AIGA Experience Design – Past, Present and Future

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Clement Mok, widely considered one of the early leaders of the IA/UE movement, is the current president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. He served as a creative director at Apple for five years before he founded Studio Archetype interaction design and branding agency in 1988. When Sapient “Can those who design experiences find a useful, lasting home within the age-old AIGA?”acquired Studio Archetype in 1998, Mok became Chief Creative Officer. Now consulting, he continues to shape Sapient’s long term strategy as Chairman of its Innovation Advisory Board.

Terry Swack, a 20-year veteran of the design profession as well as a leading digital strategist and designer, is the AIGA Experience Design national chair and serves on the AIGA board of directors. Formerly, Terry was founder and CEO of TSDesign, an Internet strategy and product design firm acquired by Razorfish in 1999. Terry now consults independently, is a contributing reviewer to Internet World’s Deconstructing column and is writing a book on the impact of experience design strategy on business.

In 1998 Terry and Clement, organized the Advance for Design Forum, an initiative of the AIGA. Its purpose was to ‘create a forum for the advance of experience design in the network economy and to define and build a community of practitioners who will shape and advocate for the role of design in a world that is increasingly digital’. In 2000 it formally became the AIGA Experience Design community of interest and now has a national membership with groups established in major US cities and London.

The two are uniquely qualified to elucidate the evolution and future of AIGA ED and to answer the important question: Can those who design experiences find a useful, lasting home within the age-old AIGA?

They recently talked with Erin Malone of Boxes and Arrows:

B&A: What was your original motivation for beginning the Experience Design community of interest?

Terry & Clement: Like many design practitioners in the mid-’90s, Terry and I were thrust into developing and evolving our respective design practices for the growing needs of online initiatives by our clients. Being early converts, we found ourselves in conferences, workshops and seminars preaching the Internet gospel and sharing insights and methodologies on creating order out of the inherent unstructured nature of the Internet.

Repeatedly, we found ourselves with other like-minded practitioners in hallway conversations comparing notes. We rarely had time to see each other’s presentations or have meaningful discourse about the challenges of advancing the practice and the profession. Each of us were making the same mistakes and essentially inventing the same methodology only with different labels. Terry and I were fed up with these chance meetings, and we were hoping someone would organize a conference that will bring together people who we admired and respected from afar, but we didn’t know what organization would do it.

Coincidently, Ric Grefe, the director of AIGA, approached both Clement and I to see if we wanted to develop ‘New Media’ design programming for AIGA. Despite the large number of AIGA members who worked in this arena, we felt this new community and practice was more than just media involving the integration or the complimentary use of different design processes with varying emphasis on different visualization and behavioral manipulation skills and disciplines. There was no obvious home for this community, but we had to start somewhere.

AIGA was willing to incubate this group as Clement and I envisioned it. The attendees of the first Advance for Design summit in Nantucket in 1998 were drawn essentially from our personal Rolodexes. They were from a range of design and design-related specializations: designers, clients and educators from corporations, agencies, user research firms and new media/Internet consulting firms. The background of the attendees represented the composition of the community we wanted to build-eclectic and diverse with a common passion for (big as well as little) design.

Interestingly, the attendees were surprised AIGA would sponsor Advance for Design, but it was clear these practitioners felt equally disconnected from ACM SIGCHI, IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America) or AIP (Association of Internet Professionals). So we opted to define our own community and appreciated the AIGA’s support. !!!!!

B&A: Why was it called Advance for Design?

Terry & Clement: It was not a conference or a meeting. All participants were presenters and attendees. The goal was to figure out how to learn and share knowledge among us. In short, to advance the profession and the practice of design … hence the name.

B&A: The AIGA Experience Design community of interest began over four years ago. Why has it taken so long to come into the mainstream IA/UE/UI community?

