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Designers, Tear Down These Walls

by Mark Busse

Design is in chaos, and leadership is sorely lackingVeer

It’s time for those with the ability to take the reins

of power and haul the industry into the modern world.

This section sponsored by Veer




So often I hear experienced design professionals tell younger designers to get involved or join the local chapter of a design association. Good advice, right? Of course it is.

Wait a minute. I’ve been heavily involved in our national design association for almost a decade now, and when I look at the best and brightest in our field, most of them are not even part of that community. Not only do the experienced among us generally not lend their time and energy as leaders, but most don’t even see the value of membership. What the deuce?

We all love to wax poetic about “back in the day” (a term I only now feel old enough to use), but it’s scary how much things have changed in the last 20 years. Another phrase I find myself using these days is “in the real world,” when talking to design students about the realities of what we deal with in our day-to-day profession. It occurs to me that I haven’t been giving my students the whole story about our industry. And it occurs to me that the opportunities for learning, networking and advancement via design associations aren’t what they used to be.

Enough of that. We need to tear down the walls of complacency and lead by example.

Times Are Changing

When I entered this profession, the designers I learned from illustrated with brushes and paint, drew typefaces by hand and set type on a Linotype machine. Looking back, it felt like at that moment (1989) everything began to suddenly change. I remember the fear and trepidation so many of us felt as we realized how much of our training was already obsolete. Thankfully, we brought with us new skills and perspectives as well as our classical training, and together with the established pros, we forged ahead, evolved, and kept the design community afloat.

But times are changing once again. And nobody likes change. It’s scary as hell. But change is a constant in the design field—like it or not.

Some say that Canada’s reputation as a leader in our field has waned. Many argue vehemently that design has radically evolved beyond “graphic,” with designers around the globe adopting a new perspective and identity. And yet despite all this, Canadian graphic design associations cling desperately to old paradigms, terminology and mandates.

It’s time we told the younger designers entering the highly competitive (and saturated) communication design industry the truth about what skills they’re going to need to thrive—or even survive.

Stop Whining

I’m guilty of it too, but really—let’s grow up. I’m about as sick of hearing about spec contests and crowd-sourcing as I am talking about it. And the debate over what we call ourselves and describe what we do? An important discussion, but god I’m bored of it.

Sure, we can stomp our feet in protest every time a government ministry engages in a practice we view as disrespectful, but have those that represent us adequately secured the attention of Canada’s federal government, educating and collaborating with them? Not so much. Have regional association chapters stepped in front of the various legislative assemblies in the provinces across Canada? Nope. Have we even reached out to our local boards of trade with the message of the value we bring to business through design? Not to my knowledge.

The reality is, the imm aturity with which we’re viewed will never go away if all we do is whine about everything among ourselves, resorting to the equivalent of shooting spitballs from the sidelines. And seriously, do you think the best and brightest among us get caught up in discussions about what they call themselves? Or about the quality of typeface choices in James Cameron’s latest movie or how much they love or hate the latest logo designed by Peter Arnell? Of course not. Who cares? Are we artists or are we business strategists? Or perhaps both? Do we really even know anymore?

We need to start looking beyond the ivory tower of design. There are more issues at hand than the improper use of Trajan.

The Associations Are Failing Designers

It’s been an exciting few years in the design industry. But when I look at the broader industry and the leadership within its ranks, I am ashamed. The associations are bursting at the seams with young designers, but there is an embarrassingly low percentage of experienced, successful design professionals among our leadership ranks.

For the most part, Canada’s best designers don’t seem to understand the value of membership anymore, let alone feel compelled to step up and volunteer their expertise, intelligence, creativity and influence.

In this time of change, made worse by economic uncertainty and the threat of overseas competition (when I was in China last year, there were nearly one million students studying design—one million), we need brave leadership, now more than ever. We don’t need the status quo, and we certainly don’t need to cling to old ways of thinking, trying to rebuild cosmetic meaning in an industry that has fundamentally changed.

