An Open Letter to AIGA | Opinions

Status Quo or Transformation? A False Choice

AIGA brochure to members, designed by Kiss Me I'm Polish LLC, 2013

Recently, AIGA sent members a slick brochure titled "Stimulating thinking about design. Giving designers voice." It described AIGA's mission and goals, strategies, and opportunities. It also posed a choice between either a "status quo" option or a "transformative" option. Members also received emails describing both options and asking them to "vote" for one.

Let's be honest here. "Status quo" versus "transformation" is not a neutral or balanced choice. The words are loaded. In George Lakoff's terms, the argument is being "framed"—weighted toward one side. Who but a few old-timers would favor the "status quo?” Who doesn't want transformation, especially where AIGA is concerned? This is nothing more than a false choice.

But why is AIGA doing this? What's actually going on here? The answer is simple. Some members of the staff and board want to sell the organization's headquarters building in New York.

In 1994, AIGA bought the building for $1.2 million. The organization did this primarily through member donations and fundraising. The money was raised through blood, sweat and tears, and it was a grand moment in the organization’s then 80-year history. The building gave AIGA a presence, a public gallery space, office space for both the AIGA National staff and the New York Chapter staff (who pay rent), space for an archive, a small library, and conference areas.

Over the years the building proved to be a good investment, and while not perfect, it served the organization well. Every once in a while someone suggested selling the building in order to feel more cash rich, but this suggestion never really gained any traction.

Until this year. In early 2013, Doug Powell, then National President, started canvassing a small number of former board members to inquire as whether they would support the building’s sale. With proceeds from the sale, AIGA might buy a new building, create an endowment, and fund a variety of activities.

In the face of reports that AIGA had received an offer of over $20M for the building, talk of a possible sale grew more urgent. Some recognized that the existing space is not perfect, and that proceeds from a possible sale could potentially fund a better, more useable space. Others were less worried about the loss of the building but felt that selling the largest single financial asset of the organization without a sound financial plan in place to best protect the future of AIGA was not in the best interest of its members.

Queries were made, and opinions shared. A groundswell seemed to grow with former National Presidents, long-term member advocates, AIGA medalists and the organization’s most loyal financial supporters weighing in with questions: “Why do we need to sell now?” “Is the organization in financial distress?” “Where is AIGA going to go?” “Are we going to rent or buy a new space?”

All of these questions might be answered with a detailed strategic plan. Reassurances were made that one was forthcoming. In July, word came that AIGA’s national board had agreed to put the sale of the building on hold in order to address these questions and make sure there was a sound, strategic plan in place to justify any future sale.

Well, evidently, no plans were put on hold. In fact, the opposite is true. Instead of a strategic plan, AIGA offers a sad parody of democracy where members are given a choice between a bright “transformative” future (somehow enabled — and only enabled — by the sale of the building) and the dreary world of the “status quo,” where an asset that has been steadily growing in value for 20 years is retained rather than sold off for some quick cash. The promised strategic plan turns out to be no more and no less than the marketing-speak and vague priorities set forth in the brochure calling for the preposterous vote. The fix is in.

This is baffling and cynical. Didn’t we just agree to pause the sale? Weren’t we going to work together to craft next steps?

Right now, executive director Richard Grefe and some members of the board of directors are pushing an agenda that puts the entire future of AIGA at risk. A building sale has nothing to do with the direction the AIGA takes. In 1994, members of AIGA got together and bought a building for $1.2 million that is now worth over $20 million. If we did that then, couldn’t we raise the money we need today through member philanthropy for whatever transformational activity we desire tomorrow?

Over the last few years, AIGA has eliminated all published material, the annual 365 competition, the 50 Books/50 Covers competition, and the GAIN business conference. An archive was established at the Denver Art Museum that now consists of boxes on metal shelves, and no one knows where the money raised for that initiative has gone. There were more exhibitions, publications, symposiums on education, and critical writing published during the time we’ve had the building than at any other time in AIGA’s history. It is only in the last few years that these initiatives have all been summarily eliminated. Now the building in which so many of them were generated is in peril. In the proposed “transformational” scenario there is not a single initiative that is dependent on funds that could only be raised by selling the building. Any funding promises to local chapters are not clear. We wonder if these will ever come to fruition.

In short, we believe the proposed choices outlining the future of AIGA are misguided, misinformed and manipulative, and should be regarded skeptically by our fellow members.

We want you to know what's going on with your organization. We urge you to reject this false choice. We urge you to vote against "transformation." And, more than anything else, we urge you to demand that the AIGA board develop a real strategic plan before doing something as drastic and irrevocable as selling AIGA's building. You can find the AIGA board and their email addresses here.

Michael Bierut, Past AIGA President and AIGA Medalist
Hugh Dubberly, Past AIGA Board Member
Steven Heller, Past AIGA Board Member and AIGA Medalist
Kit Hinrichs, Past AIGA Board Member and AIGA Medalist
Debbie Millman, Former AIGA President
Noreen Morioka, Current AIGA LA President
Anthony Russell, Past AIGA President
Paula Scher, Past AIGA Board Member and AIGA Medalist
Michael Vanderbyl, Former AIGA President and AIGA Medalist

Posted in: Business, Graphic Design, Social Good

Comments [103]

I think what we're looking for is simply more transparency, openness, and collaboration, right?
Josh Silverman

I think the challenge here is not convincing the design community that this building matters, but that the institution housed within it is relevant/necessary. I know that is a discussion that is going on within the AIGA (or so I have heard) but people outside the organization don't have a clear idea of the value it can add to their careers and their community.
Keenan Cummings

I've heard about this topic for a while now. I can see both sides of the argument, and find merit in both. However, I do feel there has been a sense of urgency lately to move forward with the sale.

Chapter leaders where promised a strategic plan, and what I've seen so far only highlight and push for the sale. I've seen no plan for keeping the building.
Scott Weisgerber

The AIGA is missing a great income opportunity if the decision is to sell. It can derive income in addition to selling the site, which is to sell it's air rights. The air rights could possibly bring in more than the amount for the site. I am familiar with this because I work with my block association on land marking issues and have learned a lot about non-profits' transferring air rights to those who want to build on their sites, adjacent too them, or behind the (which means the building does not have to be demolished. But if it is to be demolished, so be it. The developers who want to buy the air rights can be in a range of geography mandated by local zoning laws which would need to be researched. Many institutions lose out because they are not familiar w the air rights issue.

I am assuming the figure mentioned does not include air rights.

And, by the way, I received no email from AIGA about this issue.
I am all for seeing a plan for the future. Status quo is not tenable for any organization
RitaSue Siegel

I struggled with weighing in, since I'm a former chapter president, board member, but not currently a member. I've been inactive for a variety of reasons - primarily, because I didn't see the value for veteran design professionals, especially compared to other professional organizations such as AMA, nationally, and MIMA, locally.

The second, key reason was based on what I learned as a chapter president - that $.75 on every member dollar is allocated to national, with a quarter allocated to local chapter. In my opinion, this is backwards and places a time-consuming burden on local leaders to raise money.

When I learned about the potential changes, I wanted to understand how these changes might affect the issues of greatest concern to me. To get a greater understanding, I attended the Town Hall meeting here in Minneapolis. I was happy to hear the membership dollar allocation issue was, at least, under consideration. Overall, I felt as though the leadership would like to understand if there's an interest in a major shift, focused on the sale of the building and re-directing the proceeds. I didn't walk away with the impression that the sale was imminent, but I wasn't sure.

As a former president, I know the struggle leaders face with transparency and democracy. You want the members to understand the direction and priorities of the organization, but you also need to rely on the wisdom, insights and judgment of the leadership. Laying out every detail isn't practical or productive. Striking that balance is NOT easy or painless. One of the keys, IMHO, is ensuring members understand priorities and the rationale for those priorities.

So looking at these proposed choices, I do think it would benefit everyone to have a strategic plan/options in place before making any major shift. I think the "status-quo" nomenclature is negatively "loaded." I think everyone believes we should evolve, but without doing so in a hasty way that doesn't consider or value the traditions important to us. I cherished the published materials and believed the GAIN Business Conference, with few exceptions, was one of the best conferences AIGA produced.

Should my voice matter? Maybe not, but I do care about AIGA and having a bit of history, thought I might be able to give some useful feedback to the AIGA Board and signatories to this open letter.
Christina Jackson

I was initially thinking along the lines of Josh's analysis—more transparency. And though I agree with the need, I see two other issues at play here.

First—the issue of "status quo vs. transformative": we are communications professionals, I'm very confident that we can discern a pitch when we see one. Because of this, I'm confident that the membership can look at the information, make an informed decision and raise pertinent questions on our own. I think it is indeed a democratic process being used here and I resent the implication that we are easily manipulated sheep.
As an example--I am not in favor of selling the building because the case hasn't been made for the need for transformation. I'm less interested in AIGA springing into "what's next" and far more interested in seeing the organization follow through with the initiatives we have started. I'm convinced that this methodical and measured transformation is where the organization's long-term sustainability resides. With that in mind, I am voting for status quo with the caveat that this means finishing what we started and not changing direction with every new president. This is a concern for me at both the chapter and national level. With due respect to the very people who wrote this letter, some of whom I know and love, you have been part of the problem as well. When a point of view changes with each new board and president, it undermines the trajectory of the organization. It also undermines the chapter structure and creates confusion with membership. I've been a part of many boards with varying degrees of sophistication. Every one of them has been strategic plan based (and our funding has been predicated on how well we develop, implement and monitor that plan over time). New leadership would never--NEVER--do anything without that plan in place. I'm genuinely curious if a strategic plan was in place and shared with membership when the writers of this letter ran the board--not just a "vision", but a solid 8 year plan with a 5 year review and adjustment phase. If so--why didn't I see it? If not--the problem we are facing today was started many years ago.

Second, and more importantly in my estimation, is the issue of hierarchy: several years ago, we promised to not just turn the pyramid upside down, but to steamroll it. We mandated that chapter level feedback and regional pulse-reading would drive the organization. I am concerned that the default process is still to engage in closed-door discussions with past national leadership and medalists. This wasn't the promise. I'm also concerned that a kind of anxiety that prompts open-letter-writing starts when the issues are presented to the membership en-mass. We are more capable, have more insight and more on-point than you might be thinking. Let's trust the process--the organization is for the members.

With apologies for perhaps sounding a bit to Ché.
Rich Hollant

My position is this: Sell the building, raise the dues to $1,200 a year and move the headquarters to Washington, D.C. in order to start operating more like the AIA (the organization the AIGA was patterned after in its original charter). Stop the navel gazing and work toward creating a greater understanding for our services by promoting the process and its value to potential buyers and consumers of design.
Doug May

For anyone who is not happy with the boolean voting options in the same way that the undersigned individuals in the article are, I would encourage you to contact AIGA and voice your concern after you have educated yourself on the issue. This article demands that you partake in the very binomial voting process it decries; don't be fooled, this is not a better proposal. The argument that the verbiage "Status Quo" is biased is certainly a valid one; however, this article's proposed solution is even more manipulative: a "No" vote does not mean "I need more data to weigh in." Design Observer Readers, you're all much smarter than that—the red herring(s) in the article above should be obvious.

Instead, please consider a third option. If this D.O. article is the first you've heard of this, please educate yourself like any responsible voter by evaluating as many sides to which you have access. Then, if you feel like you still don't have enough information to make an informed decision, please let the national office of AIGA know. Tell them that you've heard the arguments, and that you don't feel like there is a choice that mirrors the data you currently possess for decision-making. If there is a critical mass that echoes that sentiment, we can have faith that the outcome will be far more effective than an uneducated, blanket "No" or "Yes" vote.

A couple resources for information and communication:

Craig Hughes, Human Being and Grilled-Cheese Master
Craig Hughes

Having worked for twenty years in that neighborhood I LOVED that little gem of a building. But that said like so many creatives I wasn't able to stick around because spaces that were friendly to design studios had given way to luxury residential apartments. So I'd suggest that maybe it's not a bad thing to find the next Flatiron district?

It's clear to me that the core of creative energy of New York City has left Manhattan for good, so maybe the AIGA should embrace this and show the way? From what I see Manhattan has become a sad suburban shopping mall complete with a 7-Eleven on every corner while the creative energy has fled to Brooklyn and a few other hot spots. In fact imagine if the AIGA worked with design schools to open a campus in Brooklyn? You could even setup an incubator space with someone like new emerging Designer Fund.

Michael Pinto

I completely agree with Michael above, having visited the national offices myself. While the "Transformation" can certainly be more strategically defined, I see this sale as a step in the right direction - be where the creatives are; be more accessible.

Can the authors of this article make a better case for why the particular building in its exact location is worth holding on to?

Rather than attacking "a false choice" can you proactively argue for status quo?
Melissa Delzio

AIGA is a member organization that is supposed to serve the design community. The building is just that. It's brick and mortar. Many AIGA members don't live in New York, have never visited the building, and never will. I visited it once several years ago. It is an impressive space in a great location, but I don't understand why AIGA needs such a lavish space. I only just recently heard about the debate surrounding this "initiative," but to me, it seems like a no-brainer to sell the building. The headquarters can be any where--most people don't associate the AIGA with a building in Manhattan, except those who live in Manhattan. It's design snobbery and it sends the wrong message to the rest of the design community: We'd rather hang on to this $20 million piece of property for the prestige and history, than invest in better programs for our members and for the future of the AIGA. The conference in Minneapolis was wonderful--the whole presentation, the speakers, Command X, etc. Great people and programs make AIGA successful, not a building in NYC.
Show the world what design can really do. Practice what you preach. AIGA has staunchly advocated for socially responsible design, so use the money to provide workshops and events that actually demonstrate to members how to do this on a local level. Get John Bielenberg and Future Partners actively involved in jumpstarting a new way of making AIGA more meaningful to its members and provide real, tangible, valuable services. If design can change the world, then let's start with AIGA. I bet even more people would sign up as members if they felt like they were getting more in return for their investment.
I live in Peoria, IL--bumfuck USA, you might say--and I don't give a damn about a building in Manhattan. I want to see a better AIGA.
Emily Potts

I will echo what Josh Silverman posted, in that a member-driven organization must always strive for transparency and inclusion.