Terry & Clement: Yes, we’ve had four Advance for Design summits, but the group really did not become an official part of AIGA until after the third meeting. That’s when it became apparent that “Design”- the creating of form, the process, as well as the commitment to human-centered design and user experience-was the common thread. We all contributed to the design of experience. AIGA had already demonstrated its willingness to help develop the group, so we made the affiliation official and gave the group a name. So we see this as a two-year-old organization rather than four.

B&A: Do you feel change, inclusion and acceptance of this practice and organization is happening fast enough?

Terry & Clement: It’s relative to one’s perspective as to what’s fast. Behaviors and beliefs don’t change overnight. It changes at the speed of habit (that’s a Paul Saffo quote). We also don’t believe the practice and the organization are one and the same. Things happen at different speeds out in the world relative to the speed of a volunteer organization. 😉

B&A: How do you reconcile the notion of an Experience Design Community of practice with being sponsored/supported by the AIGA, which has a reputation out there of being solely the home of graphic designers?

Terry & Clement: AIGA has been around nearly a hundred years because it has adapted to the regular transformation of the design profession. “AIGA uses the term “Experience Design” to describe a community of practice-not a single profession or discipline.”AIGA used to be an organization about printing (graphic arts-the GA in AIGA). It changed into an organization about typographic design and publication design. It morphed into an organization for graphic designers in the ’70s and now it’s out to earn the reputation to be an organization about Experience Design.

Those who perceive AIGA as a home of graphic designers may want to look closely at its activities, membership, conferences and competitions. In recent years, it has become a leader in a number of areas that are not part of its traditional perception-visual culture, design for film and television, converging media and brand strategy.

And lastly, for those who simply have problems with the name, AIGA is not unlike SPRINT or IBM. Those companies chose to keep their historical names-through the use of acronyms-despite how they’ve changed over time. I’d wager to say that many people have never heard a mainframe computer referred to as a ‘business machine’. IBM is now the name of the company that invented “e-business”.

B&A: Do you think AIGA ED will ever branch off on its own, as a separate organization?

Terry & Clement: Simply put: AIGA has 12 staff and 17,000+ members. The organization is the membership. AIGA has put no limitations on who the community is or how it evolves. The Experience Design community’s growth is purely a function of who has chosen to be involved and what they believe is important-and it is largely made up of IA/UE/UI folks.

Despite this, we think the more important question is which institutional characteristics will serve practitioners best in achieving a sense of community, the ability to share information and the means to develop effective communication programs that will enhance understanding and respect for the role of the practitioners. These are the needs of a profession. We think the organization should have sufficient infrastructure to survive the ebb and flow of volunteer energy and be able to reach out to those in allied fields who share teams and who will advocate for the highest and best practices. Within this structure, one can be as introspective as one wants without becoming self-limiting on the reach of this new community. At the moment, it appears these conditions are better met within AIGA than on one’s own. There are many organizations with great intents yet no critical mass or influence.

B&A: The concept “A Community of Practice,” which was discussed at last year’s Summit, has a lot of value. How are you evangelizing this notion to the greater field?

Terry & Clement: AIGA uses the term “Experience Design” to describe a community of practice-not a single profession or discipline. Designing effective experiences requires many different types of professionals with a broad range of knowledge.

However, we now better understand the difference between a community of interest and a community of practice. This distinction has become an important question as we move forward in the community’s development relative to other user-experience professional organizations.

Posted recently to the SIGIA-L discussion list was link to an article titled Communities of Practice, by Martin White:

‘A community of practice is a way of developing best practice in a given area, established by members who wish to develop their specific expertise through open participation in the creation and exchange of knowledge. Of course best practice changes with time and with business circumstance, and so these communities will also need to adapt …

…. To be successful, online communities must show prompt and relevant benefits to both the employer and the employee. Communities constantly evolve and must be managed to keep them fresh and alive. Every community has a life cycle of infancy, maturity and death. It is possible however with good community management to prevent the death of a community by constantly evolving it with the changing needs of its members, and introducing new functionality, topics or subgroups.’

Martin’s article was written for a business audience (i.e., communities within one organization). This perspective helped us realize the statement’s relevance to us-how we should be looking at the communities within AIGA Experience Design.