What we need is unity. Let’s be honest with ourselves, Canada’s national graphic design association isn’t really national at all. Until old differences are set aside and Ontario and Quebec properly join the leadership of this industry, we’re going to be burdened by fractured administration and provincial thinking. If we want to truly make change, we need to quit bickering and navel-gazing, band together and get to work.

There are a growing number of professionals in our field who believes that unless our national association radically alters its trajectory, the only answer is to form a new group. This is a risky approach that would mean discarding more than 50 years of history. But this is the design industry; old things die and new things are created in their place. I’m not sure it’s the right path, but at least somebody’s making an effort—and if things don’t change soon, I’ll be right there with them.

Designers Are Failing The Associations

Most of these well-known designers who have abandoned the associations have elevated themselves beyond the level of merely producing graphics. They’ve acquired business acumen, expanded their professional networks and accumulated significant influence. They’re too busy producing results for their clients to get caught up in issues that don’t seem to relate to them anymore. Few of these successful designers turn their attention, time and energy to leading the Canadian design industry forward.

To fix this, there needs to be constant change at the head of our national organization. There should be a number of candidates in the running for leadership positions. No one should be able to park in a position for years on end and win the same spot by default. Change is healthy for an organization, and I would argue it’s required to keep our broader industry evolving and moving forward.

We need leaders who won’t get caught up complaining about how little money the association has, but who will set in motion a plan to fix that. We need leaders who not only recognize the importance of getting our message in front of big business and government, but who have the experience doing this already—successfully. We need leaders who have evolved beyond graphic design.

So where are these leaders?

I suspect that most of the really influential designers in Canada have become distracted by the allure of fame. Many designers who could bring a lot to the table have opted instead to self-promote, pursuing speaking engagements at design conferences and/or publishing books of their ramblings or works, instead of giving back to their industry in its time of need. Many will offer their design services and create posters, reports, even websites for the promotional opportunities, but these often seem more in the service of exposure in their quest to become the next Sagmeister. Good for those who enjoy this kind of professional success and notoriety, but what about those who follow? Who will be their mentors?

So this is a call to those who have “arrived” and enjoyed success in their design careers. Instead of merely becoming opinion shapers worshipped by young designers, these leaders should step forward and use their experience, position and influence to create real, positive change.

Winners Don’t Make Excuses

By now, many of you are probably thinking, “He has a point. If we want things to improve, we need to put in the work. But I just don’t have the time.” Hogwash.

This issue has been on my mind a lot lately as I consider my own future as a volunteer leader within the Canadian design community. I too have struggled to find a balance between running my own busy design studio and serving on the executive board of my local design association chapter. I recently posted a thread to Facebook that read, “Why do most of Canada’s best and brightest senior designers refuse to serve their national professional association?” I wasn’t surprised by responses claiming successful designers are busy, sometimes timid and often even elitist, but seriously, give me a break. This is not the time for timidity or elitism.

I’m not negating the importance of family commitment or life balance, and we all understand the need to focus time and energy on work itself, but I asked why the upper tier of designers is absent. From my perspective, the people at the top of this game are always busy, but they’re also extremely efficient, tremendous problem solvers and often have deep resources.

The responses that resonated most with me were those centred around the confusion about the value of design associations, which seem to be run by the “old guard” (a term that makes me cringe), which has collectively lost a sense of the state of the industry. Many senior designers replied that they have little interest in lending their talents to a community that still calls themselves graphic designers—a term few of those at the top use any more. And finally, some argued that the way the design industry networks and supports itself has changed and become much more fluid, global and instant, using online tools such as Behance, Cargo Collective, LinkedIn, QBN and Motionographer.