In the next 100 years, I see the key challenge for AIGA as simple: To be a relevant and effective advocate for the power of design. And to do so on a national – and when needed – international level. This will mean working constantly to create an inclusive feeling among our chapters and individual members, and to program across the country.

I don't necessarily see the sale of the 5th Avenue building as the only way to do this. Nor do I see that, in keeping the building as a valuable asset, we cannot achieve this goal. At the recent leadership retreat in Philadelphia, there was an interesting presentation and conversation around the idea of spreading "national staff" functions across the US. I think that can and should be explored, and again, selling the building need not be the only way for this to be achieved.

Empowering local chapters through financial support from membership dues and through a vigilant effort to program and communicate all across the US is not only inclusive, it's smart. It's the path to membership growth, which will in turn lead to renewed relevance and influence for designers and the 100-year old organization formed to support and celebrate our work. Whether we keep or sell a building that holds both financial and historical value is no small question. But surely that decision doesn't have to be the singular framework within which we can achieve our greater goals?

Michael Lejeune

RiteSue, the possibility of selling air rights came up early but we were told that would not be possible on this stretch of Landmarked Fifth Avenue.
anthony Russell

For the record, as a former board member and AIGA Medalist, I stand 100% in agreement with my colleagues: Bierut, Dubberly, Heller, Millman, Morioka, Russell, Scher, and Vanderbyl.

Please don't sell the building. Please use it to mount more—many more—exhibitions like the recent one that so beautifully honored the genius of Alvin Lustig. Please bring back the annual competitions. Please…

Fred Woodward
Fred Woodward

For the record, I want to note that I deeply respect all the people on the AIGA board for their contributions and for the difficult decisions they must make for the organization.
Emily Potts

So much gratitude is owed to each of you for stepping forward and challenging the AIGA to provide transparency, not just biased, vague language. Hopefully this will ignite a conversation about what role AIGA plays in the lives of student and professional designers, and how it can be a stronger organization going forward.
Chappell Ellison

I'm in general agreement with Emily Potts and with many of AIGA's presentations that the Fifth Avenue location locks too much member value into real estate holdings that, by in large, most members or stakeholders won't benefit from. I'm fine if AIGA wants to sell the building.

But: why the rush? To be able to say that we've done something enormously transitional during our centennial year? Celebrating a centennial is great and all, but 100 is just as arbitrary a number as 102 if we're deciding between doing something now and doing something right. Perhaps I've missed something, but if a building in the Flatiron district is receiving multiple $20m offers today, won't those offers still be there in six months? A year? Two years? Hold your horses.

I commend the AIGA staff, and Ric Grefé in particular, for being open and transparent regarding this issue. Many chances for feedback have been offered, and I've observed many of them. But they've mostly re-presented what went out in the recent mailer and what has been already posted to AIGA.org. There was rarely much member participation -- I, myself, actively participated very little.

I think some of the reason for that is the way in which the "argument is being phrased." We're designers -- we phrase things for our clients all the time and know when we're being sold to. It has appeared that the real decisions have already been made and what's actually being sought is a symbolic "blessing" from the membership. If what the national staff or board is looking for is "member buy-in" to cover their butts for a big decision, then asking members to choose between a pile of horsecrap on one hand and a steak dinner on the other isn't really a good metric. It's just a waste of time.

But I think another, perhaps less obvious, explanation for the lack of participation in this process has to do with the fact that most members simply don't have any skin in the "National AIGA" game. By in large, the average AIGA member experiences the organization through his or her chapter. I doubt that many members even realize that a national organization exists. They certainly couldn't explain what it does. Or why it matters. Or, as Christina Jackson pointed out, why it receives 75% of their dues.

Michael Lejeune is right: for AIGA to stay relevant (or become relevant once again), we're going to need to create an inclusive feeling among chapters and members.

I don't think this "vote" does much good to create such feeling -- but neither does owning a building and using it to produce NYC-centric programming.

And I can't help but point out to Fred Woodward, respectfully, that the Alvin Lustig exhibition he referenced was not conceived of, produced, curated, or financed by AIGA at all. That was solely the work of two dedicated Minnesotans (Michael Skjei and Kolean Pitner), and the College of Visual Arts in Saint Paul. AIGA Minnesota provided initial support and funding. After it proved a success here, the national AIGA office was approached about the feasibility of bringing it to the space on Fifth Avenue -- and only then did it travel to NYC.

And that, I think, says a lot about the topic at hand.
Seth Johnson

Oh. And as far as I can tell, the GAIN conference hasn't been eliminated at all.

Seth Johnson

There is a lot to be said for moving AIGA headquarters out of NYC. Washington, DC probably makes the most sense.

However, that is not really under discussion as AIGA has already identified a space that is 8,000 sq. ft, in Noho, (NYC). It is on the second floor. They already know the cost, and therefore they can make the claim "no debt".

When we purchased the building in 1994, part of it was a branding exercise. The point was for AIGA to have ground floor gallery spaces to hold exhibits and for people to be able to walk in off the street and find out what graphic design was all about. The solidity of the building on 5th Avenue was a testament to the power of the organization. We believed it. I believed it. I didn't have a lot of money in 1992 and '93 (just joined Pentagram) and I remember trying to make a several thousand dollar donation in the middle of a recession (The first Gulf War one) because I believed in it so much.

Now that 1.2 million dollar building is worth over 20 million. That is quite an endowment. That made AIGA secure.

Imagine a spectacular first floor gallery space in a cultural district set up for digital and traditional displays, managed by someone with talent and energy (think of the Chicago Design Museum). Imagine a gallery that gets reviewed, imagine a digital and traditional archive and library in the same space with a good meeting room and some office space. That's what AIGA should have. AIGA can afford it. They can have it DC, they can have it New York, they can have it in Chicago and we could debate which city works best. That would be lively.

But we won't. Because there will be no walk in gallery. It is currently "planned" as a second floor office in Noho, which is akin to what we had on 3rd Avenue, before we combined our pennies and bought the building. I guess you can call it "transformational" it transforms us back to 1990. You have nothing to say about it and neither do I.

Vote "no" and vote loud.

paula scher

This is a good problem to have. A purchase made decades ago has an incredible ROI.
Do designers even know what 20 million dollars is? Besides a big pile of cash and while not Bloombergian in size, it is not an uncommon amount for a very rich person to donate for medical research to Hopkins, Stanford, Mayo, Harvard, etc. Medical research is WAY more expensive than design shows, speakers, etc.
People need to do more math on this, consult non profit foundation lawyers and investment specialists, realtors in NYC and DC and give this some serious thought.
I do agree that, a gallery or gallery space is important to have. But it does not have to be there and, might do better in DC (reaching more Americans and international visitors if strategically located near Phillips, Nat Geo, Spy, or Smithsonian museums) or other newly hip areas of NYC.
Also, consider partnering with a design school or university to use spaces like an auditorium for a speaker series. The AIGA does not need to own or lease an auditorium when it is empty 99% of the time. But new resources combined with like minded partnerships could be a great thing.

I'm reposting a blog post here, with some more background info than may be necessary, since the majority of our members aren't fully versed in the issue.

I've been an adamant supporter of AIGA for years, not just the Arizona chapter, but the organization as a whole. The group is the best and most important organization for the advancement of design and the design practice.

I've been the leader of a chapter, worked with some of the national board to spearhead local initiatives, and have been connected with dozens of other chapter leaders for years now. And, I'm now in New York, only 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 planning 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 went back, spoke with other leaders, and put the building sale on hold, presumably to create a strategic plan and get more input from chapter leaders. In that time, the national presidency changed, (I like both the former president, and the two co-presidents who replaced her.) but this left some of us at the chapter level extremely worried about the stability of the organization. What is going on that this building sale is so urgent and why has the leadership changed so suddenly, after such a short time? It was and still is, a concern.

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, its 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 bullet points in summation:

— The building sale is not whats the problem, the lack-of-plan for afterwards is whats 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.

(Disclaimers: I am not speaking on behalf of the AIGA Arizona board in this post. And for those of you that don't know, I now work at SVA with Debbie Millman, co-author of the Design Observer post. I had these opinions before I left Arizona, and was not swayed or directed to post this by anyone.)
Mark Dudlik

The board welcomes the conversation and posting of the full range of points of view that are part of any organization as diverse as AIGA. To help to inform the commentary, several points may be useful.

Over the past several months, AIGA has provided the following background and opportunities for public discussion, including announcements in the monthly member newsletter (Communiqué) and in a series of Insight articles and webcasts:

Insight: Engage in AIGA's strategic planning process: http://www.aiga.org/engage-in-AIGAs-strategic-planning-process (August 13)
Webcast: Focus on Design: http://www.aiga.org/webcast-AIGA-strategy-design (August 20)
Webcast: Focus on Designers: http://www.aiga.org/webcast-AIGA-strategy-designers (August 23)
Webcast: Focus on Members and Chapters: http://www.aiga.org/webcast-supporting-members-and-chapters (September 10)
Webcast: Focus on Organizational Viability: http://www.aiga.org/AIGAs-approach-to-organizational-viability (September 13)
Insight: Share your voice on AIGA's future: http://www.aiga.org/share-your-voice-on-AIGAs-future (September 19)
Webcast: Options for AIGA's future: http://www.aiga.org/webcast-options-for-AIGAs-future (September 27)
Insight: Cast your vote for AIGA's future: http://www.aiga.org/cast-your-vote-for-AIGAs-future (October 17)
Webcast: Voting for AIGA's future: http://www.aiga.org/webcast-voting-for-AIGAs-future (October 22)

Two factual corrections to the original post:

—The building was purchased in 1993 with a New York State development bond issue for $1.2 million. A Fund for the Future was then set up as a capital campaign to raise monies for renovation, to which members eventually gave approximately $250,000. Total renovation costs were close to $2 million.

—"Gain: AIGA Business and Design Conference" continues and is planned next in October 2014, in New York. http://www.aiga.org/gain-conference-2014/

And responses to several facts mentioned in comments:

—AIGA looked at space earlier this year in order to understand comparables, including one in in the NoHo district of New York, but there is no space currently under consideration since no decision has been made.

—As Tony Russell pointed out, air rights are very limited because the building is in a historic district.
Ric Grefé

Paula, with all due respect, the building is an asset (and investment) and has been a great one. But, it is NOT an endowment. It is a static asset that throws-off no revenue for the organization to use and, in fact, it costs the organization money to upkeep.
Nathan Shedroff

I would like to know how much it costs to maintain this building. It has to be insanely expensive. I think the focus is too narrow here. A couple of posts reference another location in NY or Wasington, DC. This does not have to be an East Coast operation. In fact, it can be virtually operated anywhere ... Even Peoria. I'm kidding, sort of. I was editor of a national design magazine out of Peoria, and not many subscribers realized this. It's the beauty of technology and connectedness and good communication. I don't feel very connected to AIGA in recent years, but I am certainly willing to get involved. Count me in on the conversation.
Emily Potts

Emily, you're very right. Not only could the organization be somewhere other than NYC, or nowhere at all, but it can be in more than one place at once. Personally, I really like the possibility that it might be "embedded somewhere energetic, where the staff could interact with members, clients, students, faculty, or professionals where they are already. For example, there's no reason why the offices can't be in a co-working space and, on the occasion of an exhibition, have that in several locations (simultaneously or in serial), much like MOMA did when it was renovating.
Nathan Shedroff

AIGA is increasingly disconnected from its own membership, and decreasingly meaningful and valuable for young designers; particularly those who are not in a major urban area and thus not able to access 'live' programming that inspires and informs. That has ALWAYS been a problem, but the current framework seems more interested in telling the rest of the world what to do than in supporting, educating and inspiring its own members. I have no problem with advocating and advising on world design issues, but have your own house in strong repair first. What do most people get for their membership dollars? Not a hell of a lot, especially if they aren't in the big cities.

Most tangible artifacts have disappeared over the years (visual form is old school, I guess), and the national gallery space, though underutilized, is an accessible destination for national visitors coming to NYC, but apparently that's not important either. So basically AIGA rakes in a hell of a lot of money to provide a clunky website, which is all that most people actually might access in a regular and supposedly meaningful way. It bring in a hell of a lot more if it focused on providing memorable content, experience, beauty, and education for the diverse population that is the real face of American design, thus embracing and encouraging a wider membership. AIGA talks about representing designers and advocating about design issues to a wider public, but it isn't doing that if it continues to separate the organization from those very designers who are the reason for its existence.

I am disappointed in the 'professional organization' that supposedly supports and represents me, and I do not see this narrowly framed 'transformation' as being a positive step. AIGA needs to do better, or it'll follow American Center for Design. Remember that vibrant and visionary organization once based in the 'other' American city? They visioned themselves right out of existence. AIGA could have learned from that, but at the time it seemed there was a rather smirking sense of superiority from AIGA, and now the lesson is so old-school (How many of the AIGA managerial professionals even know about that ancient history, based all the way out in the hinterlands of Chicago?) AIGA is not doomed to repeat it, although this path certainly appears that it leads to the same cliff.
Jan Conradi

And one final thought. Why does AIGA have to participate in semantic shift that taints perfectly good words with apparently negative connotations?

It seems "status quo" is the new "liberal."

Within the voting document: what does "modest" mean? If it means thoughtful, within budget, with an ear open to membership needs and feedback, with a reverence for the archival responsibilities of preserving history while also planning for the future, what's wrong with "modest"?
Jan Conradi

I hope to post in greater depth on this shortly. Until then, just a reminder that there is also a west coast.
Christopher Simmons

The AIGA is a "professional organization" run by professional organization professionals—not designers. This has been evident for some time. They have redefined their mission so many times since I entered the field, that I was never convinced of the value or true meaning of a membership. Moves to eliminate 50 Books (with all due respect to Design Observer: it hasn't been the same since, and has lost no small measure of significance) and GAIN—not to mention disallowing the initials AIGA to represent their respective words—as part of these recurring "initiatives" pretty much sealed it for me. I wish I could believe that I would be able to initiate some change by joining, but the institution seems to hold an influence over its members (and leaders), when it should be the other way around. What an embarrassment for the legacy of its founders.
Alex Camlin

What are the downsides to selling the building?

