DC Design Week 2023 Recap

Can you get on our level? This year’s DC Design Week was centered around the theme of “Level Up,” inspired by requests from the local design community to focus on sharpening their skills and standing out in a tough job market. For our 15th year, we offered a range of the kind of programming that we do year-round, with an eye toward helping our members expand their careers, abilities, and networks. 

DC Design Week started with a bang at the Opening Party. Black Brew Movement, an organization that uplifts Black craft beer workers and provides education around the brewing industry, served a sampling of wines and beers from Black producers. In between the mixing and mingling, Tamon George gave an energetic talk about what he’s learned from co-founding Creative Theory Agency. Some advice he gave: “Never make the same mistake twice” and “Every single time [you start a project], stretch yourself to do something different.” He also shared that “leveling up” to him means “getting better every day.”

AIGA DC has long offered portfolio reviews and peer feedback to designers, so of course, DCDW has to feature a Creative Review event. Rick Heffner, an associate professor of design at George Mason University, gave remarks about his career designing for media, advocacy, and beyond. Industry veterans were on hand to give one-on-one critiques to students and people who are transitioning their careers and offer helpful tips for presenting work, arming them with tangible advice for their job hunt. 

AI has infiltrated design overnight, and some people worry that AI will take all our jobs. At AI in Design: Where Do We Go From Here?, workshop leader Kevin Patton put some of those fears to rest and taught the group how designers can leverage AI. Patton is the Director of Graduate Studies and Undergraduate Advisor, Interaction Design at George Washington University, as well as a designer and musician who has worked with emerging technologies quite a bit. One tip he made for refining prompts and sourcing imagery to generate art: “The thing is to not start on Pinterest. Don’t start where most people are starting.” For general advice on pushing yourself creatively, he says, “When you work on it every day, that’s how you level up.”

AIGA DC loves to partner with other design organizations, so we joined forces with the Society of Experiential Graphic Design for a workshop on architecturally focused projects at Dupont Underground, with remarks from Lucrecia Laudi & Julian Hunt, founders of Dupont Underground, SEGD CEO Cybelle Jones, and SEGD Co-Chairs Carrie Bruns and Jonny Peterson. Following the talks, participants broke into teams where they explored their own ideas for experiential interventions in the Dupont Underground space. Cybelle Jones explained that her version of “level up” involves “bringing everybody up with you.”

The middle of DCDW had real star quality at the Unconventional Storytelling event hosted at ARTECHOUSE. Their new “Beyond the Light” exhibit was produced in tandem with NASA and uses high-resolution photos from the Hubble telescope to take viewers on a celestial journey. ARTECHOUSE Creative Director Riki Kim explained that “the storytelling is based on experience. We don’t have a single display. We can’t control what you look at. We don’t have verbal-based storytelling, and this is by design because we want it to be universal.” Following the panel with Kim, Creative Theory Agency Art Director J’Nay Penn, and moderator Elite Truong, guests were treated to an after-party to wander the exhibit. 

Debbie Millman is a rockstar designer, podcast host, and writer who knows a thing or two about forging a creative path, and she’s created a card deck to help others find their way. At Your Ten-Year Plan For A Remarkable Life, workshop participants worked through their goals and setbacks and got personal about their career journeys. 

For the first time, we decided to make our annual AIGA 50 gala a part of the DCDW celebrations and also brought it back in person for the first time since 2018. AIGA 50 honors the best and most exciting graphic design happening in the D.C. area, and the gala featured a gallery of the winning works throughout the space. Debbie Millman was a judge for the 2023 competition and gave a keynote speech that touched on how design is important, even and especially when so much seems to be going wrong in the world. 

To shut down a full and fun week, we had a part party and part career development event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington. Five design leaders gave insight into how they got started and pivoted their careers to meet their goals and find creative fulfillment. Afterward, guests enjoyed boba tea while networking with fellow designers and answering prompts about their own career journeys. 

Many thanks to all of our sponsors, venue hosts, speakers, and everyone who attended DC Design Week and made it great! 

By Stephanie Rudig
Published November 14, 2023