As they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Not so much in this year’s national aiga conference held at Las Vegas’ Mirage Casino and Resort. The goal of the years design exodus was to talk shop about the state of design, its place in the world and the effects of the profession. Simply put, what was discussed at this conference was meant to be shared anywhere designers can affect change. At every turn, designers were charged with taking on the responsibility of championing the best of design-thinking to make waves in the jobspace, in politics, in education and in our communities. As this was an election year, politics was an oft mentioned reference in many of the speakers talks.
Aptly titled, The Shape of Design, the flagship event attracted design professionals and students from all over the country with a diverse cast of speakers, performers and panelists from all over the world. Front and center was the in-depth discussion of our culture as we know it, highlighting the nuances that make our society one-of-a-kind. From Mike Monteiro giving a polarizing talk on the stopping the accessibility of guns and gun sales on Facebook (“To change the world we have to change who’s designing it!”) to Diogenes Brito giving context and possibility of gaining a seat at table (“What you create effects the environments of others.”) to Paula Scher and John Maeda discussing their lives in design.
The format of the conference was remarkably different with the introduction of workshops and symposia which required pre-registration. Each workshop, sponsored by a different major company, provided hands-on training and discussion on brainstorming, app development, picking pantone colors from any environment, landing the job you want, thinking like the client and getting an inside look at the importance of copywriting for effective brand communication. The symposia, which were billed as conferences inside of the conference, were panel discussions that were limited to certain number of attendees for a much more intimate and targeted experience. Each symposium featured a strong cast of panelists sharing their views on topics such as education, in-house design, design business and entrepreneurship, digital craft, culture, women in design and more. The buzz that the symposia generated filled the halls with enthusiastic conversation during the healthy and delicious snack breaks.
The main stage speakers were amazingly diverse as a record number of women and people of color graced the stage exemplifying AIGA’s renewed stance on changing the landscape of design to be more inclusive. Of note, Leyla Acaroglu, a designer and social scientist, debuted the Gender Equity Toolkit, a reality-checked, no nonsense guide to recognizing stigmas and biases that stifle the career growth of women in design lead positions. There were musical acts and video presentations that provided well-timed breaks between speakers.
Command-X, AIGA’s live design competition, had attendees on edge as seven junior designers competed for fame, cash and prizes over the course of the conference. The three-round design challenge game show eliminated two persons per round as the final round features three possible winners. Beginning on monday presented as design assignments, the first was to create an identity for Gamblers Anonymous. Their work was presented in front of three famous designer judges (Dana Arnett of VSA Partners, Stanley Hainsworth of Tether, Inc., and Bonnie Siegler of Eight and a Half), a guest judge and the entire room of conference attendees. Live voting took place from the conference app or from a number the audience could text in support of their favorite concept. Varied and well presented, each contestant’s solution was critiqued and dissected in front of a packed house. The pressure was real. The next design challenge for the remaining five contestants was to create a new mailing and delivery package for the online shoe retailer, Zappos who’s headquartered in Las Vegas. Five presentations and two contestants down, the final assignment was to create a campaign that would motivate citizens ages 18-24 to vote. Sadly, I missed final round to fly back Nashville but cast my vote on the conference app for the winner, Adam Lehman, whose typographically-driven solution focused heavily on issues (student debt, gay rights, etc.) affecting that age group.
Concluding each conference day, a cocktail hour was hosted in the exhibition hall. Late night programming included a Wine and Type pairing at the Neon Boneyard by TypeEd, a Typography quiz, a movie night featuring Design Disruptors and closing party at an outdoor skating rink.
This 2016 conference, hosted from Sunday to Wednesday, presented a much-needed refresh from years past by ushering a new age of design thinking and business by welcoming new thoughts, new faces and new leadership. I look forward to seeing the initiatives take shape and follow the careers of the speakers I heard for the first time. For that is exactly what the conference is meant be, a place of inspiration, a place to challenge conventional thought, a place to meet other designers and see new design products. Next year’s conference was announced to be hosted in Minneapolis, MN.