Fine. Things have changed. We can all sit behind our computer screens and feel a sense of community via our Facebook pages or LinkedIn groups, but that’s not community. We need leadership. We need those who’ve come before us to guide and mentor us by sharing their tricks of the trade. We also need those who are enjoying success in the newer areas of expertise, such as interaction design, user experience design and brand design. They can bring to the table their unique experiences, so those who still think like graphic designers can look at the bigger picture and expand their ideas of what we do.

We need winners to put their hands up and say, “It’s my turn—allow me to help out for a while.” Just imagine how many new designers could be inspired to band together as a community if even 10 or 20 influential design leaders stepped forward to compete for a term on the executive board of our national design association?

I’m aware that my ideas don’t jibe with everyone’s point of view, but I believe in the power of design. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a coalition of the best of the design industry can bring about radical positive change, once again positioning Canada as the bright North Star of design leadership it once was.

To do that, walls need to be broken down, and tough decisions made. It’s time to tell the next generation the truth about the mess we’re leaving them, and work with them to build a better future for us all.

Will you join me?



Mark Busse is co-founder and Design Director of the Vancouver-based branding and communication design firm Industrial Brand and Past President of the BC Chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC).




Tara Kerner-Marsh

November 02, 2010 03:41 PM


I think there are some good points here. It will be interesting to see what kind of discussion it raises. I see this article being a great call to action directed to designers (both beginner and experienced) to get involved in their associations (local and national).



Stuart Thursby

November 02, 2010 04:01 PM


While some may point out the irony that you wrote a column imploring people to stop writing columns and start leading, I think the entire piece was a message that had to be said.

There are many things I love about design. But frankly, the constant navel-gazing and bickering is something I don't. Like your weariness with constant debates about spec work, at a certain point we need to get on with it. We keep talking and talking about the vaunted role design can take at the boardroom tables of corporations, but if we're spending the rest our time infighting and damaging the industry...do we really deserve that spot?

For all the ink that's spilled about what the world can learn from design, I think it's equally important to think about what design can learn from other disciplines. Advertising, photography, filmmaking, illustration and writing — and that's just within the immediately-related creative arts — all make similar claims to carrying the possibility to change the world in them, and the fun part is they're all right. That they take completely different skillsets only multiplies the potential of truly cross-disciplinary, open-minded and — most importantly — humble thinking.

I think that there's still a place for traditionally-focused media and associations, but they're no longer the only way. The thing I'm noticing here in Toronto — and I'm not sure if this is also the case out in Vancouver — is that there is a landslide of meetups, community events and real-life communities forming, amongst startup designers, developers, social media "experts" (whose numbers, I'm sure, will fall or diversify in coming years) and the like.

The foreseeable future seems to be focused on smaller, nimbler teams of people who work together on certain projects and not on others. Bands of freelancers and start-ups. This trend will pass, but that kind of thinking will live on. Maybe the way of the future is with the decentralized, the nimble and the casual, instead of the formalized hierarchies of previous generations?

That said, we were saying the same thing in the early 1990s and I'm sure the early 2000s as well, though I was too young to be aware in both cases. These things come and go, and the AIGA remains. We'll see what happens.



Todd Smith

November 02, 2010 07:15 PM


While I agree with Mark on many of his points about the history of graphic design, I feel like it was always a blanket term for a variety of mediums & processes. What is design without an understanding of balance, contrast, symmetry, line, form, symbolism, rhythm… ? *Sigh* Need I go on?

I'm sick-to-death of the the argument over naming conventions. It's bullshit, it’s different for everyone, and it’s terribly elitist. We're all standing on the shoulders of the generation of thinkers before us. There is no way that an industry as diverse as design will adhere to a single definition. Not in my lifetime, not in yours.

I direct motion design projects. The terms "Motion Graphics" and "Motion Design" are only about ten years old and while I'm certain that some people reading this still don't know what it is - my industry is rooted in graphic design and design thinking. Sometimes we fail to realize that the biggest component of design is innovation; to be innovative you can't really afford to stand still. If you have a good process it will only work a fraction of the time and even in the cases that it does you'll have to make gentle adjustments to deal with the tasks in front of you. As designers we've evolved our skills to precisely address a number of problems and too often we trap ourselves inside something before we know what it is.