I agree the recent "marketing materials" are misleading and I think that without a strong reason to sell at this very instant there needs to be additional discussion, but I haven't seen any strong argument against that isn't as misleading or lacking in detail as everybody seems to claim the argument for is.

Also, why the sudden outcry against? Where was the D.O. post or these big names speaking out about this month' ago? Like perhaps shortly after the National Retreat when it was voted on?

I'd like to take the time to add my point-of-view as a new member to the national board, a past chapter leader and an active member for over 14 years. I have such pride for this organization and it's been a big part of my adult life. I do not take any of this input lightly. Dialog like this is so important and I would worry if we did not have it.

Several people have mentioned the challenge of having turnover with leadership. Over the past 5+ years, I have seen or been involved with many strategy sessions on a national level. There are always endless lists of great ideas, priorities, and people leading the efforts. Then leadership changes. Things crawl on slower than we all hope, but the passion for AIGA always continues and it's proven each year by the members in 67 chapters.

When I recently came on the national board, I had already been involved with casual conversations about the opportunity of the building sale. I am probably luckier than most of the 24,000 members and have gotten to visit the national office often.
However, the discussion was immediately clear to me that it does not serve the national staff, the membership, or the organization in the way it should. Yes, it's an amazing building in an amazing neighborhood. It also makes me feel like our profession is relevant. But when looking at a strategic plan that is modified year-after-year and the lack of resources to ever make substantial change, it is clear to me that the money tied up in a building could serve members in a much better way.

We all know that strategy means you decide where you want to be, then create an action plan to make it happen. Yes, there is a laundry-list of ideas of ways to become more relevant and provide more opportunities for members. Yes, the strategic direction could have more clarity. But over numerous years, we (past boards/current board/membership) have identified, and continue to identify, the areas that must change to realize our future. Areas that may seem vague now (membership engagement platform, chapter innovation fund, etc.) can become fractal strategic plans when we know what we have to work with.

I can assure you, if the money is to become available – be it through the sale of the building or any other idea proposed – my personal priority will be to not recklessly throw money at a list of new projects or initiatives. The board will continue to thoughtfully work with chapters to identify the areas that will have the greatest impact and modify as necessary in our ever-changing, fast-paced world.

We are at a point where we must start making our goals a reality before our organization becomes marginalized.
Kevin Perry

I should clarify, by "what are the downsides to selling the building" I mean more in the global, financial and business sense.

The only real reasons I can deduce so far are nostalgia and a lack of plan. Or maybe lack of transparency in the plan.

I agree that we shouldn't jump into the sale with so many people concerned about this, but I still don't see any solid argument specifically against selling.

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Manhattan or even AIGA's current location as a great place for the organization. There is a lot of start-up activity around the Flatiron/Chelsea/Union Square area. Google's huge headquarters aren't that far away and even though a majority of the community probably lives in Brooklyn, I would venture to guess that most of their work/client interaction still happens in Manhattan (besides the people who work for agencies in Dumbo).

The problem is that the organization, especially National, doesn't spend enough time with actual members and doesn't realize how unhappy or just apathetic they are with the organization. There are so many interesting design and technology events happening in the city nowadays that aren't being run by AIGA, and are being run better than AIGA. Why is that?


One point: Google's headquarters is still in Mountain View, not in Manhattan (I've heard others mistake this, as well). Google has purchased a large building in Manhattan for very strategic reasons and, like many global companies has consolidated staff in it but it's not their headquarters in any sense.

As to the frission between the AIGA and the "design and technology" events you refer to, I can offer you an observation I've had about the organization (from both inside and outside) over the last 15+ years: the leadership of the organization has constantly been attempting to widen the scope of what design means but has met with considerable and constant friction and fear from some quarters that it would mean the end of a focus on typography, calligraphy, book design, annual reports, posters, and other more traditional forms of graphic design (read: paper) from the organization's activities.

I, for one, came back to the organization in the last few years precisely because I don't think that paper and digital forms of design need to be mutually exclusive (though I will admit that new, emerging forms will always garner excitement and interest, perhaps over more established forms) and I believed the organization was ready to move in these directions. I still believe that though I still see a lot of fear (or, at least, discomfort) of new technologies, forms of media, and skills from some of the members. It's this fear that I believe has held back the organization from being a more prominent and successful voice for design in the world and has opened the door for other organizations to step in and be that voice.

This organization is in transition (which means that it is alive) so it has a foot in several worlds. This can make it seem indecisive and even inconsistent, at times. One of the reasons why I support the idea of the "transformative" option is that I believe the sooner we get to that strong position of advocating design in all of its forms, in all media (traditional and new), we'll be a stronger, more relevant, and more influential organization--for our members and all designers. Until then, however, we'll be struggling with who we've been and who we might be and, essentially, be neither.
Nathan Shedroff

History about the purchase and potential sale of the building is interesting context, but selling the building and planning for the future of the organization are very different issues. I have been an AIGA member for 22 continuous years. I joined as an art student at SVA, and have reamined a member throughout my professional career. But over the last 5 years I have found myself struggling with the decision to renew each year. I question whether there is value in the organization for me at this stage of my career but I renew each year out of loyalty and, quite honestly, complacency. I just feel like I should be a member, despite little value for my membership fee.

I have seen the rise of excellent conferences that are managed by non-trade associations, that provide much more value to people in our industry than what AIGA had done at the national level. Conferences and events run by AIGA chapters are excellent, and serve the needs of their regions better.

I have also seen the rise in popularity of other industry related groups over the years, specifically for the in-house and design management segments of our industry. A segment that makes up 60% of our industry according to AIGA's own survey released a few years ago.

Full disclosure: I am the current president of InSource, a trade association for leaders of in-house creative teams founded in 2003 by 2 creative directors who had no resources to turn to for in-house issues.

I joined InSource in 2007 because like our founders (Glenn Arnowitz and Andy Epstein) AIGA had no resources available to me as an in-house creative professional. I've been on the board since 2007, and an executive officer since 2009. When I joined the organization, InSource - like AIGA - was at a crossroads in terms of being able to serve it's members and secure it's future. At the time we were basically a completely new board, recruited by the old board, with fresh new ideas and lots of energy. We regrouped and refocused, and the organization has not only regained membership but we have increased our member base. I won't get into the strategies that got us here, but they are working and our events and resources serve the needs of our members.

My point is simply this; What AIGA needs is a complete shift in its strategy for serving the needs of it's members and our industry. That shift may need to come from new leadership who doesn't even recognize "status quo" as an option for the future. Because it's not.

Nathan and Kevin:

Thanks for sharing some of the inner-board considerations, it's helpful.

I think your closing sentence is incredibly germane, Nathan. There exists a tension between who we have been and who we might be. A significant change (buying and selling property is meaningful to people in a myriad of ways) can capture the imagination or activate fears. I think one way of pre-empting fears is to have fewer variables and unknowns. What if we declare who we are, put together an action plan to function as what we claim with the assumption of X-amount of available funds and with a contingency for how to achieve that plan in the event those funds were unattainable. I'm confident that whatever direction is chosen, some will be offended. But--I also think that without a super clear and detailed plan, a lot of the fear might well continue to exist because folks are being given the option not to adapt.

Kevin-- I echo your sentiments about your strong allegiance to the organization. 24,000 members are a part of AIGA because something pretty damned good is going on here. What I keep hearing over and over here and in social media is a cry to put an action plan together, even if we have to refine it as we progress. Folks just want to know what we working toward (AIGA has done a great job of communicating this) and what might the roadmap and timeframe look like to get to that clarity we all seek.
Rich Hollant

Rich, great point and reasonable suggestion. My only response is that I don't believe there is any budget or staff to hire or complete a "detailed plan." These things aren't actually cheap to do well. All the organization has had budget for is to describe the direction (as opposed to a detailed, 5+ year plan). The leadership has eeked-out time and money to hold a few strategy sessions with senior and past leadership, board members, etc. and this has been really helpful in defining direction. But, you're right, it's not the same thing as a plan. The problem is that a plan will take money that the organization doesn't have (unless it cuts it out of some other initiative's budget). This is why it, too, is kinda necessarily tied to some revenue source not currently identified (like selling the building). While they wouldn't be tied otherwise (one doesn't or shouldn't have anything to do with the other), selling the budget would provide the needed funds and, not selling the budget still creates the question of where will the funds come to do a strategic plan. Tied to this is the idea of "stay the course" (as opposed to "status quo"). If we don't choose transformation for the organization than we really don't need to spend the money on a strategic plan, either.

I acknowledge that there is definitely a difference in expectation between what is needed as a strategic plan and what might be provided as a strategic direction. I have no doubts about the direction. It's pretty clear to me. But, I acknowledge that the plan isn't built yet. However, I have all confidence that it won't be difficult to make the plan once we have the funds to do so, if that direction is agreed-to.
Nathan Shedroff

How was it possible to produce numerous (around 3 to 5 a year) competitions, have an annual, have a biannual design conference (attended by 3000 people in its heyday), publish a journal which was the hallmark of critical design writing and thinking, hold symposiums about design education and design criticism, hold a regular motion graphic conference and the biannual Gain conference, publish ethics and guidelines, accomplish all that with a smaller membership, and do it in the same building purchased in 1993, witth roughly the same expenses? And, how was it possible to hold the 50 Books 50 Covers show for a hundred years?

I think the AIGA board really needs to explain why the entire organization has systematically liquidated first its intellectual assets, and now, finally, its physical assets. All we are left with is the donated Aquent salary survey, the Living Principles document, and a clunky website that is so filled with unreadable institutional blather that most members can't bear to look at it enough to respond to things they actually care about. (Just look at the real responses on this thread, or remember the Justified e-mail thread, then go back and look at the activity or lack thereof on aiga.org.). And the "transformational" offer is essentially more of the same, plus a donation to World Studio. Really?

Is this the intent of the board? Is this what a "virtual" AIGA will look like, virtually nothing there?

Perhaps the board needs to examine the history of the finances of AIGA and find out why every piece of intellectual property that was the hallmark of AIGA has disappeared. That money must have been spent somewhere else. Where was it spent? How was it spent? What did we get for it? Were those things goals of the membership?

This erosion of the assets of AIGA has been going on fairly systematically for about six to eight years. It isn't the fault of this board, but it is this board's responsibility to ask a lot of questions about what happened to important AIGA programs that were core to the membership before you loosen the capital that remains.
paula scher

Some of the most valuable volumes in my design library are twenty hardcover AIGA Graphic Design USA books, every issue of the AIGA Journal, and various exhibition catalogs and monographs, some of which were published as far back as 1978, when I joined the AIGA.

I remember not being 100 percent convinced in 1994 when Ric claimed that purchasing, renovating, and maintaining the building on Fifth Avenue would cost less than continuing to rent the floor at 1059 Third Avenue. Really? Having just renovated one floor in a building across the street and struggling to pay the monthly overhead, I knew the answer was, No way.

Yet the AIGA Building seemed like a noble endeavor -- finally, a physical space that would tell the world, through exhibits and through its very presence, that graphic design was valuable and worthwhile and adds beauty and clarity to the world. And that the ideas and "buzz" that emanated from it might finally convince clients that hiring professional graphic designers was a necessary and smart business move.

Over the past 20 years, in addition to dealing with my own clients, I've interviewed many, many clients for books and articles. Alas, I've learned, almost none of them ever heard of the AIGA. And, if they have, couldn't care less. The building -- though there have been many excellent shows and fun events there -- as a marketing tool for Design, did not work. When you say "design," the average person still thinks fashion design or interior design. The New York Times published a "T" magazine on design last week, and there was one graphic designer (Sagmeister opinining on chicken wings vs. Martha Stewart) and 99 interior designers. Twenty years and our profile is still much too low.

The AIGA has done many commendable things in the last two decades, the greatest of which has been building a national network of chapters. Yet, it has seemed to me that ever since the purchase of the building, at the National level, instead of the AIGA supporting us, we have been supporting the AIGA. Call me old-fashioned, but I would rather get a lovely monograph with a Blechman drawing on the cover than an invitation to a gala with $10,000 tables.

I, too, was taken aback by the "slick" poster-brochure with its loaded language and the "Status Quo" or "Transformative" poll. Was there a real choice? How could you vote for "Status Quo" without feeling like a jerk?

I applaud this conversation and the bravery of those who began it. So much more has to be learned about the real issues and choices before a decision can be made. Let's keep the discourse going.

The AIGA, the champion of clear ballot design, should throw out the results of the voting so far. I personally, would use the profits from the building for other uses, but would want to see that strategic plan. Let all the facts come out -- quickly (who knows, the real estate market could crash again) -- and have another vote.
Ellen Shapiro

Paula, you are right on. The organization has turned into a self congratulatory forum that really does nothing for the overall design community. It holds high-falutin galas to hand out medals and awards--not that they aren't deserved--but it's not relatable to what is really going on in design and to the majority of the AIGA membership. I've been to a couple of those galas, and sure, it's fun to rub shoulders with the giants, but after the gala, I ride my pumpkin home and things are still the same for me. I'm no longer an AIGA member. My company doesn't see the value in paying for my membership, and quite frankly, I'm not convinced either, as I'm not willing to reach into my own pocket to renew my membership. I want to see some sustainable goals and endeavors that the rest of us can relate to and use in our day-to-day work. Most of us are trying to get by, raise families, and create culture in our communities. There's a reason membership has dwindled over the years. AIGA has been out of touch for too long.
Emily Potts

I find it interesting that almost every design organization, whether AIGA, AIA, IDSA, IxDa, is started by connecting its brightest talents--then after some time becomes stale, overpriced, and almost hindering to younger talents. What they are interested in is selling their past, when in reality they don't do that much for young designers other than charging fees.
And a change into the "virtual" is a death wish. Don't these organizations ever learn? If you lose the physical space, you lose everything.
Kevin J. Hogan

"The organization has turned into a self congratulatory forum that really does nothing for the overall design community."

