Ah-ha! Moments — Students On The 2015 AIGA Design Conference


The 2015 AIGA Design Conference was my first time attending such an event. It was also my first time in New Orleans. As such I had numerous ah-ha moments throughout the conference here is a small sampling of some notable Ah-ha! moments:

  • Mimi Valdés speaking about individuality being the new wealth; her experience with I am OTHER; Pharrell’s creative collective about curiosity and creativity fueling all that we do and of failure being an experience to learn from. Ah-ha!
  • Magician Dan Trommater speaking about assumptions and expectations, and encouraging us to question everything we hold to be true. Ah-ha!
  • Running into one of my personal heroes, “master of ceremonies” Roman Mars. Being able to talk to him about his podcast, the terrible acoustics inside Chipotle, and revolving doors. Then being so giddy and overwhelmed I forgot to ask for a photo with him. D’oh!
  • Nelly Ben Hayoun’s chaotic, insane, and wonderful presentation on multidisciplinary conflicts, the theater of cruelty, and the overall impact on the human condition. Oh! and Ellen Lupton speaking for the entire audience, after being summoned on stage by Hayoun, by simply stating “I have no idea what the #$%& is going on.” Ah-ha!
  • Michael Beirut giving some incredibly wise advice in his “What I’ve Learned” presentation, ranging from “you find out more from listening than talking” and “teaching is the best way to learn” to “Your design is best when you’re interested in the subject matter, so try to be as interested in as many things as possible.” Ah-ha!

Despite living in a constant state of awe and inspiration for these five days in New Orleans, there is one moment in particular that stood out more than any Ah-ha! moment. It was my whoa… moment. This occurred at the closing session on Saturday October 10th, during the final round of the popular design contest Command-X. A contest wherein young up and coming designers faced-off against each other in three twenty-four-hour long design challenges. The final challenge was a doozy: Communicate the importance of changing our culture of gun violence. Yikes! This incredibly difficult task was handled impressively by all three of the contestants, but one in particular did something extraordinary. Sarah Azpeitia of New York. As she took the stage, she asked us all to look under our chairs, where we found a red piece of paper with the following quote:

“I believe that if I were to expect a politician to use his or her voice to better the world, we should expect the same of ourselves.” – Michael Ian Kaye

She spoke about gun violence and how the current efforts taken to address the problem in our culture are not enough, presenting her campaign’s title “It’s Not Enough.” She then asked us all to make a pledge by holding up that brilliant red piece of paper, to use our voices to better the world – that we as designers are decision makers, problem solvers, and have the ability to affect change in society.

Everyone stood up. Whoa… Being surrounded by an audience full of designers, holding up that red pledge was simply incredible. It made me think of the sheer amount of power that our profession wields.  If even half of us holding up that piece of paper follow through with our pledge, we will create a significant change – be it the country’s culture of firearm violence or any other issue that plagues society. Not only did Sarah communicate the importance of changing our culture of gun violence, she challenged us to do it. She did not present a hypothetical campaign or design solution; she used her position to do something real. She broke free from being a contestant and became an instigator; and it is this brave attitude and conviction that can make us more than creatives – it can make us champions of a better world.

During the conference AIGA Executive Director Richard Grefé said: “[Designers] really do have the power to make a difference in the human experience.” No one during the entire conference captured this notion better than Sarah Azpeitia. Thanks to her, I left New Orleans feeling not just inspired and motivated, I left with the understanding that, as I enter into the design profession, I have a responsibility to use my skills in such a way as to improve the world around me.




I’d say the conference as a whole was one, amazing ah-ha moment! However, to be more specific, there was one speaker presentation that left me particularly changed and inspired; so much so that five days later, I’m still thinking about his words and feeling the impact they had on me. This speaker was Justin Skeesuck.

Justin Skeesuck is a graphic designer, a father, a best friend, and a husband. Justin also has a terminal disease, one similar to ALS (Justin has not and will not lose his speech). He is now unable to design, or walk, or hold his wife and kids.

He did though, speak during the last day of the conference. He told us about his recent trip to Spain, where he and his best friend hiked the famously lengthy trail Camino De Santiago recently, a trip that took on month to complete ( he did so from his wheelchair).

My ah-ha moment from this speaker was this: there are no excuses to not be happy, and to live to the fullest. Also, that I should not take my art, skill, and passion for design for granted, because it is quiet the gift to possess, and one day maybe, I will no longer be able to posses this. So while I am able I should take advantage, and purge!

By By Parker French and Jade Gallegos
Published November 10, 2015
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