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On Record 06/27/2002
Clement Mok
AIGA Leadership Retreat

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SEATTLE, WA -- June, 2002
A little over a year ago, I became the president of the AIGA, the country's largest design professional organization. I've spent the last 364 day crisscrossing the U.S. learning a lot about the "DESIGN" profession and what designers want out of their future.

I’ve seen successful designers. Solo practitioners. Large shops. Small shops. Ad agencies to Industrial design firms. Unemployed designers. And everyone in between. It got me to thinking about the challenges we are faced with.

So I want to start this meeting off by asking a few reflective questions…

Let me start with the first one…

I think we all believe that we aren’t doing enough for the discipline of design. We’re not putting enough energy into securing our future. Some designers I met with even suggested that we’ve abdicated our role in inventing our own future.

I’ve been asking the question, “What does the future of the profession require of us today?” By that I mean, what important things do we need to be doing now to ensure that we’re all part of a healthy profession next year…five years from now…ten years from now.

I think we all – at some fundamental level – believe in our own power as designers.

We have an incredible optimism and a determination to design things that make a difference in people’s live.

The question that we ask now is, “Have we tapped into that fully?”

Is the world getting as much out of design as we know it can?

A lot of designers have been hit hard…

Certainly, in my home city of San Francisco, I know of only a handful of designers and design shops who have made it through this storm without having to have layoffs.

But despite it all, I think the profession is hanging in there… barely

The question becomes now, how do we take control of our destiny – not be victims of the economy, but victors?

Which brings me to our last question…

I think ultimately, all our ambitions have the same base mandate…

If we are to prosper…

If we are to contribute…

If we are to be victors…

We first must get others to place value on what we do.

I’d like to spend the next two days wrestling with that challenge…because I think it’s a central one to our success.

In securing our future, I think we actually have to make a pretty fundamental shift in how we think about this challenge.

I think, in the past, we have thought that mandate meant that we had to find a new way to convince clients about the value of design…maybe launch a witty advertising campaign to make the case…or find some new, and compelling words to do the trick.

And certainly advertising may be part of the equation...and good words are essential, but I believe there’s something far more important we must do first.

And that’s to change how we view the challenge. It think we’ve been framing the problem wrong, and that is why we’re having such a hard time dealing with it.

I don’t think it’s about convincing clients or persuading them.

• Design is not something we want to sell to them.
• Design should not be about me, the designer, trying to convince you, the client, about what I bring to the table.
• Design should not be about me persuading you to buy more services from me.

Rather, I believe that we have to find a definition of design that is jointly owned and protected…by our community of designers and our clients. Something that our clients will defend as much as we would. Something they will miss equally if it were to go away.

Value is best measured when both parties have the same high regard for the same entity. In society, a gold coin only has value because two parties both want it – both value it.

Our challenge here is to make design the gold coin, so to speak, make it something that CEOs, and design directors, and civic leaders, and educators all want as much as we want.

So, the question is How? How do we do that?

I think we do that by shifting the conversation.

I think when talking with clients, we have to focus on something that is jointly owned…and that has more to do with the process of designing…the process of taking idea and making them real…the process of solving a complex problem.

As we all know the process of designing involves many… its the process of designing is what gets problems solved, and it is what generates value….

• Economic value – money, profit, revenue
• Cultural value – an educated, literate society
• Aesthetic value – an experience that in itself has a quality that is pleasing

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