Emily Potts, I respectfully disagree. Here are just four examples of very recent initiatives AIGA is responsible for. There are literally hundreds more:

Design for Democracy:
DFD applies design tools and thinking to increase civic participation by making interactions between the U.S. government and its citizens more understandable. Remember the voting debacles of 2000 and 2004? DFD fixes that.

Brain Food:
AIGA Portland's Design for Good initiative that aims to merge creative thinking and the arts into all elementary school subjects of learning. If this is self-congratulatory, I don't suppose you'd be interested in donating to the Kickstarter to help make it happen.

Vivo Design Thinking Workshop:
AIGA Nebraska partnered with Schwartz-Powell, the American Occupational Therapy Foundation, and the Good Samaritan Society to address issues of aging in our society (e.g. dementia, loss-of-identity, etc.). Communication designers, architects, therapists, gerontologists, and other professionals used design-thinking methodology to help shape solutions that are currently being prototyped in senior centers.

Advocacy and partnerships with the White House, icograda, World Economic Forum, Harvard Business Review, GOOD, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and many more:
The national organization of AIGA illustrates and advocates for the power of design to the community outside "designers," including institutions of the U.S. government who wish to change the way they traditionally approach problem-solving. Call it "design thinking" or "anthropological thinking," this is incredibly valuable to the use and perception of design.
Craig Hughes

Greetings all,
One of the reasons why I was keen to join the board was engaging in the exact conversation that is taking place in this forum, and has been likewise taking place in every single board meeting, call, retreat, and conference: How do we maintain and increase the relevance of a professional organization at a time when online platforms and offline meetups are prevalent and welcoming? How do we embrace emerging practice while ennobling fundamental craft? How do we move designers to think of design as a strategic practice in a way that creates new value and serves broader stakeholders? The debate around the potential sale of the building is one discussion, but I wanted to go on record to say, personally, that I have found this board uncompromisingly considered in its discussions, conservative in its willingness to spend money, and repeatedly and dependably challenging around ideas of what AIGA has been, currently is, and can be in the future. We are a deliberate lot. We are cautious. And we are listening. That is one of our understood, fundamental responsibilities.
Allan Chochinov

Paula voiced the concerns I have with AIGA.

The issue is MUCH bigger than a building sale. AIGA needs a reorganization and a new breath of life from more in touch designers and entrepreneurs at all levels.

The intellectual property of AIGA's past is amazing. The archived journals have more critical content than the site ever had. The annuals were always a great survey of contemporary graphic design from various designers.

To fill this absence I'm grateful I can piecemeal content, look towards Armin Vit and what UnderConsideration has accomplished. He has a yearly event, produces highly regarded annuals for branding and print design. Then there's Tina Roth Eisenberg with her various endeavors especially Creative Mornings which are accessible to everyone with over 50 chapters around the world. The in-depth historical critical content of Adrian Shaughnessy through Unit Editions. As for resources for freelance designers what you have through Docracy is barely promoted (freelance contracts). Through the ease of the internet and these channels the value of my membership lessens.

Webinars were the 90s version of the future. Also poorly managed with advice and content that's not all that unique.

There's so many up and coming designers and technology that AIGA doesn't recognize, still regarding annual reports as a design focus is bizarre to me.

ADC does a better job promoting up and coming designers and illustrators through the Young Guns and ADC Apple Store Talks which are immensely valuable because the speakers haven't been lauded with awards for the last 15 years, but their careers have certainly advanced because of Young Guns and they promote so much more experimental and exciting work from their members.

Deeply Concerned.

I'd like to strongly suggest that a third choice be presented to participants on this survey/ballot. It would read: "Although I would like to, I cannot conscientiously choose one of the two options presented to me above because I feel I have not been presented with enough information to make an intelligent decision, and because the hard sell tactic of this communication makes me doubt that AIGA has any real interest in my opinion. I am constituent and I am deeply disappointed in the tone of this communication and in the way these matters are being handled.
Glen Cummings

I commend Richard Grefé for clarifying a few points. Also for the writer of this article. Perhaps instead of us voting on a vague email, we could hold actual elections and design campaigns that will help inform both side of pros and cons. This article opened the discussion that as members there are a lot of things that happen or facts that we are not aware of.

Linda Montanaro

Paula, since you originally sent this to me in email, I'll respond here, as well (and, again, these are my thoughts and opinions, not the board's or the leadership's) ...

>>How was it possible to produce numerous (around 3 to 5 a year) competitions, have an annual, have a biannual design conference (attended by 3000 people in its heyday), publish a journal which was the hallmark of critical design writing and thinking, hold symposiums about design education, design writing ,hold a regular motion graphic conference and the annual Gain conference, publish ethics and guidelines and accomplish all that with a smaller membership, and do it in the same building purchased in 1993, witth roughly the same expenses. And, how was it possible to hold the 50 books 50 covers show for a hundred years?

There are many potential reasons why the organization can no longer do all of the things it used to. I'm not a good judge of this since I don't have access, nor have I had history beyond the last two years, of the AIGA's spending. However, I do know that much has changed, both in the organization and outside in the rest of the world, during this time. I'm not sure when the best time in the past to start a comparison would be but let's take 1993, when the building was purchased, as one. Since then,

• Healthcare costs have more than doubled
• We've been through 2 large, official recessions since, and several smaller, more industry-specific downturns (several of which have hit our community hard)
• The cost of doing business, both for the organization and for its members has risen sharply (the need for computers, software, training, etc.)
• Many companies, due to the economy, have cut-back sharply on membership and travel budgets
• Insurance costs, especially in NYC, have gone up dramatically

Essentially, you get the idea: costs have risen sharply. Added to this:

• My understanding is that a larger share of the organization's revenue is going to the local chapters than it has ever in the past (correct me if this isn't right).
• The AIGA has shifted focus from serving New Yorkers (residents and visitors) to serving a wider audience (national and international members) with other kinds of programming and initiatives.
• There has been a rise in competing competitions where the AIGA's used to be more prominent.
• The Web has sharply reduced the need and desire for printed journals (witness the success of Design Observer). Journals take a long time to prepare (so they could never comment in a timely manner) and they are expensive. Compared to the reach and speed of online communication, the need for journals have dropped sharply (in all categories). In addition, the audience for these have mostly disappeared since our constituents are constantly seeing this work, commenting on it, and saving it in realtime from a variety and quantity of sources that never existed before.

The net some is that we're in a different economic climate (a harsher one) where money doesn't go as far, and that the organization has chosen to put its increasingly limited resources in other baskets where it feels it can be more effective, influential, and supportive of its members (and all designers) across the USA.

>>I think the board really needs to explain why the entire organization has been systematically liquidated first of it's intellectual assets and now, finally of its financial assets.

I don't think the organization has been liquidated of its financial assets (its chief one is the building) though we think we can use that asset more effectively as an endowment. The majority of its value will still be there, just in a different form (such as an investment fund).

As for its intellectual assets, I'm not sure how you measure this but it's clear that the things you care most about aren't the things you feel the organization values most. But, that's a difference of opinion and priorities, which is why I asked Fred for his when he wrote the board and posted on the DO site. I'm interested in know others' priorities for the AIGA's funds because that's the only way to understand what members want. So far, what we've heard is overwhelming support, by the vast majority of the membership, for more funding and support to local chapters, where they live and work and support their communities. We've seen very little interest in journals and exhibits and even competitions. Now, perhaps, we haven't figured-out the right journals, exhibits, and competitions that will interest the majority of our membership. That's a fair criticism (and a difficult thing to uncover).

I know that 50 books 50 covers is dear to your heart. Personally, I have issues with it as a competition but it doesn't bother me much that the AIGA ran it for so long (and I'm happy to support it if that's what the majority of the membership wants). But, I would love to know just how many people within the AIGA want it to continue. My guess, based on the members I've talked to, their interests, and the results we've seen of preference for the strategic direction, that if you put it to a vote, it would note do well--especially if you pitted it against other initiatives competing for the same support. If I'm wrong, by all means, let's bring it back. If you can find a way to financially support it independently, perhaps being underwritten by Pentagram of one of the many companies you know well and do business with, then I'm all for it despite my own priorities leaning toward other initiatives (like Living Principles, K-12 Education, and Design for Democracy). AND, my priorities aren't the ones we should be (or are) using to determine the course of the organization's. It's the membership that speak everyday with their mouthes and dollars.

>>All we are left with is the donated Aquent salary survey, the living Principles document, and a clunky website that is so filled with unreadable institutional blather that most members can't bear to look at it enough to respond to things they actually care about. (Just look at the real responses on this thread, or remember the Justified e-mail thread, then go back and look at the activity or lack thereof on aiga.org.). And the "transformational" offer is essentially more of the same, plus a donation to World Studio. Really?

I honestly don't understand your point that the transformational offer is more of the same. I see so many differences in the direction of the organization that are possible,things that we're not doing already, that aren't in the other option. This is a point on which we obviously disagree and one that is largely based on opinion and difference in worldview. It may not be reconcilable and that should be OK in an organization as diverse as ours, without resulting in name-calling and disrespect.

>>Is this the intent of the board? Is this what a "virtual"l AIGA will look like, virtually nothing there?

No, I don't believe it is and I don't believe that you think the board's intent is to gut the AIGA. We simply have a difference of opinion over priorities and services. I believe that the majority of the membership, too, has a difference of opinion and priorities on this matter.

>>Perhaps the board needs to examine the history of the finances of AIGA and find out why every intellectual program or property that was the hallmark of AIGA has disappeared. That money must have been spent somewhere else. Where was it spent? How was it spent? What did we get for it? Were those things goals of the membership?

I see things differently. I see an organization that is spreading its influence in new, important areas and is evolving along with the economy, culture, and the profession. You could easily say the same thing about Annual Report competitions but that field has completely disappeared in the last 10 years. It WAS an important part of graphic design. It isn't any longer. (Actually, I think it represents an incredible opportunity to reinvent that mode of corporate communication but I don't see anyone working on that--or interested in doing so). The industry, like everything else, is changing in significant ways and holding onto all of the ways of the past 100 years won't prepare it for the next 100.

>>This erosion of the intellectual AIGA has been going on fairly systematically for about the six to eight years. It isn't the fault of this board, but it is your responsibility to ask a lot of questions about what happened to important AIGA programs that were core to the membership before you loosen up all that capital.

I believe that we have. The leadership has had numerous conference calls, we've talked with members face to face, we've read comments and fielded questions. The *overwhelming majority of responses* to these issues is to move ahead in the new strategic direction. Now, you could argue that the majority of people don't represent the "core membership." I'm not sure how we decide who that is, if this is the case. Do we only listen to those who sign-up for the highest membership levels?

As I said above, my priorities shouldn't be the deciding factor in the organization's priorities. No one person's should be.
Nathan Shedroff

Thanks Craig for pointing out these initiatives. Of course, I'm aware of Design for Democracy, but I didn't find information on the national website for the other initiatives. Maybe I'm not digging deep enough. Maybe I'm being too hard on the organization as a whole. Maybe a lot of this can't be handled on a national level for a national audience. Although my comments have been harsh, I do understand the huge challenge ahead and I don't envy the board members. I hope some of this commentary is useful.
Emily Potts

I think this third voting option could simply read: "Although I would like to, I cannot conscientiously choose one of the two options presented to me above because I feel I have not been presented with enough information to make an intelligent decision." Add to that a comment area where you can request the specific information you need (after reviewing all of the info already presented and confirming that what you are looking for isn't already shared). This would be a reasonable opinion that honors the hard work that this staff and volunteer board are doing on our behalf. I am just now getting caught up on all of the communication that has been shared, and I can tell already that most of the folks commenting here haven't read most of it. Many of the criticisms are based on inaccurate or partial information.

I am now doing what I did with the ACA after weeks of rhetorical discussion—I'm going to read the documents so I can contribute to a discussion in a substantive way. Please take a look at the latest email from AIGA sent today. It aggregates many of the discussions and the process that lead to the proposal (including an audited financial report that may address some of the structural questions).

In closing—it seems like this board has been listening, vetting and considering options. Though you may disagree with the recommendation, it makes sense to me that they present their proposal with conservative enthusiasm. Presenting the choices neutrally would seem to me to be inauthentic. Regardless of the presentation, the responsibility is still ours to dig as deep as necessary to form our own opinion.
Rich Hollant

"I commend the AIGA staff, and Ric Grefé in particular, for being open and transparent regarding this issue."

-- Seth Johnson

Seth, please direct me to the openness and transparency, because I've been looking for it since the National Retreat, and all routinely found the opposite.

At that retreat, Ric Grefé stood before a few hundred chapter leaders, and asked us to vote on the spot to authorize the sale of the building -- a vote that was unexpected by many members of the audience, including myself. He spoke briefly about national's vision for the future, but offered no details on long-term strategy or guarantees on what would happen to the money after the sale (in fact the language we were asked to vote on was, I believe, a single sentence simply authorizing the sale of the building -- nothing more), or even what would happen to AIGA's national presence. He offered thoughts; no details.

Eventually, as questions were being raised by the audience I stood up and added my voice to a small group of protestors who felt, not that the building should be kept, necessarily, but that we wanted more discussion and a more detailed strategic plan before proceeding.

In a nutshell, we wanted answers.

Why was the vote being pushed through so quickly? Why did we have to vote at the national retreat? What did our vote mean for the members? Can we see a financial analysis of the sale of the building vs. renting out the ground floor? If the building is sold, how much of the money will go to the chapters? What will be the criteria by which they'll choose which chapters receive how much money? We were asking all those questions and more, and Ric was on the defensive, at some point awkwardly being joined at the mic by former National President Doug Powell, presumably for damage control.

But then, as the discussion carried on past 20 minutes or so, the majority of the audience (enthusiastic, but young, volunteers) grew tired of the discussion, until one particular man stood up and said (paraphrased): " I trust the national board, and I trust you guys to make the best decisions for us. This isn't why I joined AIGA. If we had to have a vote like this every national retreat, I wouldn't come to any more national retreats."