In my opinion the best designers in the world have developed the ability to pivot, to be agile, to be flexible, to be open-minded, and—most importantly—to be honest. I agree with Stuart’s comments on design learning from other disciplines, some of the most important lessons I’ve learned are from cross-pollination and knowing the processes of specialists in tangental media. I think Mark's comment on the relevance of design communities is important too; too many specialists put their blinders on when their puzzle pieces start to fit together and forget that everything they've learned in their career came from somewhere else. It’s important to know that you are not alone, pay it forward.

I sit on the board of my local GDC chapter and often feel like an outsider speaking to distinguished brand specialists, user experience designers, and typographers alike. I know a few things that they don’t, but I never forget the fact that I have infinitely more to learn from them. I believe in positive influence and the human desire to help our peers and we don’t really go anywhere if we hide in our little caves trying to one-up each-other.

We simply need to work together more efficiently and actually move forward because as design goes, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

For your viewing pleasure: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion.html



James Welsh

November 02, 2010 11:40 PM


As a long-time member of the GDC -- and at one time the RGD -- I could not agree more with Mark. Especially on the divisive nonsense that has gone on between the RGD and the GDC for the last 10 years. Thankfully this seems to be coming to an end. Ten years have gone by and accreditation in Ontario has not turned out to be the nirvana some promised. In the mean-time the industry here in Ottawa has been decimated by technology and a major client that is only interested in getting design for the lowest price possible. It has not happened yet but I'm sure it is only a matter of months before design is being outsourced to China and India.

To those that run the RGD and GDC I have one question: What are you here for? The answer to that one question has never been adequately answered at least not to the satisfaction of 90% of the designers out there. As proof of that you only have to look at the membership numbers of the GDC and RGD and compare that to the number of designers that have never joined. Why is it that so few belong? The answer is simple. There is no persuasive value proposition. Ask graduating students if they plan to join either organization. The answer I get is always the same: "What's in it for me?"

There is one problem that the GDC and RGD should take on. Low wages and fees. The semi-annual not-terribly-statistically-accurate salary survey is pretty grim reading.

At the heart of the problem is a conflict of interest. The GDC and RGD are run by owners of small and medium studios and so they have never looked out for the needs of rank-and-file wage-earning designers. Rank-and-file designers will join if and only when the RGD and GDC can prove they are looking out for their interests and specifically the interests of their pocket books. This is where true political power lies. The sooner the GDC and RGD figure this out the better.

But -- judging by the number of friends and colleagues that are leaving the business or simply going out of business -- I fear it is too little too late.



Mark E. Sackett

November 03, 2010 05:03 PM


Kudos to you my friend....take Canada out of this in edit and replace it with US, Europe etc. Our arrogance is getting worse, most design portfolios I see are pathetic and still based in print and our associations offer nothing of value to me. But truth be told they never did. Nonetheless I joined, participated and even served on the Boards or as President for years. We grew membership but could not steer the ship!

We showed each other our work and had our little contests but to this moment have failed to make an imact on the value of what we do to business.

Now people think a Facebook page is a Brand Strategy...it's sad, pathetic and all our fault!

Miss ya, coming up North soon so we can solve world problems in Design together.

Good job, proud of you for saying this...and you know what I'll have to say to the Naysayers!

Mark E. Sackett
President/Creative Director/Executive Producer



Scott Christie

November 03, 2010 07:38 PM


Hi mark, I've read your very long letter twice now and can honestly say I'm still not clear on what you are calling for or attacking. I don't remember a time when canada was ever a design leader only single firms big and small. Yes, there are many many students studying and graduating in design around the world but that is great, like always, the best will go on to be successful. Any talks, teaching, or community involvement I may or may not have done has always been to give back to the community. It isn't what will such and such organization do for me, it's what can I do to help. Everything you say and do everyday to and with your clients, students and peers is improving the profession bit by bit. Ignore the silly stuff, impart your knowledge to the next generation and anyone else willing to listen. The organizations are their to
support your efforts not lead you.



