Making and Thinking at AIGA Make | Think in Memphis
Besides being energized by dynamic and inspiring presentations by Stefan Sagmeister (Seven-Year Itch), Coke’s David Butler (Redesigning Design) and Stefan G. Bucher (Makers and Thinkers) AIGA’s Make | Think in Memphis this past October did a few key things for me.
First, it confirmed a hunch I have been carrying around with me for a while now. Each day I head to work into a somewhat cozy in-house environment. Not without its crazy-making challenges and hair-pulling lunacy, but pretty secluded nonetheless from the real urgent and complex needs of the worlds neediest organizations. Let’s face it, I do not work nine-to-five on the front lines of the fight against hunger or poverty. Spending a week shoulder-to-shoulder with such a wide spectrum of designers, thinkers and makers—some of whom are indeed working on some of these more pressing problems—has given me perspective. I need to be doing more than I am nine-to-five. I have learned that designers need to step outside of what they are doing and do something else. Stefan Sagmeister urged young designers to “have an interest in something outside of design,” and I wholeheartedly agree, although I would offer that they should also consider their power as practicing designers and where they might be able to improve things for someone.
I was impressed by this need while I participated in the AIGA/Osmosis Express Yourself–Portrait event at the Civil Rights Museum in downtown Memphis. I was paired with a few local kids and guided them through the process of creating their own self portrait. This was the power of making and thinking expressed in the most basic of terms, but to these kids, it was an exercise in looking at what made them happy, what they liked to do, their perception of their family and home lives. For some of them it was awkward and maybe even painful, for some it was the most they’ve been able to express themselves in a long time. Maybe ever.
photos taken by Laura Carthage. Visit carthagephoto on Flickr >
I say designers should focus some effort on making some part of their surroundings better.
- Commit to partering with an organization and give some work away.
- Try talking to non profit in a terrible part of town about their most pressing need, then spend two hours and help them solve it.
- Serve someone dinner.
- Look around you and consider the day-to-day work you do, then take a giant step outside of it and do something for someone for free.
- Commit to contributing a portion of work pro bono each year to a charitable organization.
- Apply for membership to the Designer’s Accord.
- Review the AIGA’s Living Principles for Design, then find a way to apply it to your work.
- Learn about Ethnography and how user-centered design can help you consider what you work on more carefully.
I wish I could say that I did all of these things, and I wish I could dedicate the time do learn everything…maybe someday.
Secondly, I realized (maybe late due to my nine-to-five bubble) that the entire paradigm of design as a discipline has shifted from one of “decorating” to one of user-centric approaches, dedicated to proving the value of design thinking as a valuable commodity. Needless to say, this was refreshing. I was glad to see designers dispense with all the talking about themselves, and start talking about why we need to apply solid design thinking to address social change and to solve real business problems for the right reasons. Most importantly, it was nice to hear that this was for reasons other than “because it makes us happy,” or “because it was a great addition to my portfolio of work.”
The entire tone of the conference was one of social responsibility, ethical principle and focused on making designers a powerful force for change. Maybe it was the venue, being the home to the Civil Rights Museum and steeped in culture as described by Stax Record’s own Al Bell.
Thanks AIGA. See you next year!