Inspiration and Access: Students’ Takeaways from the 2016 AIGA Design Conference

The AIGA 2016 Design Conference drew industry leaders, educators, design professionals, and chapter members to Las Vegas for four days of symposia, roundtables, workshops and social events. But what was the conference like for design students? And what did they take away from the broader design community? Chanel James and Khanh Pham — design students at George Mason University — shared their fresh perspectives with us.

AIGA DC: What was your initial impression of the AIGA Design Conference?
Khanh Pham: It was pretty surreal to find myself around a lot of well-known people in the design industry in one place. But what amazed me the most, was that I could listen and learn from them in person, and be part of an important event that could shape and inspire me to be a better designer.

Chanel James: Oh, there were so many moments where I felt overwhelmed with inspiration! During one of the sessions I heard someone say, “Designers are problem solvers. But to solve those problems, we need to know those problems.” At that moment, I knew my purpose as a designer — we need to break from our own comfort zones to confront deeper issues. Then we can create more authentic and culture-appropriate work.

AIGA DC: Were there things that surprised you, or changed your mind about something?
Khanh Pham: I learned from Chuck D that design is everything. I learned from Mike Monteiro that we, as ordinary people, can raise our voices to demand better design from companies that significantly influence our society. I learned from Amos Kennedy Jr. that I can have a positive impact on the environment if I ask for more eco-friendly products to be designed. I saw how Yo Santosa eliminated the negative perception about adult toys by her clever approaches to design — and turned them into something aesthetically desirable. Gemma O’Brien’s experience showed that great artworks can be born from miserable conditions. Antionette Carroll, Jacinda Walker and Dori Tunstall led a workshop where I recognized the importance of creating a diverse and inclusive community for designers.

Chanel James: Because of Antionette Carroll’s “The Impact of Inclusion” workshop, I was inspired to focus my Senior Book thesis on helping young and emerging designers to consider their audiences, and creating work that is more than just good design. I really want to make an impact on the diverse community of designers, so that everyone can feel included and represented. This book is still in the works, but I am already very excited for the outcome!

AIGA DC: How does the conference and AIGA benefit students?
Khanh Pham: The conference offered me the opportunity to learn from everyone in every circumstance, not just from famous designers. Each conference attendee had something worth learning from. Before attending the conference, I usually determined to create nice design work. During the conference, I learned that design is not only about creating nice work — but also about improving our lives, transforming our society, bringing joy and excitement, and connecting people.

Chanel James: AIGA allows me to connect with professionals whom otherwise I would only meet at an interview. I have grown so much, not only as a designer, but also as an individual. Some people say you should surround yourself with others who inspire you, and all the people I have met through AIGA have shaped me into the emerging designer I am today. After the conference, I realized that AIGA is more than an organization, but a community of innovators! Because of this community I am confident; I am adaptive; I am imaginative; I am AIGA.

Be sure to check out the conference schedule and speakers from this year to get an idea of what the AIGA community has to offer. While the conference is a great resource for any creative professional, it’s also great to see a sizable discount on registration offered to students. Curious about George Mason University’s School of Art? Check it out here.

By Libby Bawcombe
Published November 7, 2016