To my dismay, the audience applauded.

The tide had turned, the dissenters were, for the time, disempowered, and the vote was held minutes later. The ayes had it -- by a large, large number.

It was undoubtedly the low point of my AIGA involvement.

To address a few specific points:

In the comments, Kevin Perry (current national board member) personally pledged to not act recklessly with any funds generated from the sale. That's great -- I would expect nothing less. But it's not good enough -- nor should a personal pledge ever be good enough when we're talking about $20 million.

Nathan suggests that a strategic plan will "take money that the organization doesn't have," framing the issue in black and white, either or, boolean, etc. -- as if there is either no plan, or an undefined-but-unaffordable "detailed" plan. Why are those the only two options? Why can't something be created that's more detailed than what we have, yet not so detailed that it would require additional funding?

The issue is not whether or not we should sell the building. The issue is transparency and openness. When, a previous poster pointed out, 75 cents of every dollar go to national, and those funds are used to send us a manipulative and blatantly deceitful flyer pushing the national agenda… It doesn't feel good. It was obvious that it wouldn't.

I personally ask the national board to cancel this vote entirely, and rethink the way they have presented this to the membership.

In the event that they don't…

Vote "no."

Jason Adam
Vice President, AIGA Los Angeles
Jason Adam

I just received my reminder to vote this morning with numerous links to the history, dialogue (including DO) and planning process.

Although I've seen several calls for a delay, I don't believe the issue should be tabled at this point. There have been numerous webcasts (six) and posts overviewing the plan and decision-making process and soliciting member feedback. While I don't think the "transformative" option has been well-conceived or is as thorough as everyone would like and terminology like "status-quo" vs "transformative" are not word choices I would have used—to say that the decision is rushed and members are uninformed is disingenuous.

I simply believe members have not read the emails, viewed the webcasts and are just now stumbling across a one-sided point of view on DesignObserver that contains as much "intellectual bullying" as AIGA is being accused of.

Cooler, more informed heads need to prevail. Shame on those (I'm including me) who didn't place a priority on participating in the dialogue sooner.

Chapters should remind members that AIGA's initiatives have been discussed for some time, members should take a moment to catch up on the info, watch their emails and vote.
Thomas Hull

As a long time member, past national board member and AIGA medalist, it is hard for me to be in such conflict with so many of my friends on the current board and within the various chapters who, with all good intention, support the "transformation" initiative. But, I must cast a clear NO vote, to the venture as currently defined.

I feel so manipulated by the propaganda, masked as communication, coming from the AIGA that until a clearer direction is defined by the organization, we should just stop, rethink our priorities and put a plan together that is inclusive and not divisive for the future of our organization.

Kit Hinrichs

Nathan Shedroff said:

The *overwhelming majority of responses* to these issues is to move ahead in the new strategic direction.

Nathan, I respectfully disagree.

Unless you've taken a vote that I am unaware of, I have heard very much the opposite. In the last seven years, I have visited 64 out of 67 chapters, and countless student groups. There have been chapters that I visited that were in existence long before I visited whose members told me that I was the first national president that had ever visited. There were student groups that told me I was the first national board member that had EVER visited. If nothing more, I feel that my terms both as AIGA president and national board member allowed me to be in touch with the membership. This year alone I visited nearly a dozen chapters or student groups. So when I say that I disagree that the "the overwhelming majority of responses to these issues is to move ahead in the new strategic direction," I am objecting because this is simply not what I've heard via the many, many personal relationships that I've made with members all over the country. Frankly, I've heard from frustrated members since the Leadership Retreat earlier this year (which I did not attend). And now you are hearing from other frustrated members that attended the Retreat here in this discussion. This is by no means new news.

Now, to be fair, I've also heard from a few people that don't agree with the points we've shared on this post. But I've heard from long-term members, and student members. I've heard from AIGA board members, I've heard from medalists and volunteers. I've heard from College Presidents and the heads of other design organizations and design publications. And frankly, I can say the same thing: the *overwhelming majority of responses* to these issues (stated to me) is to re-assess the strategic direction, rewrite the options to make them less one-sided and to get our act together as an organization once and for all.

But that's just me, and it is all hearsay related by me. I am not suggesting for a moment that it is more than that. This is a defining moment for AIGA and again, unless you have taken a top secret official vote, I don't think it is fair to make sweeping empirical statements that have no way of being verified as facts in order to sway opinions.

Finally, I think it is important that this feedback be treated as significant and worth listening to *whether it is a majority or not,* no matter which "vote" wins. Otherwise, what is anyone even winning?
Debbie Millman

From the outside this "voting scenario" looks as if it was put in place as a way to justify a decision that was already made behind closed doors, rather than as a way to find out what members think, and then use that knowledge to help shape the future.

I would like to suggest that because this voting scenario is so deeply flawed no real voting has taken place.

"It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything." - Joseph Stalin

Glen Cummings

Status quo or transformation?: a "false choice"? A "sad parody of democracy"? No. It was AIGA trying to sell an idea. And not very effectively since, unlike Obama's "Change" pitch, the headline didn't introduce a visionary, forward-looking plan but one single, insufficiently outlined proposal. Now people are demanding—belatedly but rightly—enough information to intelligently support or reject the board's recommendation to sell our building.

Authors of the open letter say they asked for this information, and they're right to try to enlist support in pushing for it. If the vote needs to be suspended for awhile, so be it. But it is simply unrealistic to defer until we have a detailed, comprehensive, 5+ year strategic plan on which everyone agrees. It is unreasonable to expand the inquiry into (and hold this board accountable for) every change that has occurred in AIGA over the last 8-9 years. And it is unhelpful to suggest that skepticism will advance the discussion.

The AIGA building was purchased with blood, sweat and tears, that's true. It's also true that a Manhattan storefront was a hard sell for many chapters nationally, and members' commitment to this particular building is far from universal. It is a disservice to thoughtful members to disparage the motives of well-intentioned staff, directors and others who, like the letter-writers, have AIGA's best interests at heart.

I love this organization and the passion that people obviously have for it. I'd bet everything—without that much hesitation—on our ability to talk with sufficient regard for one another to skip the condescension and one-sidedness.
Lana Rigsby

My opinion: sell the stupid building*. Grab 2 or 3 or 5 million dollars and divide it among the local chapters based on their existing member count. There is all this talk about "AIGA National" but the REAL power of the AIGA is its chapters and the people who feel passionate to join and rally their community to come together for drinks, lectures, local competitions, meet-ups, etc. When was the last time you thought "Man, thank God for AIGA National, I don't know what I would do without them"? But consider your local board and chapter, they are the people you run into the street and other events, the people you hang out with when you go to other larger national events (be it an AIGA conference or HOW or whatever), they are the ones who help build a sense of belonging — they just happen to do it under the rubric of "AIGA" but it could really just be called Cool Local People Making Local Shit Happen. You care about your LOCAL AIGA. The chapters could benefit so much from having money in the bank and being able to act on ideas that they have which tend to be small, nimble, locally-minded ideas that are more feasible to execute than the big, slow-moving "initiatives" that National may have. Everybody keeps bringing up Design for Democracy as if Bush were still President because the voting ballots never got fixed. We get it, you helped. Now what? What's next?

* Having lived in New York for almost 5 years and worked 5 blocks from the building and presuming I am a somewhat involved member of the design community at large I think I was in that building 7 or 10 times, mostly for meetings about AIGA stuff or a few exhibit openings. It's NOT a hub of activity or a brick and mortar manifestation that design matters. It's a building that millions of people walk by and ignore and are not the better educated about design for its existence. It's a great bedtime story to tell other designers that it was purchased with blood, sweat and tears. Fantastic. But so what? It's 20 years later and the design industry has changed so much that some of today's best designers and creative people don't even have a fancy brick and mortar office. Physicality means nothing without influence.

- - -

The loss of intellectual assets Paula mentions are indeed a shame. But I wouldn't blame AIGA itself for that loss. It used to be that AIGA annuals and journals and conferences were the only way to feel part of what was going on in the design community. Now, AIGA is only one of dozens of entities that have the ability to generate content at the same level. Whether it's us — that's right, mofos, US! — or Behance or Creative Mornings or Brooklyn Beta or It's Nice That or Creative Review or FontShop's TYPO conferences or The Great Discontent, the intellectual assets are more available than ever, just from different sources that aren't bogged down by national boards or member dues or, god forbid, payments on a big ass building.
Armin Vit

I'd like to shift the focus—to start talking about how to move forward, which was the intent of this entire forum to begin with.

The brand and the value of AIGA lives in its Chapters. As Armin put it, in "Cool Local People Making Local Shit Happen." Perhaps I can only speak for Chicago, but our goal is not to BE the voice of our local community, but to EXPOSE the voice of our local community. AIGA is no longer in a place of leadership. The industry has shifted, and sprinted past us while we've been fighting about who said what, who won what award, and where all the money is going.

If the ultimate goal is to reallocate funds to better support the core of this organization, in all of its local glory, bring it on. Transform.

Does that mean we could support multiple AIGA locations across the country? Could we finally have a unified presence—albeit smaller and more diverse—so that multiple chapters could have a physical space, host traveling exhibitions, expose local kick-ass work, invite people into crazy experiments, and empower a working staff that serves both the national organization as well as the local chapter and local design community? While we invest in diversity and experimentation across the country, could we invest in local partnerships with museums and like-minded organizations so that we can pool our resources and audiences in the spirit of better serving our community?

I would be proud of that AIGA. Transformation never sounded so good.
Sara Frisk

Nathan, yes my mistake for calling it the headquarters, but the staff isn't that limited (unlike Facebook and Twitter, which also have offices nearby but with much more limited staff). They are on several floors, with a huge cafeteria, and a bunch of big Google products like Google Docs are run out of the NYC office. They are always looking for designers and I'm sure having Google in the area is making the area relevant to other start-ups (Quirky is a few blocks up, IAC even closer, Betaworks, General Assembly).

And yes, it's AIGA's unwillingness to embrace design in technology, at least to the extent that other organizations in NY are doing it, that I was trying to get at. And I think the organization was "in transition" maybe 4-5 years ago, but now is when we should be seeing results. If AIGA is the organization for design, they shouldn't be ignoring where people are experiencing design the most and in the newest ways… on mobile, tablets, etc.

I'm afraid that they are going to sell this building and then bleed that money into efforts that aren't going to serve the entire design community. With great reward (or great real estate profits) comes great responsibility.

Everyone is right. So what's left? It seems with a couple of exceptions all of us commenting here want what we think is best for AIGA. As a signatory of the Open Letter, predictably, I have grave concerns over how this betterment is being handled, and more important what are the fundamental objectives. I realize the board is not monolithic and everyone has ideas. So, I'm glad this conversation is proceeding and we can listen in on some ideas for change.

So, I'd like to add a some points representing no one but me:

The Building.

Caroline Hightower was Director when the decision was made to move from a loft in an interior design showroom to up-and-coming Fifth avenue, where the AIGA was afforded more stature (or at least a larger footprint) than it had previously enjoyed. That said, AIGA ran some pretty amazing exhibits and events in that cramped old space. There was a lot of inspiration in the air and on the walls.

Nonetheless, buying The Building was more than a symbol and is more than a place. It was the fulfillment of an ideal to have a bonafide study center. Before reverting to initials, we were once called THE INSTITUTE OF . . . , and the building gave that word literal and figurative concrete form. Whether or not its promise was totally realized, The Bbuilding has provided some pretty valuable opportunities for studying our history - and making it too.

To Armin's point. I live only a few blocks away and I don't visit as much as I might. But I also don't go to Broadway shows or the Empire State or the Statue of Liberty, but I'm glad they are there, because they ARE NYC. Sure the MEMBERS are AIGA, but the building is its INSTITUTIONAL HUB.

Now, if the goals of AIGA can't be met - and I agree with Paula that many of our institutional assets have gone missing - then by all means sell the building and use the dough to make a MORE BETTER AIGA.

Just don't gut the INSTITUTE. Don't loose the fact that AIGA started and continues to be about EXCELLENCE, as Ric has often said. But excellence cannot be abstract or rhetorical. It must be concrete. Our competitions, exhibitions, retrospectives, introspectives, books and magazines evidenced that EXCELLENCE or at least made arguments for and against. Designers make work, not just noise. The celebration of great work, is what's disappeared. I have to look elsewhere to see what is being done today. Its like MTV getting rid of music vidz in prime time.

The last exhibit of Manuel Estrada's work at The Building was incredible for its ingenuity and skill. It made me want to be a designer again. It made me glad to have The Building and proud the AIGA had the show.

That's what AIGA should be. Not just an advocate for philosophical musings and lofty initiatives (though that's important too), but a wellspring of aspiration and inspiration. The Building is a door for that. If the door opens to a brick wall, sell it. But PLAN to make BETTER.

For my two cents, I'd make National two things: Administrative, a facilitator for CHAPTERS and clearing house for their accomplishments. AND a National Study Center: The hub of design studies, research and experimentation -- in any city you'd prefer, but NYC has its virtues.

If the intelligent and thoughtful decision is to sell our asset to make more assets, don't miss the opportunity to make an IMPACT by making smart investments that increase AIGA's intellectual capital. We'd all like to see that plan.

