a difference here in the city. In larger cities you just can’t have the same impact.”
Maybe that’s why AIGA has seen their membership increase by 20% in the past four years. “Even though the economy is down, our membership has grown,” said Derro.
Now over 475+ strong, AIGA Detroit boasts a young, vibrant and diverse board with a membership ranging from students to well-seasoned pros.
“We offer creatives a great sense of community. It’s a place for entrepreneurers to start-up and mentors to mentor,” said Derro. A recent social networking event at Cliff Bells featured a contest where members were divided into teams and given a hodge podge of items from which to create a collage based on a theme or focal point.
“AIGA has been instrumental in supporting and maintaining Detroit’s design community,” said Derro. “It’s a place to get involved, to lend your voice to an issue you are passionate about. A lot of our programming starts that way. Someone from the membership or the Board will bring an issue to the group and AIGA gets involved.”
For its members, AIGA Detroit provides a sense of empowerment to change their community. For the community, AIGA Detroit offers a sense of empowerment to find their voice. For the city of Detroit, it’s a match made in heaven.