It also distinguishes the two terms: community of interest (COI) and community of practice (COP). At the risk of contradicting ourselves, by this definition, AIGA Experience Design is really a community of interest made up of many communities of practice.

We are continuing to examine how AIGA Experience Design can support and advance the causes for discrete types of COPs, and which ones. A clear start are the role and knowledge presentations presented at the 4th Advance for Design, in 2001 (visit to download these presentations – which are all listed in the right column of the page). We will continue to refine those definitions and add tools, models and processes to support them.

B&A: There is a lot of work being done by both of you, by Lou Rosenfeld and others, to create a community that embraces the new collaborative discipline. Do you feel that the AIGA is the right home for this or should there be some sort of triad (AIGA, ASIS, CHI) coalition or even an organizationally agnostic new group created?

Terry & Clement: Given that experience design is about collaboration, we value the opportunity to participate in the group to determine how we collectively can serve the needs of the community. The group will have several meetings in the coming months with the goal of defining some actionable strategies.

That said, we started AIGA Experience Design specifically to build a community that draws from a variety of disciplines. Practitioners will be attracted to organizations that reflect the narrowness of their interests and/or their ambition for broader reach-and this will allow a number of institutions to fill the need. We believe that the interdisciplinary nature of experience design as we see it and the commitment to developing educational and professional standards, as well as communication and advocacy programs, is well supported within AIGA. Rather than agnosticism, we believe that an organization that can advance the community’s interest is the predominant attribute we are seeking. B&A: Recently there was an interesting discussion on the AIGAED discussion list that criticized the Graphic Design field for perpetuating the “Designer as Stylist” perception, through annuals and awards and the cult of personality that is so often showcased in the magazines. What is your reaction to“AIGA Experience Design is the community that brings all types of Experience Design practitioners together to focus on larger issues of business value and collaborative practice and methods.” this? How do you think the ED SIG can help change people’s perceptions of Design and the AIGA?

Terry & Clement: Design having a balanced focus on behavioral, social and visual esthetics is what’s important to us. There will be always be practitioners who will work at the extremes. It will require practitioners, educators and professional organizations to shape and redefine the new center of gravity for design. It’s hard work and it needs to be done if our profession will have any credibility in the marketplace. The ED SIG can’t do it alone. It requires changes at all level. AIGA is the only organization that has the critical mass and numbers to make the meaningful changes.

B&A: Do you think the party is too big? Are we fracturing the discipline too finely? The list on the AIGA ED page consists of:

  • Design planner
  • Design strategist
  • Business strategist
  • Brand strategist
  • Visual systems designer
  • Brand applications designer
  • Creative director
  • User researcher
  • Usability specialist
  • Information architect
  • Information designer
  • Interaction designer
  • Software designer

Terry & Clement: To the contrary- the party is not too big by virtue of being inclusive of those who tend to work together on teams to accomplish a solution within the practice of experience design.

AIGA Experience Design is the community that brings all types of Experience Design practitioners together to focus on larger issues of business value and collaborative practice and methods. Because of this, AIGA Experience Design members are designers who are interested in exploring new boundaries of their professions as they are evolving across multiple disciplines. This includes people who belong to other professional organizations, as well as people who don’t identify with a traditional profession and are looking for a new “home” community.

The list above is from last summer’s summit when we examined experience design ‘roles’ people might play in their organizations or on teams. The words serve to summarize skills and knowledge required to play them. As many of these roles have overlapping skills and knowledge, it’s not as important what they’re called, as long as we know what they do. You’ll find on our new Web site, coming within the next month, an even more inclusive and expanded list of skills-not roles or titles-found in the AIGA Experience Design community (following are just the headings for each section). Members of this community have skills from:

  • the online and digital industries
  • the software industry
  • the communication design and broadcast industries
  • the marketing/research/advertising industries
  • industrial design
  • exhibit design
  • the environmental/interior design industries

B&A: What happened to the Graphic Designer? Is this title good enough anymore? Is it too loaded within the software, IA, HCI field to be a respected member of the team?