To paraphrase a well known former music channel heretofore named:

Steven Heller

there are many valuable sentiments here that are worth weighing in on, thanks everyone for this lively & civil comments discussion.

i think paula scher has articulated what i've been feeling as a longtime member of AIGA, that the liquidation of so many of our valued assets has been sorely missed by members who used to know them. we spent many years understanding that maybe they couldn't afford to produce them anymore, but yet our dues were still $290 annually until recently. i wondered why the value wasn't put on them anymore, where does the money really go? my concern with the sale of this building is that we'll free up $20 million and that will be spent in some way that's not necessarily clear, and in 5 years we'll be in the same boat, less the reserve. and worst of all: my clients will not be any more informed or aware of the value of our profession unless i explain it to them.

the idea that active members should have to go research what national is doing just to be informed is absurd. if chapter officers at a leadership retreat felt the future strategy was unclear from their inside view, how could it ever be clear to average members? we are designers, communicators and branding strategists—if a national organization's reaction to members requesting more transparency is to say "go research it" you have failed to brand yourselves and communicate to your target market! as a member, i should be able to explain the aims and actions of my industry organization, and right now i can explain the aims of national, but only the actions of my local LA chapter.

this isn't to say i'm for or against selling the building. i don't think the future of AIGA depends upon it. but as armin and emily have said, the experience of members outside new york is directly with their chapter. i have been to the new york office and though i live in LA, i had the same experience armin described. whether the org keeps it or not, it may as well not exist in my AIGA experience. why wouldn't chapters have members with larger offices that dedicate one office or corner to an AIGA chapter headquarter reading room & archive on a revolving basis? it could allow people a place to visit and an opportunity to get familiar with the sponsoring host? this is a plan that needs no sale of the new york building, and not the only one at that. there are a lot of fantastic things we could do that don't depend on having a liquid $20 million tomorrow, so i think if it's so important that we do have that money, i'd like to understand how and why it furthers our mission.

rich's suggestion to react to this vote with a request for more information is at least a step in the right direction.
heather parlato

I wanted to take a moment to shine a light on Sara Frisk's entire post three comments up, and to Steven Heller's summation immediately above. Exhilarating, inspiring contributions.
Allan Chochinov

Championing a position then asking for the vote isn't "a sad parody of democracy"—it's how democracies work. Dissent enriches dialog, compels change, helps kill bad ideas. It can be exhilarating and productive. Or it can halt progress and shut down state parks.

How 'bout we try to do this better than they do it in Washington?
Lana Rigsby

This is a great discussion, but the building really isn't The Thing, per se. It really points back to the question that everyone has been asking the last few years -- those of us who are passionate, from the chapter board level, down to the student members: WILL AIGA be relevant in the near future, and if so, how? What is the org's role in the lives of designers and in design?

Armin and Sara, I love your insights above on this, and I fully agree. The power and strength in AIGA rests chiefly in the local chapters. This might have not been the case when the building was purchased, but it certainly is now. I've seen it firsthand, as a board member in a messy, thriving, amazing, wrestling Chicago chapter.

The local chapter is where people grow, get challenged, network, learn from others, and begin to take pride in Design not only as an occupation, but as a calling and vocation. I am fine with selling the building, because it doesn't seem like it serves the chapters and a majority of the membership anymore.

But I'm NOT satisfied with a vague plan to use those building funds, because that nebulous plan would end up standing in for a TRUE strategic plan that is meant to serve, empower, and provide creative, transformative means to the local chapters. That's what the focus needs to be, and I really hope our national leaders will hear this, and see the response for what it is -- not uninformed people making noise, but members trying to get their arms around a different idea -- that our national org truly focus on the needs of chapters, who are the real instruments of change. That is where the future resides.
Tim Lapetino

I am perhaps the black sheep of the open letter, I think the sale of the building can be an incredible opportunity, but it's not about the sale of the building, it's how we go about making change.

Allan and Nathan, thank you, for stepping up to the plate and giving us a voice to the thinking of the National Board. Thank God.

As I wrote to the Chapter Presidents, this dialogue should not be suppressed but celebrated as Allan does above.

Enough apathy and sideline bickering. Be more than just someone who complains they don't get enough for their membership dues, make it worth something. Take action. Vote and get your fellow members to vote, too.

As they say in Japan, "Put up or shut-up"

Thank you, Paula, Bierut, Michael, Tony, Steven, Kit, Debbie, Hugh for leading the charge.


I have mixed feelings about the proposals...having lived in NYC for over ten years and seen property values continue to grow, there may be other options, such as leasing the building.

Armin and others comment that a building isn't an endowment, but it can be an investment that continues to fund AIGA into the future. My worry is that the proceeds will not be invested in a way that help sustain AIGA beyond a decade.

And the larger question is: what is AIGA's relevance? If designers see AIGA as a vital force for all that is good in the world of design, I think that there's an incentive to be a member and participate.

As one of the Co-chairs for Programming for the Portland (OR) chapter, we recently created an installation called Blurred Lines: An Exploration of the Future of Interaction (named before that ridiculous Robin Thicke song). It was an ambitious exhibit that looked at the intersection between built environment, digital interaction and social sharing.

I believe that AIGA and the local chapters must lead as innovators, and that partnerships with owners of physical spaces will be key. The space that we envision as being needed today will certainly change tomorrow.

Great to see so many ideas voiced here!

brad m smith

Oh, btw, you can add us to the "Cool Local People Making Local Shit Happen" camp. That's exciting. A building is a symbol, for sure. It ain't the Flatiron or the Chrysler, though.

Sell 5th Ave and buy a building on the water in Brooklyn, Wiliamsburg, or Jersey City and but a freakin' big AIGA neon sign on the roof? Bam!

: )
brad m smith

I think the suggested new direction has merit and I have no doubt that some significant change is necessary to avoid decline of the organization. That said, I'll concentrate on the question that's immediate, however: the fate of the building.

The organization has to ask what it would do if it did not own the building but instead had the profits plus the costs of selling it in the form of cash. If not, would selling it put AIGA in a stronger position?

Would AIGA buy the current building if it didn't own it? I assume not. Is it a reasonable value as a working headquarters? I tend to think not. Is it the sort of investment that the organization should make? I'd give that a mixed but mainly negative answer. (Likely good return? Perhaps. An asset that accrues but doesn't pay dividends, leaving its full value locked up? Probably not a good choice.)

There is, of course, value beyond the fiscal questions. The case here seems to be that the building represents brand value. $20m worth of brand value? I doubt it. The building has (in addition to the prestige, etc., noted) significant negative brand value. Many of us consider the New York-centric legacy of the organization to be one of its week points. For much of the membership and, I believe, an even greater proportion of potential membership, the Flatiron District doesn't represent aspiration; it is a symbol of organizational waste and members' alienation.

When we purchased the building, I said that we should instead choose a Midwest airport hub like Kansas City (or at least a city where transportation from the airport is cheap and efficient) as location for HQ. That was made impractical by the fact that our executive director and her staff lived in New York. The irony was that something like twenty-seven minutes after the building was purchased, Caroline was gone, followed quickly by most of her staff.

My big doubt about the plan isn't selling the building but buying another one. Wouldn't it make more sense to lease while exploring Michael Lejeune's notion of decentralizing the location so that there is the freedom to decide a reasonable location for the future organization?

A note: The strategic plan is, perhaps, not "detailed" but it is sufficient to say that the description of the building being "sold off for some quick cash" is considerably more charged and is arguably less accurate than the terms "status quo" and "transformational."
Gunnar Swanson

I mentioned in a previous posting that I thought the financial practice of having $.75 of each member dollar go to national was backwards. It seems as though financial priorities/decision-making are at the heart of most posters concerns.

In light of this, I thought I would simply add a few more things that concern someone, like myself, who cares about the future of AIGA and would like to see some things change.

1. The money from the job boards. None of those profits, no matter the size, go to the local chapters. With a small portion put aside for admin. costs, I wholeheartedly believe that money should go to the chapters.

2. It doesn't make sense that the size of the national staff has grown so large, yet key programs have been eliminated.

3. I was a member when the office in China was opened. I don't recall a vote - nor do I recall any transparency as far as the investment of office space there, employee and travel expenses, which I imagine were significant. At the Town Hall this month, Ric did mention the general purpose of it. I have a feeling that, if most members were aware of the cost relative to the objective, they wouldn't have supported this significant expenditure.

I welcome any corrections or additional information relative to this post - again, if $20 million is liquidated, there has to be the highest level of trust in the leadership and the plan.
Christina Jackson

Wow, it sure took a while to get through all these comments. I guess I should have been paying attention to this issue before the email I got this morning, which seemed to chastise me for not voting yet. But I've been pretty swamped for the past several months, so I figured I must have missed the previous correspondances, gave a cursory look at the ballot, decided "transformational" sounded good, and cast my vote in between looking at press sheets while on a press inspection.

I agree with many comments on both sides. And now I do feel somewhat manipulated by the words on the ballot.

I've been a member on and off for over 20 years (mostly on). In the earlier days it was dependent on whether my employer paid for it. But since starting my own business 7 years ago, I have been adamant about keeping up my membership as I believe it lends a certain professionalism to my position as an independent design business owner.

I also get concrete value. For those who would question those benefits, allow me to enumerate a couple from just recent months:
--The AIGA-member Apple savings on a new, loaded iMac was almost the full cost of my annual Sustaining Membership.
--I regularly use the AIGA contracts in my business, and my new IP attorney just confirmed that, "As I suspected, your Master Agreement is very thorough. … You are properly conditioning all grants of rights and assignments on full payment and the AIGA language is very clear and good about spelling that out. …You are far more thorough than the vast majority of designers, and those few things would be the only changes I would suggest to your documents, and again, that is being overly cautious. "
-- I regularly upgraded my Adobe software using the AIGA 15% discount.
--This year I saved $60 off the $360 Lynda.com annual subscription.

I've never been to THE BUILDING. When I used to teach, some student members tried to take a trip up to NY and visit on a Saturday, but the powers that be made no exceptions for having open weekend hours for visiting design students. That was sad.

The more I think about it, the more I think I'm good with my quick, knee jerk pick for transformational. But I hope it truly can be.

What I would really like to see, is some of that money used to set up a lobbying arm in Washington. I believe I'm talking about a 501©(4). And/or a national advertising campaign to promote/raise awareness of design in the mind of the public. Like a "Design Did That" or "What Can Design Do" kind of approach. Some of the commenters bemoan the fact that the public doesn't know what we do. Well, it's because the voice that advocates for us isn't loud enough and isn't talking to the right people! Of course it's great to talk to business leaders, but frankly, there's a whole bunch of people buying design that aren't the high level business leaders. Yet they consume media, and they can be reached. It would take a broad level of support, as well as chapter buy-in and participation. But frankly, that's the kind of big initiative that would support and promote our profession, and that I would love to see National undertake.

Oh, and it would be nice to actually find stuff on the website.
Anne Kerns

Dear Michael, Hugh, Steven, Kit, Debbie, Noreen, Anthony, Paula and Michael,

Let’s Assume Good Intentions and agree to help the AIGA board develop a real strategic plan together.

Here are the Financial implications outlined by the AIGA board of directors.

20,000,000  Net proceeds from sale of 164 Fifth Avenue

  7,000,000   Purchase of new offices

13,000,000   Increase in endowments

    200,000   Reduction in annual operating costs

    450,000   Increase in annual investment income

20,000,000   Increase in net worth

Carl W. Smith

I, too, have bemoaned the loss of things that I used to get from the AIGA over the years—annuals, competitions, conferences, etc. Armin is correct: the world has changed, design has changed too. Many other people have discovered design and are providing many of things AIGA once did and are now gone, and probably better, cheaper, and faster. But despite all of this other activity, there is still only one professional organization.

I have kept a membership to a professional design organization because of what it represents to belong to a community of practitioners, not just for exciting networking opportunities, business tips, software discounts, doorstop tomes, lobbying the government, or the chance to enter a competition at a discounted price. The couple hundred dollars of expense seemed like a small price (business expense) to pay compared to the cost of a computer, software, smartphone, an education, or heck the cost of a professional license fee or union dues—if designers were licensed or unionized!

The dissenters are right in that there is a false choice in this: the status quo is not a viable option. Rita Sue Siegel is correct: the only real choice is for any organization to adapt, change, and evolve. I think the truism does apply: change or die! The best vision and direction, I believe, for the organization is one in which the exciting work and best practices of chapters can be shared to strengthen the entire network. Let's also be realistic in that each chapter resides on the hard work of volunteer leadership and member participation that changes and that national plays an important role in managing and supporting chapters. Could things be better? Sure.

As a board member, about the building: as lovely as the address is, it costs money, it provides no revenue to the operation. A sale would relieve AIGA of debt servicing on mortgages and other lines of credit, freeing up valuable funds. Purchasing a new space would reinvest a portion of the proceeds, which still provides a real estate asset to the organization—but with no debt. The bulk of the proceeds would be an endowment investment which would spin off additional funds while growing the nest egg. None of this is exotic, but in fact what organizations do all the time. If you did all of this, the organization would not be swimming in cash but it would have enough funds to change itself for the future. And the one thing most people seem to want is a future for AIGA. It might not be the same organization that we once grew up with, but that's OK with me, because it could very well be a different kind of place, more exciting and vibrant, than it has been in the recent past.
Andrew Blauvelt

On October 17th, I attended my local AIGA mixer where the President and at least two other board members were present. There was no announcement or statement regarding this vote. Not one sentence. Not one word. Nothing. What does this say about the AIGA? What does this say about the average members connection to the national board in New York?
Philip Rotondi

Well, I feel comfort in knowing I wasn't the only member that felt insulted and deceived by the 'pretty opaque poster.' I bet if it was vellum I would have felt differently...

All (not very funny) jokes aside, I am more disturbed by the lack of interest among AIGA members across the country. This topic isn't even a buzz on social media platforms. The lack of consideration cannot be a good sign regarding the trajectory of AIGA. A few weeks ago I was looking for more of an open discussion and I am happy to come across this letter and conversation. I only wish it were front and center on AIGA.org for the stray members that use the job board to see.
Erika Ruiz

Andrew Blauvelt succinctly notes the issue at the center of this, that people want a future for the AIGA. For me, that lies primarily (but not exclusively) with its student and educator members. I voted for transformation so I could access the comments box and write in the further change I saw as necessary. The shortfall in the current statement is that education doesn't play as central and significant a role as it should going forward. Educators and students make up a significant portion of the membership but often receive only passing mention and after-the-fact involvement. I'm an AIGA member for the benefit of my students—so they have a professional organization helping them as aspiring designers and to turn to when they enter the profession. I also do so to be able to commune with my educator colleagues, now as a member of the Design Educator Community steering committee (and here, I will, of course, note that I'm not speaking on behalf of the committee). I'm grateful to AIGA for its commitment to education to date (I couldn't afford to be a member or attend conferences if it wasn't for AIGA's support) and am excited by the possibilities going forward. That said, I want to stress that I respect people on both sides of this divide for their position as educators in their own right and overall support for design education. I only hope that amongst all the moving parts in this conversation that education is given the emphasis it deserves.
Kenneth FitzGerald

So today is the day. I have been digesting this brilliant conversation and feel very proud to see it taking place. When this article posted 2 days ago, it was exactly what our community needed. I shared it immediately and commented on how frustrated I was with the way this "choice" was handled and the lack of a broader conversation before asking for a vote. Perhaps it was all our faults for not paying more attention, but more than likely it was the fault of AIGA for the way this whole thing was presented.

