A 90+ Year Old Association Tackles Innovation

11 06 2007


Our society tosses the term “innovation” around rather loosely these days. Although there are various degrees of innovation (e.g. incremental versus transformative innovation from previous posts), the one that captures the most attention is transformative innovation because it requires a complete rethink, a new paradigm that changes the game of how we work and play.

Consider this question.

Is it the association’s role to be a leader and example to its membership and stakeholders by pursuing innovations that many of its members have yet to grasp?

Imagine you run a professional individual membership society that has been around for many years. Your strategic planning and trends analysis tell you that big changes are ahead.

  • Your profession’s value has changed over time and become somewhat marginalized as is often the case these days. Management views your value in tactical or limited terms.
  • Meanwhile, the marketplace is innovating and providing serious challenges to your profession’s long term viability as disruptive companies and services arise to compete for the work of your members.
  • To make matters worse, global issues such as climate change, social and economic dislocation indicate that that the status quo cant continue and will require some radical approaches to assure a future of healthy growth.

What would you do?

Taking the Profession & Practice of Design to A Whole New Level

Founded as the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1914, AIGA (as it is known today) faced such challenges and chose to strike out on a very innovative path that proactively addressed the opportunity to evolve the design profession as a “strategic player,” expand the profession’s body of knowledge and practices, add a senior layer of professional recognition, and strike out as a social and environmental steward through the medium of great design.

No small order of change.

Today AIGA’s mission is to “advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force.” Their aspiration is to advance a national agenda for the role of design in its economic, social, political, cultural and creative contexts. The name change connotes this:

“AIGA, the professional association for design” was chosen for its ability to help the organization create a greater understanding of our members’ potential role, the value of their role and importance of their contributions. By shifting the language away from “graphic arts” and towards “design,” AIGA can achieve greater recognition for design’s role in culture, civic society and business.

In this case the focus on member potential underscores all they are doing to try to make it a reality. Try to imagine choosing to summit Mt Everest via the most difficult route and you may begin to get the idea of the task AIGA has set for itself.

AIGA’s executive director Ric Grefé and project manager Maria Emmighausen spoke to me at length following their February ASAE and the Center Association Now article detailing some of their work on sustainability. What follows are my notes from our conversation and expanded well beyond sustainability.

AIGA as the professional association of design must deliver a “cumulative experience” to its stakeholders that reaches across all means of delivery in a world driven by digital tools and the Millennial generation. To achieve the AIGA mission will require creativity, leadership, and promoting the value of the design profession which they see as sharing ideas and gaining business recognition all in a socially responsible way.

Everything is driven from the focus on the “Power of Design” that can be harnessed by business as a strategic tool to improve business strategy, profitability, communication and process. “Strategic Design” is the future for AIGA and the profession of design. Young people studying as graphic designers will see a future career path that takes them into the management suite as design management and design thinking takes hold.

This evolution of the profession can one day impact culture (aka society) as designers go from designing mere objects to systems to experiences to culture.

Another equally important aspect of this future is the notion of design as advancing Sustainability (or social responsibility).

Ultimately, regardless of the business. social or even environmental focus of a project, every designer will help us imagine a future that can teach us the consequences of acting a certain way.

How? Form + Content + Context/Time = Experience Design. Here is one such example I posted in April.

The beauty of Design is being useful, sustainable, and exciting. To do this AIGA has developed a Design Framework where design can be applied as a strategic tool to improve the human experience. Part of this effort is ongoing via the development of what they call “Critical Compentencies 2015.” This project will define what designers need for 2015 today: transparency, cross cultural communication, socially responsible solutions, the ability to simplify complexity, becoming cross media fluent, and developing metrics of effectiveness.

Just a few of the efforts to bring this strategy forward include:

Changing Office Management Practices TODAY

AIGA’s article in ASAE and the Center’s Association Now detailed the vastness of their plans to become a cleaner, more efficient office environment. How does your own list stack up to this?

  • Procure less hazardous cleaning and maintenance supplies
  • Increase waste recycling
  • Conserve water
  • Improve mechanical system performances
  • Purchase green electricity
  • Install a green roof
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents
  • Utilize low toxicity construction materials
  • Reduce paper consumption
  • Use recycled paper
  • Use remanufactured toner cartridges
  • Organize green conferences
  • Think carefully about energy consequences

Pursuing Carbon Neutrality

And that’s not all.

AIGA is devising strategies to compensate for those activities in which they can’t impact such as business travel. To compensate as stated on its site, AIGA

“…acquires wind-power offsets for its electric use. The real culprit, however, is the consequence of jet fuel use and combustion engines for cars. To offset these uses, AIGA estimated the average travel to its conferences by air and car, plus the travel incurred by its staff members on business, the travel to its 56 chapters’ events during the year and the personal travel of staff members.

To that end, this past year, AIGA funded the planting of 400,000 seedlings in several towns in Nepal. This planting will yield at least 20,000 mature trees, offsetting 6,615,000 pounds of carbon dioxide by converting CO2 for 30 years.

To help members achieve carbon neutrality, AIGA is developing a system of certificates that will allow individual members to offset their travel (with certificates available for short, medium and long range air travel; annual local auto travel; typical lifestyle consequences). The certificates will be offered at a range from $20 to $150 (for annual lifestyle offsets). AIGA will aggregate the requirements and invest in further reforestation projects. For individual practices, AIGA will assist in having firms’ activities evaluated with offset equivalents determined.”

Print Different

What about printing you say? Perhaps you think they might be less inclined to move strongly here because of their stakeholder printer base. You would be wrong.

So what did they do? In AIGA’s own words:

“With the help of the Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC), AIGA recently completed a Responsible Enterprise Print evaluation (part of the AIGA Design Business and Ethics series) that aims to elucidate environmentally sound printing and paper selection practices for designers and their clients. The AIGA Center for Sustainable Design, a member-led sustainable design initiative, is currently developing a major online information resource. The site will feature a print calculator developed by ISC for designers and their clients that profiles and compares various paper types, printing techniques and inks and their related environmental impact. The site will also include case studies, suggested readings and a discussion board dedicated to sustainable design practices.

As far as our own policies, we have developed a tiered approach that will begin to introduce more responsible behavior in materials designed for our activities. The three levels are described here and for each activity we place each item we need designed in one of the categories:

Level 1– Example of work in which highest priority is placed on sustainability objectives. Piece will include a case study of how it was achieved and the trade-offs considered by the designer. Clarity, appropriateness and minimization of environmental degradation or waste will be the criteria for the success of the piece.

Level 2 – Design will seek to accomplish its purpose with appropriate commitment of resources, seeking a reasonable balance of responsible use of resources and traditional impact. This level will of design and production will recognize objectives to minimize environmental degradation, yet will not be the purely sustainable or maximum sustainable solution, for instance, uncoated paper will be specified, but it may not be tree-free.

Level 3 -While reasonableness and responsibility shall be a part of every brief, this level of design will continue to use materials that are convenient and effective.”

Getting Serious about Measuring the Triple Bottom line

One last thing.

AIGA is determined to complete its own GRI report, defining the triple bottom line of its activities and using this as a format for annual reporting to the membership and the public. Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides reporting tools to help manage economic, environmental, and social performance in addition to an organization’s financial reporting. GRI accomplishes this vision by developing, continually improving, and building capacity around the use of its Sustainability Reporting Framework.

AIGA’s has developed their own format for its GRI report and hopes to submit its first annual report this year. Their ultimate goal is to seek ISO 14001 certification for its practices. See a previous post on ISO 14001.


No excuses. What could you be doing to rethink your own business?

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