Terry & Clement: The titles software engineer, programmer, information architect and HCI specialist are also loaded, so why single out graphic designer? People who call themselves graphic designers might also use terms like designer, visual designer, communication designer or communication strategist to describe their current roles. But in the new Web site text, you’ll find the term graphic designer. 😉

B&A: The joint forum with CHI at this year’s CHI is a great start in embracing the related disciplines. How has the CHI forum been received?

Terry & Clement: Anecdotally, the CHI2002 / AIGA Experience Design FORUM is being received quite well. People are happy to see more design at CHI, and we’re collaboratively happy to accommodate. We’ll know better when the rubber hits the road and we know the final attendance numbers!

B&A: What outcomes are you hoping for when it is all over? What events, conferences, seminars are next?

Terry & Clement: There will be further collaboration, which we expect to discuss at the FORUM.

B&A: Is there anything like this planned with the ASIST community? Was there an official AIGA presence at the ASIST IA Summit in March?

Terry & Clement: I (Terry) attended, but the timing was difficult for others simply because of the scheduling of AIGA’s national design conference the following weekend in DC. A challenge of logistics not interests. As far as collaboration, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the planning group you asked about a few questions earlier.

B&A: Where do you see the AIGA ED community going in the next few years?

Terry & Clement: We plan to continue to execute on our mission “to build an interdisciplinary community of professionals who design for a world in which experiences are increasingly digital and connected” by continuing to address the most relevant issues of the community.

B&A: At last year’s summit, there were a lot of design educators there. Has AIGAED been working to develop a recommended curriculum for universities and art schools for this new community of practice?

Terry & Clement: Yes. AIGA is the institution that works with the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) to develop accreditation criteria for four-year and graduate programs in design. In this capacity, we have developed with the ED community a set of criteria for an effective program (focusing on outcomes). The involvement of educators in the community and the publication of Loop, AIGA Journal of Interaction Design Education, are attempts to work with the education community to stimulate thinking about curricular issues.

B&A: How is it being accepted?

Terry & Clement: NASAD and the schools it accredits welcome the guidance. Acceptance in the educational community, however, is not as important as their engagement. In this regard, AIGA and the ED community are attempting to enable the community to become engaged around critical issues to the professional community (and its needs from the educational community). This takes time, but there do not appear to be other comparable efforts going on.

B&A: As a hiring manager myself, I have found the well-rounded skills needed for this role are often lacking in fresh graduates-or they have two degrees and have spent too many years in school. Are there any schools with something acceptable in place?

Terry & Clement: Schools are in dire need of overhauling their curriculum to reflect the realities of the marketplace. This is not a criticism of design schools but also of computer science programs, business schools and engineering schools as well.

B&A: As the AIGA ED gets off the ground, sponsoring conferences and seminars beyond the small Summits, what’s next for the two of you?

Terry & Clement: Clement is the president of AIGA and Terry is a national board member and chair of AIGA ED. We have our hands pretty full, not only planning this year, but also working with Ric and the rest of the board to determine where the organization is going. For more information than that, you’ll just have to get involved and contribute to what you’d like to see happen!

We’d also like to thank you for inviting us to participate in Boxes and Arrows!

For more information:

Erin Malone is currently a Product Design Director at AOL in the Web Properties division. She has been a practicing interaction, interface and information designer since 1993. She can be reached at .


  1. Is it just me or is the AIGA logo an exact replica of the Commodore AMIGA logo with the ‘M’ removed?

    Sorry for the off-topic question, it just struck me.

  2. The font in the AIGA logo is Goudy Italic. The original redendering was designed by Frederic W. Goudy, book designer/typographer/printer and AIGA president in 1921. The logo was unchanged for nearly 80 years. In 1999, the logo was modified to be staged in a square by Bart Crosby in Chicago. The orginal type was not altered.

    …so much for off-topic question.


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