So what to do? I have been extremely torn since this whole thing started in earnest behind the scenes in June. At least that is when I found out about it. For years I have been on the side of transformation. Now that we are getting closer, the poor handling of this and the lack of support for so many recent initiatives has me questioning if AIGA can actually follow through.

That is a VERY hard thing to say, because I have the utmost faith in so many of the people serving on the board. People that I have stood side by side with at retreats and asked for AIGA to open it's eyes to the changing profession. I can't question their intentions or motives.

The real surprise here is that AIGA is asking us to vote for supporting many of the promises we have already made. It appears that the have presented a false choice so we can sell a building to be able to follow through on those promises. Confusing for sure.

The building is not the issue. It is that as an organization of communicators, we failed at communicating. Even more confusing.

This is all about trust.

AIGA appears poised to move in a healthy direction, but they stumbled towards the starting line and in doing so they have shaken the confidence in so many of us who asked for this.

The commentary on here has been passionate, intelligent and inspiring. The only thing that can keep an organization with this many passionate voices from failing is not holding our leadership accountable. That is exactly what this discourse calls for. I love everything about it. Those of us outside of the inner circle should not feel blind-sided by those who are driving the ship. Transparency does not happen after the fact. That should be a huge lesson learned for all of those who head AIGA from today forward.

I wish the vote was going to be delayed, but I am doubtful that will be the case. We need an option for seeing more options. Somewhere in the middle of this mess lies the common ground.

I could fill this post with all of the points I agree with from this conversation (Dudlik, Scher, Heller, Frisk, Perry, on and on). We do not have to forget our heritage to move forward and we are fools if we do so. But move forward we must.

The lifeblood of AIGA is indeed in the chapters. They all do amazing things with or without the national AIGA support. But the chapters need a stronger more RELIABLE national office, wherever it is. I like knowing that when we need to pool our voices together as a profession we have a place we can do so. I like the tradition, but most of all I love the fact that anyone can get involved and shape our profession in meaningful ways.

Vote today as you head, heart or hand directs you. I for one am still weighing my choice, but I am very hopeful that the AIGA board and staff will take into account all that this conversation has revealed and work towards a more productive process going forward.
James Hersick

I'm a past chapter president and the open letter echoed exactly what questions the people I'd talked to had said. I should point out it was a "few" people as this has not been a topic of discussion anywhere at the local level, that I had heard – but I don’t go to a lot of chapter events and manage to keep pretty busy. Like a few other commenters, I find this very, very troubling that there is not more debate and discussion.

I've actually been to the offices in NY half a dozen times, (and I'm from Texas) and I'm no expert on NYC real estate (like I said, Texas…) but to me that's a pretty prime location – if it's taken advantage of. I've accidentally walked past it more than once.

On virtually evert project I work on, I am constantly having to do more with less. Budgets are tighter and costs are higher all around - everybody who does this work everyday knows this. So dangling a 20 million dollar carrot with the promise of "it'll be awesome, trust us" is very (very) attractive, if you kinda gloss over the details and have total confidence in who/where/how it's spent. What I've seen the last few years is lots of things going away – as many have noted in comments above. For me personally to feel more confident about this, I want to see that AIGA can manage and maintain what it has.

If "status quo" were a real choice, then we'd have a lot of designers still using SE/30s with Illustrator 88, or even sending off line art boards to somewhere. To thrive as a designer, transformation, in a variety of ways, is not a choice, it's a requirement. For the last few years I've been doing a lot of UX work – to the UX community (at least where I am) AIGA is perceived as out of touch with them or completely invisible. I work with a handful of young(ish) designers who have never done a single print piece. I am confident they are not an isolated case… and a vast untapped potential membership.

As an organization, transformation should not be a choice to vote on, it should be the way things are done. It's a fine line, I'll admit. I'm a member of and have worked with several other associations that are very tradition based. It's hard (very hard) work to keep the members from 1965 happy and make it engaging for the class of 2015. But I think it can be done.

There is no question in my mind that everyone who has posted here dearly wants AIGA to be the best it can be. I want that too. For first year design students all the way to fellows medalists, AIGA should be the one association any designer can turn to for the history and the future of our profession. We can do that, with a little more time and info.
Jimmy Ball

So this is pretty much a choice that is already made by default. They suggest that maintaining the current situation is bad and the change is good, thus misleading people's votes. kj
Alexey Mirnov

Our office is on 18th Street & 5th Ave, just a few blocks away from the AIGA building. The truth is we dropped out of AIGA years ago as we no longer could support the leadership so I am not surprised by this turn of events...If the topic here is degree of change needed or possible and not buildings we might consider stepping up to call a spade a spade folks....Apart from the well known disfunction of its current leadership it is no huge secret that the old guard still holds sway at AIGA...No change beyond their mode of practice and or comfort zones has ever been possible...In spite of its creative repositioning rhetoric AIGA has never allowed itself to be representative of the broader design community....Nothing personal but strategically in its present form AIGA is a set of hand-cuffs wrapped in a 5th avenue building...The diverse multiple path future has already been created outside of AIGA....and for the most part there is little genuine interest in it from within AIGA.

What there is always interest in is what the officially sanctioned players feel comfortable with...That's the future that keeps getting depicited over and over again and sold to membership...Its been like that for years with no end in sight...That cycle has taken its toll on AIGA...If its underlying goal is to truly reflect the design community, not just graphic design then it is quite clear that AIGA has deep strategic challenges that extend far beyond buildings...The hour to wake up to such challenges seems to be rather late...For years there have been firms in the community that can help with such challenges but AIGA leadership has not built relationships with and or bridges into that part of the community. When there is no clear cocreated, meaningful strategy in place deciding details such as building use become rather more complicated than they might be otherwise. PS: Holding flash-flood Twitter events such as ID4D is not the equivalent to strategic planning...:-) Looking at this picture it seems possible that AIGA does not have its various challenges clearly defined and thus has now a tangled mess on its hands one entanglement being building use.

If the goal turns out truly to be representative beyond graphic design then there will be considerable work just to get AIGA back on track as it has been off in the weeds strategically for years. On the other hand if it turns out that AIGA honestly feels more comfortable and most suited to remaining reflective of the graphic design community you might not need an expensive to run 20 million dollar building to have book cover shows in. Such are the realities of the marketplace today whether we all like them or not.

By the way: In this thread I have been struck by the various comments regarding the downfall of NYC.

I was reminded of this historical quote: "New York is the largest and least loved of any of our great cities...Why should it be loved, it is never the same for a dozen years altogether. A man born 40 years ago finds nothing, absolutely nothing of the New York he knew. The landmarks, the objects which marked the city to him as a city are gone.." Harpers Monthly 1856

Sure its difficult at times but don't count NYC out of the picture quite yet. As far as I can tell zillions of creative folks are still here!
GK VanPatter

I wish I read this dialog before I voted, I wish I had my vote back, I wish I were a baller. Curious to know how many will vote or how many will ignore the email as a further reflection of frustrated apathy.

If this is a soapbox and as a member of the shorter tribe, I will stand on this for a moment to celebrate the passionate voices from all contributors to this post and comment. So here's mine. Vote no, if a few of you vote no, it will cancel my error. And if the vote fails, demand change and discussion. Decentralize - the Minnesota, Chicago, DC and Los Angeles chapters could become virtual staff locations (ahem yes vote for me) - though keep a presence in New York.

I love New York, thanks to Milton Glaser. Enough said. Design needs to be in every aspect of the conversation, long before you decide between serif or sans, raffia or reflex blue.

Some of you know me, I'm the "paper guy" sponsor who quite often fought with the leadership to become part of an event. Always held at arms length - though never too far to take the check - and treated as a reluctant participant by the dreaded national, not the chapters. I recently rolled off a chapter board, wanting to give back and all that, and never witnessed dysfunction and refusal to accept change, seen from the inside, under the hood, as had suspected over the past decade plus.

Come on, we can fix this, and build the passion for the idea of AIGA, into the real AIGA.

Just because a property has been deemed "worth" $20M, it doesn't mean it will be sold for that number. AND, if it's worth $20M last month, that number will not necessarily increase or decrease, significantly, in the next couple of months, so there should be NO RUSH to sell. Especially in the current commercial real estate market.
Therefore, why not take the proper time to come up with a real, solid financial plan for the future?
Roger Dela Rosa

Carl Smith: "Here are the Financial implications outlined by the AIGA board of directors ... 20,000,000 Increase in net worth"

I hope that's not what the BOD has been saying, as it is clearly incorrect. The net effect is ZERO. Net worth is the same as before. Sure, some operating costs will go down and income could go up, but the net worth will not change. If you sell something you owned and then pocket the cash, financially you are no better off than you were before.

There are two questions that need to be answered definitively:

1) How much of the $20M will be needed to find a new home? This is important as moving to a new home is a financial positive only if you are moving to someplace cheaper.

2) Of the money that is left over, what will be done with it and how long will it be expected to last? I worry that the money will be wasted, with little long term benefit. Maybe fund an endowment where only the income, and not the principal, can be touched?
Jerry Vandesic

Jerry Vandesic.
Thank you for your insightful comment.
The “Financial implications” information came directly from the aiga website.

Here is the source:

Article by AIGA board of directors September 19, 2013
Filed Under: AIGA Insight, governance, AIGA news.

After the following information halfway down the page:

Secure financial viability
“Convert the current office space from an asset—which has appreciated considerably over the last 19 years—to a revenue-generating endowment. Currently, the value of AIGA’s most significant financial asset is locked in rather than generating revenue that can be used to serve the membership and secure the long-term future of the organization. Transformative activities would be funded from the resulting endowment, but would be sustained by ongoing revenues within three years.”

AIGA board of directors
Carl W. Smith

Jerry Vandesic.

Please note:
“AIGA has been consulting with legal counsel throughout the process, most notably with Hugh Webster, AIGA outside counsel with Webster, Chamberlain & Bean, the most respected national firm on nonprofit governance issues, and New York real estate attorneys. Accounting counsel has been provided by the partner for nonprofit clients at Friedman LLP, AIGA’s outside auditor.”

Here is the source:
Article by AIGA board of directorsOctober 17, 2013
Filed Under: About AIGA, AIGA Insight, AIGA news

Carl W. Smith

Several posts up, Christina Jackson makes some salient points about the nature of democracy and transparency as they relate to leadership. I wish to echo them as a preface to my comments. I know many of the current board members personally (as I do most of the signatories to the open letter above). I have great respect for them. I also acknowledge the limitations of my knowledge—AIGA may be in imminent financial crisis or be facing specific challenges to which I (and other commenters) are not privy. Generally speaking I'm inclined to trust that leaders whom I respect are making the right choices based on information by which I am mercifully unburdened.

That said, positioning this choice as "Status Quo" vs. "Transformation" is a indeed a false frame. Over nearly 100 years of operation, AIGA has expanded its scope, staff and membership considerably. It did this before it owned a building and it's done it while owning one. In fact, the most substantial expansion has occurred during the latter of these two conditions.

$20,000,000 is a tempting sum and a tremendous payoff for an initial $1.2 million investment. It would be irresponsible for the board not to consider how such a windfall might benefit the organization. In my opinion, however, the additional benefits and services as outlined in the "transformative" column don't represent $20 million worth of additional member value. Many of the added benefits such as increasing membership and can be achieved with or without a building or additional funding. Many of the other benefits are vaguely stated: "invest in student members" (how?). "Establish endowments of $13 million" (for what?). Etc.

As Paula points out, AIGA has steadily diminished its influence over the past decade. While divesting itself of its intellectual properties, it has not succeeded in building their replacements. One needn't look much further than this conversation to note that thoughtful, engaged conversations about design occur here and elsewhere rather than on aiga.org. With no definitive annual survey of design, no annual, no publicly-accessible archives, and little-to-no outreach to the business community, media, or public, AIGA is doing less to advocate the role and necessity of design than at any time in my 17 year association with the organization.


Is it because of lack of resources? In part, I'm sure it is. The national staff work incredibly hard and diligently to manage and support a steadily growing membership. There's only so much so many people can do. $20 million dollars is a lot of money to throw at a resource problem.

It's also way too much to throw at a vision problem. If you're pointed in the wrong direction, you're better off spending $5 on a map than you are putting $20 million worth of gas in the tank.

With that in mind, here are five truly "transformative" ideas for AIGA to consider:

1. Currently 75% of each member's dues go to national, while the chapters have to get by on 25%. (actually, under the new dues model I'm not sure how true this is). But I do know this: when I was the San Francisco chapter president, we gave about $175,000 to national every year. With what we had left over we had to find a way to pay a full time director, maintain offices, endow a scholarship, give money to our student chapters, and offer and promote 40 events a year. Guess what? We did.

AIGA should make a commitment to reversing the dues model over the next two years — chapters keep 75% of their membership dues, National aggregates 25% from all chapters.

2. Recognize that 40% of all U.S. designers and virtually all digital innovation is on the west coast.

Sell the 5th Avenue building and open offices with gallery/event space elsewhere in New York and in San Francisco.


Don't sell the building in New York, and find another way to open a West Coast design center.

3. Become the authority on design. AIGA should be the first place journalists, critics, historians, documentarians, business leaders and policy makers turn to for an authoritative position or informed commentary on pressing design issues.

Establish a design speakers bureau with accomplished experts in various fields of practice. Actively promote these experts as a resource to media, business leaders and non-design conferences.

