Revival | AIGA 2015

Posted by Hannah Bailey on October 20, 2015

Taking place near the heart of the French Quarter, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Conference was about revival. The conference celebrated the strong regrowth of the city and its design community 10 years after Katrina. The rich culture was celebrated with performances by a local jazz band and student design competitions that included designing a logo for the Museum of Voodoo and a redesign of the Southern Comfort label. The conference not only celebrated the revival of the city but also acted as a revival in itself.

There was much to be learned throughout the conference, but here’s what stuck with me the most out of all the amazing speakers at AIGA 2015.


There are many names that conference attendees might use to describe themselves: experience designers, brand manager, art director, creative directors, etc. But Eddie Opara nailed it when he said “I am a graphic designer. Yes, own it. Just say it!" Did it sound like an AA meeting for designers? Maybe a little bit- But everyone needs a reminder now and then to own what they do!

I also attended a workshop on the forgotten art of presentation design with Charlie Sutton, who has worked for Apple, Nokia and, most recently, Facebook. He shared that graphic designers sometimes feel that they need to be the most professional person in the room to counteract the stereotype of grungy out-of-touch creatives. While there is nothing wrong with trying to speak your audience’s language, it does you no favors to lose your authenticity.

He said, "We have the right as designers to speak emotively about our work." It’s easy as a creative to want to defend our work with numbers, research, and marketing wisdom, because that’s what we assume clients want to hear: the science behind the art. But when presenting our work we should allow ourselves to speak from an authentic place of authority. You have permission to use the word beautiful.


Mimi Valdes shared about working with Pharrell William’s creative collective. If you are honest, you’ve probably found yourself bopping along to “Happy” at some point in the last few years. I was surprised to find that this hit didn’t have an easy path to the top charts.

A year after the song was released with Despicable Me 2, not much had happened. That’s when Mimi came in to help elevate Pharrell who was just beginning to be a presence in the music world. They came up with Happy music video- 24 hours of people dancing their hearts out and the song took off.

When Mimi was asked how she was able to tackle the task of reviving interest in a song that after a year still hadn’t gained any traction, she said that she stayed curious. “Staying curious protects you from fear.” She explained that coming to a problem with curiosity keeps you looking for solutions and keeps you playing with ideas instead of giving into fears of failure.


David Delgado and Dan Goods work for a division of NASA and are tasked with creatively engaging the public. They try to help people “sneak up on learning” about space. One of their projects had the goal of helping people grasp the paths and movement of satellites orbiting earth.

How do you help people really grasp the path of objects flying through space thousands of miles above us? David shared that they gave each satellite its own sound and filled a dome with speakers so that people could sit inside, close their eyes and imagine the path of each satellite flying overhead- A kind of satellite ecosystem.  

As a team, David and Dan have designed experiences like this and inspired many. So much so that a friend of theirs called them up one day and said, “There needs to be a Museum of Awe and you guys need to run it.” And that was the call that started something.

David and Dan have been talking to people about this idea of the Museum of Awe and working it in when they speak at events. They’ve had many people, including myself, get excited about the idea. After spending some time thinking about what the Museum of Awe could look like, they realized that it needed to be bigger than just a building. Dan said, “What if we are in the Museum of Awe right now?”

We are all born into the Museum of Awe, we just need reminders sometimes. I know I’ll be keeping an eye on how their idea progresses, but in the meantime, I want to find moments of awe in the everyday.

How do you stay authentic? What are you curious about? Where do you find moments of awe?