The 2023 AIGA National Design Conference was held at the Times Square Sheraton in New York City. Jennifer Kinon and Bobby C. Martin Jr. were conference co-chairs, Debbie Millman hosted, and Michael Bierut and Lisa Babb served as moderators. 
The theme was “The View from Here.” Everyone in attendance brought raw emotion. World news was shocking; things have been tough. Yet, hearts were open. Conversation was flowing. Work was good. Community was great.

Being together, we sort of collectively remembered what we could love about AIGA.

To start the conference, Steve Heller, The Daily Heller, and Nick Heller, New York Nico, welcomed everyone to New York with film, design, and family photos that included candids with Paul Rand, Marshall Arisman, Louise Fili (Mom) and Paula Scher, among others. 

In conversation with Debbie Millman, Steve and Nick talked documentary-making, spotting talent, and Brooklyn Pride. They also covered how tough it is to let your kid find their own way and the enormous pride that comes from getting to watch their journey.

Several speakers addressed the state of the world today and expanded on the role design might play in making tomorrow a better place. 

In conversation with Lisa Babb, Erika Lee and Rechung Fujihira of Ourspace reminded us that, with Hawaii, it’s often not give and take. It’s just take, take, take, take. 

They also lifted up Maui Rise for direct aid to ‘Ohana displaced by the fires.

The state of the world as it relates to AI was another common theme as it has started to break into every part of our lives. But, “when something breaks, something new happens,” as Neville Brody stated.

Juan Carlos Pagan made us wish our name was Joan. Amedea Tessinari talked us through the development of the Angel City FC identity. And Alisa Wolfson’s work for The Lost Class brought a deafening silence to the room.

When something breaks, something new happens.

Neville Brody

Hilary Greenbaum and Alicia Cheng spoke about forgetting a personal agenda and designing in service of two of the most recognized art museums in the world, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Cynthia Pratomo recalled the brief her team at Instagram received before launching Threads, then sped us through an incredible process of design exploration, iteration, and development.

In a panel on the history of design moderated by Michael Bierut, Mark Sanders revealed the intent to fracture the spine of chronology with the 7th edition of Meggs; Silas Munro addressed how we might have a design field that looks more like America; and Morgan Searcy reminded us that designers have the power to change how the world looks at history.

Ivy Ross and Natasha Jen both challenged Design Thinking with Ivy suggesting a more empathetic and emotive, Design Feeling. Then, Forest Young invited us to think of the client brief as “an invitation for every one of us to be futurists.”

Design thinking is great, but we have to balance it with the feeling side. 

Ivy Ross

In conversation with Lisa Babb, Joi Fulton traced her life from growing up as the oldest of six kids in Chicago to the launch of her Apple Watch face.

And together they asked “Why did it take George Floyd for organizations to realize that they didn’t have designers of color, illustrators of color …”

Allison Connell, Matt Owens, and Sasha Tochilovsky celebrated ten years since the Image of the Studio. Together, they conceived, curated, and designed the exhibition and website that took a data-driven snapshot of more than 75 New York City design studios and individual practitioners in 2013. 

Ten years later, they invited several studios to update their stats and reflect on what was a tumultuous decade in design. They also spoke about the process of capturing a local industry and launched a new tool that allows designers nation-wide to make their own “image” of the studio.

In looking back, we also marked the recent passing of beloved designers and design studios including Carin Goldberg and Milton Glaser.

Celebrating 50 years and closing the show were Pentagram Partners Natasha Jen, Giorgia Lupi, Emily Oberman, Paula Scher, and Marina Willer in conversation with Debbie Millman. 

The panel spoke for more than forty-five minutes as more than five hundred slides of almost peerless work by these five designers cycled through on the big screens. Debbie Millman closed by saying “Pentagram started with five men, and today we have five women on stage.” She didn’t drop the mic, but she could have.

Bobby Martin immediately stormed the stage with high fives and closed the conference on a high note. Michael Bierut called out the spirit of possibility and how we might build on it. 

Debbie reminded us that “we are the only species on the planet (including AI) that can envision a future.” Jennifer remarked on the fearlessness that is required to be a designer. 

And Lisa Babb sent us off with a big idea, “We’ve got a lot of work to do. And if you don’t see yourself up here … come get your spot.”

At the start of the conference, Bobby first welcomed us, then shifted us from Times Square sight-seeing into work-mode with the reminder that “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be under taken with painstaking excellence.”  
We all came together because we care about our profession. We care about what we do, how we do it, and why. It’s up to us to ask the hard questions. And it is only us who can answer them.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. And if you don’t see yourself up here … come get your spot.

Lisa Babb