4. Advocate design to the business community.

Continue ‘Justified’ as a competition centered around the business-effectiveness of design. Use the competition to build case studies which can be presented and/or otherwise showcased through GAIN. After a few years, reposition GAIN as a conference about design for business leaders, not other designers. Use it to advocate the commercial power of design and provide a framework that helps businesses engage design as part of their overall strategy. Create a partnership with fastcodesign with AIGA as a content provider and them as the distributor whereby they publish the Justified case studies every fall.

5. Be the custodian of inspirational American design.

Reestablish the legacy of 365 as a vehicle to celebrate design excellence at all levels — including (perhaps especially) craft. Encourage all chapters to hold their own local/regional design competitions using out-of-state judges. Chapters then submit a select number of the winning entries to a National AIGA competition, which is then judged again. Make the annual gala an awards ceremony recognizing the breadth of American design. Establish a revenue-neutral partnership with a recognized publisher to produce and distribute an annual of that year's design. Work with the Denver Art Museum to produce a 10-year retrospective of American design at the close of each decade.

Bonus idea:

Get all chapters to coordinate their design weeks and make it a national celebration and awareness event.

Christopher Simmons

According to the AIGA website there are 19 people that work at AIGA. 19 people! Why isn't this number of staff enough to manage a more transformative approach to growth and reach? How many more people do you need? What are they all doing?

Also, according to public financial records of this non-profit, the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of AIGA make over half a million bucks. What about the other 17? If they are paid as well, perhaps its time to look at the salaries of the organization in a more critical way.

Additionally, it looks like the board of this organization is in constant flux--each member stays on just a few years and a turnover occurs every year. How is it possible to have any real oversight with so many people coming and going?

Finally, was there an independent committee that researched any building sale in the same way independent committees recommend AIGA board members and AIGA medalists? Seems to me this a more significant decision than either of the others and it would seem prudent to have oversight and due diligence in this area as well.
Observer of Design

I think we can all agree that wherever the AIGA moves in the future, once thing will remain the same: it will be lame.
Dan the Man

I thought I'd share a letter I sent today to the national board (below).

Dear Ric, Sean, Drew and AIGA National Board:

I’ve been on the sidelines for the last couple of years, but today, I renewed my membership! I did this because I’m seeing some positive shifts on issues that are important to me.

One of the most important has been, as I’ve publicly stated on Design Observer, the allocation of membership dollars to local chapters. While the current policy is still in place, I’ve seen positive movement. In fact, I was grateful that Ric stated, at the Town Hall meeting in Minneapolis, that this is up for discussion and possible modification.

I’m very encouraged by this, as well as the willingness to engage in a lively debate on the AIGA website and on Design Observer. I think most of the discussions have been productive and reflect a great devotion to and concern for the future of AIGA.

This isn’t surprising, given how many members volunteer their time to keep the organization vital at a local and national level. AIGA is fortunate to have so many truly “invested” members who care about our profession and each other.

When it comes to big decisions about the future, the building, etc., I wholeheartedly believe that everyone … on all sides of the debate that’s unfolded … want to be sure we’ve made good decisions for the short-and long-term.

Whatever the outcome of the “Status Quo vs. Transformation” vote, there will still be big decisions to make about the future. While the financial part is one of the most critical, it’s also an area that most of us have limited expertise … especially when you consider a number like $20 million as an asset, liquid or not.

For members to have a useful opinion, it has to be an informed one. But the complexity of financial statements and the world of accounting is challenging. As president of the Minnesota chapter during stormy economic times, it was an absolute godsend to have an objective, outside CPA (John Barta of Larsen Design) review our books and give our board objective feedback in laymen’s terms for us.

John wasn’t a board member, nor was he paid for his guidance and opinions. He brought the knowledge of the design profession and an ability to explain (to our non-accounting minds) some of the issues we faced. I think everyone had confidence in his objectivity.

I’d like to propose that we engage someone like John Barta on a volunteer basis to offer members an objective, but understandable review of our audit statements and books. This is in line with our Constitution and Bylaws. (Article VIII of the provides for member review of the books/records by a member or an “agent”)

With regard to “Status Quo vs. Transformation, many of the expressed concerns were focused on financial concerns. I think an outside, expert – perhaps a CPA with non-profit experience – would give everyone the ability to understand an important, but complex part of our organization.

Thank you for considering this request.

Christina Jackson
Christina Jackson

Christina raises a lot of great points. We as AIGA members have the potential to make some great decisions and it is imperative that everyone clearly understands how the dollars will work and how our organization's financial structure currently works and will work in the future.

A lot of us are business owners or have had experience dealing with the books of our chapters. I am willing to bet, that just like me, they all have a good accountant that can clearly communicate what the numbers mean.

This sounds like a good idea and a very transparent way to clear the air and build confidence in our beloved AIGA.
James Hersick

This weekend, design firm Little Fury opens a pop-up shop at the AIGA Gallery in New York.


This celebration of the ordinary is made compelling by the venue in which it's taking place, the gallery in the AIGA National Building, the source of so much debate here.

As designers, we're lucky to have a brick-and-mortar home for our diverse, ever-evolving discipline of design.

Let's hold on to this impressive symbol. Let's visit it. Let's support it. Let's continue to move the profession forward. And let's maintain AIGA's position as a national institution.
Bobby C. Martin Jr.

I also support Christina's idea of having an outside agent review our books and accounts, so that our members can better understand where their dues are going at a national level. That's a great idea.

The Friedman report is excellent, and I think it could be supplemented by a more detailed external review, with conclusions draw and suggestions made. This review could also be designed in a clearer way (similar to the graphs I love so much on this page: http://www.aiga.org/about-audited-financial-statement).

I believe that the strength of AIGA comes from our members at the local level. Any member-centric conversation is one that I'm in favor of us having.
Jason Adam

This is a valuable conversation but I'm left to wonder why it isn't taking place at AIGA.org.

This is a valuable conversation but I'm left to wonder why it isn't taking place at AIGA.org.

A response from the AIGA board of directors to this discussion and to the vote has been posted here:


Give it a read. I still find the argument made there frustratingly circular:
We were invited to choose between incremental change or rapid transformation for our organization (formerly, "status quo" vs. "transformation");
No substantial detail about what "rapid transformation" will involve is provided, other than agreeable-sounding phrases like "network exchange," "support systems" and "advancing learning." (If anyone can tell me exactly how these impulses will be made manifest -- and why their realization will cost millions of dollars -- please do);
The development of the "rapid transformation" option can be made possible only with the influx of cash that selling the building will provide;
Yet the sale of the building is a "separate issue" from the vote on the direction of the organization.

This still seems disingenuous to me. Back in June, AIGA received "an unanticipated, limited-time offer for twice the appraised value of the building." I get it: the temptation to take the cash must have been irresistible. But I still don't get what that money will buy for us.

We are trading a tangible asset for a plan to make a plan. Based on this rationale, I wouldn't let one of my kids sell the three-speed Schwinn that Grandma gave them for Christmas. I feel just as dubious about this.
Michael Bierut

I support Christina Jackson's member proposal to bring in an outside auditor. It seems like a very sane thing to do.
paula scher

I worry that there is little institutional memory at AIGA but I also worry there is not a lot of financial oversight either. An outside audit will determine not just where monies have been allocated but if there is a reasonable way to take the building out of the equation of change.

I also agree with Michael that 20 million does not go a long way unless there is an intelligent plan. Where's the plan? The promise of the plan is not enough.

And where are the programs that put design in the forefront of that plan?
Steven Heller

The new article on the AIGA site states, "82 percent of respondents supported the strategic framework as articulated (the status quo option) and 79 percent supported the “transformative” option."

How is this math possible?
Debbie Millman

Sharing my post on aiga.org with the DO community.

In advance of the board meeting on Nov 7, here my comments/questions for the board to consider, point-by-point to the options proposed for 2020:


I shared this with Ric and fellow chapter presidents, but wanted to make sure it's part of the 450+ public comments to be reviewed. Ric's original response at the bottom of my note.

Organizational transformations are tough, expensive and lengthy. They require constant iteration from the moment they begin because the climate will continue to evolve. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail.

Yes, we need to transform. I get it. I'm in favor. And I'm big on risks and huge on change. But, I also try to be as informed as possible before placing bets on a gamble or making a serious investment in any risk-return situation. I get vision, but we need a pragmatic plan that maps us from here to our moving target, the short-term and long distance. To date, I have not read a plan that compels me enough to feel confident about liquidating our primary asset. I can't argue with many of the proposed changes in spirit, but they need tactics. I can vote on tactics.

I'd like a firm roadmap that connects the dots on how proceeds from the building sale and achieving each of the key transformations will pragmatically give us greater return for the long haul, net financial strength, relevance, stronger membership base or design community overall and fulfill on mission.

More importantly, as I am both a member and a chapter leader (President of AIGA/NY), how will these plans relate back to chapter/national governance? Yes, I've been part of many of these strategic planning meetings that led us to these broader ideas, but in all of these sessions, I found my response as a designer and general AIGA member may have conflicted strongly with my response as a designer in the context of my community and a member of my chapter. Chapters share the foundation of design as a profession, but we all operate as independent legal/fiduciary entities. We all program based on the needs of our local constituents/markets. Some clusters of chapters have more in common with each other, either based on scale or density or member composition. But what works here in New York or another density-high chapter may not work elsewhere and vice versa. Some chapters may not require or be able to sustain the breadth or depth of activity as others. How does this national transformation translate down to local capacity and needs?
Willy Wong

The vote to formally authorize the sale of the AIGA headquarters building is scheduled for today. This letter will be sent to the AIGA National Board of Directors:

"To the Board of Directors of AIGA, the professional association for design:

"Today you will be asked approve the following:

"Proposed motion: Authorize the executive director to proceed with negotiating the sale of 164 Fifth Avenue, consistent with previous board resolutions.

"Proposed motion: The net proceeds of a sale of 164 Fifth Avenue, after transaction costs and liquidation of debt, will be invested under professional management and will be reallocated to real estate or AIGA program initiatives and activities only with the explicit approval of the Board.

"Before you vote, please ask yourself: what exactly will be gained by liquidating AIGA's sole remaining financial asset? Who will benefit? What concrete plans exist for the use of the proceeds? Why is it so important that it be done now—when the organization's finances are in a state of flux—given the recent dues restructuring? When will the members of AIGA get real leadership from its board, as opposed to the rote rubber stamping of every proposal put forward by its Executive Director? Ultimately, you—individually—are the ones responsible for these decisions."
Michael Bierut

Hugh, Michael, Debbie, Steven, Paula, Anthony, and Michael,

I know the sale of the building is a frustrating and dear issue to you. Even though several of you, in private, have said it isn't and that you don't care if it is sold, it clearly is.

Speaking only for myself, I feel very clear-headed about the decisions facing me as a board member of the AIGA, today. It is a professional organization that has lead its community with grace, passion, and vision. I'm honored to have a hand in helping it to better financial stability and strategic direction. Sadly, I have to say, only the passion seems to apply to you, as a group, during this episode.

I have been repeatedly surprised by your actions, from the hypocritical letter that started this thread (dripping with the same complaints about the AIGA's poster), to the back-channel communications afforded you (that other AIGA members didn't get), to the outright insults in email (how professional is that?), to the profound public disrespect (just read above), to the lack of sharing any alternative vision. I expected more from professionals, let alone past leaders of this very organization.

Disagreement and discussion is healthy for any organization. Name-calling, falsehoods, and disrespect isn't. Whatever happens in today's board meeting, I'm sure you will forever hate it and feel unrepresented. But, I can tell you that I'm proud about how this board has carried itself and responded. They have been professional, rational, thoughtful, fair, and patient. The rest of the leadership of the AIGA, too, has been been these things, too--with an extra emphasis on the patience and the addition of a remarkably thick skin.

As past board members and presidents, you know how difficult it is to make everyone happy--especially when they number in the tens of thousands. This board, and the rest of the leadership is no different. I am sure that Ric, personally, feels bad that he can't make you all happy (or the other 10-15% of people not in favor of the new strategic direction). I think you know this, too. But, that doesn't mean that the organization shouldn't move into the future.
Nathan Shedroff

Opps, a typo. The first parenthetical in the sentence of the third paragraph should read: (dripping with the same problems you complain about the AIGA's poster)

Nathan Shedroff

I am speaking for the group of us that sent this letter—though I really don't have the permission to do so—but I feel that strongly about addressing one statement in your note above. You wrote:

*Whatever happens in today's board meeting, I'm sure you will forever hate it*

Not true. Not by a long shot. I have respected this organization and felt proud to be a part of it (even when I was patently rejected by it) since 1998. I believe that my colleagues feel the same way, and for a much longer period of time than me.

I also feel very strong affection and respect for the current board members I have personal friendships with, and that will not change.

I do, however, feel tremendous sadness, confusion and heartbreak that this is happening in the way that it is.

Right before the AIGA conference, Ric and Denise came to my office to talk about this situation face to face. At the time, I offered to host a meeting at my studio at SVA for as many of us as possible to meet face to face and talk as colleagues and friends who all deeply care about AIGA. I was told that the offer would be presented to the board, but was cautioned that the board might be suffering from "meeting fatigue" after the back-to-back meetings you had scheduled at the conference. I have not heard back about my invitation.

My offer still stands. Anytime.
Debbie Millman

Nathan -

The signatories to this letter have credibility, not just because they've won awards or given keynotes. They've built companies and generously given their time and money to the AIGA over the years.

They have a history of giving and not "taking" from AIGA.

All they want (now) is answers to questions, not to be made happy. Before anyone assigns motives or characterizes their behavior, please keep this in mind.
Christina Jackson

Christina, I don't question that at all (though they have been given many answers, in many forms, from several people, already). I'm merely commenting on their behavior.
Nathan Shedroff

In follow-up to this ongoing conversation, co-president Sean Adams and I have shared the planned next steps for AIGA, as developed by the board of directors: http://www.aiga.org/insight-aiga-next-steps/
Drew Davies

Jobs | July 22