Peter Gabany, R.G.D. – Limelight

November 04, 2010 11:17 AM


Thank you Mark for bringing this discussion to light. I am a former member of the board of RGD Ontario, passionate support of the association and I too am concerned. There is a commoditization of design across the country and we as designers are responsible for that. Spec work and Crowd sourcing are disabling symptoms of poor representation of the value of design across the field. On one hand there is argument that the assorted associations should be the tour de force that educates industry and business of the strategic advantage of graphic design. On the other hand, this lack of education makes it easier for those who run design practices or freelancer to market their abilities and insight - albeit a false economy.

RGD has worked to educate designers and finally taking a step to help inform prospective clients about the strategic importance of Graphic Design - or better put communication design because as you so eloquently put it - times are a changing. Circle, Square, Triangle, Grid, Type, Photo or Illustration is the old school and today we have 140 characters, YouTube, FaceBook, iPad and mobile apps and if you're not there you are not moving with the times.

But the dialogue that must occur needs to enter the boardrooms across the country. It can't be told or even taught - there is little time and the audience is not patient - we are the professionals, we need to demonstrate this.

What this discipline does very well for itself is enter competitions and showcase their work through our respective associations. Try as they might the associations create nice booklets and websites of “work” and send them out to various business recipients - but here's the rub. If we received a parts manual for the assembly of an incubator would we read it and be better informed as to the benefits of great design communications?

October 1, 2010, wonderfully designed by an R.G.D. colleague in the inaugural issue of the redesigned Globe and Mail we found an Audi sponsored, 12 page supplement on DESIGN with a tip of the hat to Architecture, Industrial, Fashion and Interior Design. For some reason, and maybe it's an elitist attitude, graphic design was not celebrated. The arrogant might say, ‘the piece was well designed, is that not celebration enough?’ The answer NO. If we are to truly help people understand that there is value in design communications then we have to explain ourselves.

As to James Welch's assertion that people don't join associations because there is not value proposition misses the point of the association. RGD is NOT a CLUB - member benefits are NOT and should NOT be the cement that holds any association together and certainly not the overriding reason to join. The association is simply a framework and its members the glue that cements the design community together. And it is the ACTIVE participation of its membership that can and should address the issues that James put forward - not some administrative body telling designers what to do. The salary survey for instance is a great benchmark document that if you pull it apart and look at the real numbers - the ones that you have to analyze - you will see that pricing is going down across the board. Salaries and wages have plateaued and on their way down. Why crowd sourcing, off-shore options, commoditization of the industry - off the shelf, creatively canned, buy one get one free graphic solutions are taking the Limelight.

Wanna take something meaningful away from all of this? The communication design - not the visual but the thinking that has gone into the sites where you can buy a logo for $49 or submit a job profile on a crowd sourcing site is what the communications designer of the day MUST become familiar with. It is the business proposition, the landing pages, the low cost tease, the ease of navigation that is the hook. There is a service, a product, a method to order and I will assume a turnaround for efficient delivery placed in a graphically pleasing, easy to navigate web container that simply makes using the system of little risk. Does it have the same value - not in a million years - it doesn't have to - it competes for the very dollar that we are all after – yes it does.

I asked a leading high-end restaurant owner one time who he felt was one of his key competitors - he quickly replied McDonalds. He went on to explain, people only have so much disposable income and the value of spending $30 and an hour with your entire family is far more value than spending $100 in my restaurant. People's sense of value must be channeled as should the value proposition of an association. One last thing - RGD only has about 2,000 members from a field boasting 50,000 - about 4%. Apple only has about 6% of the PC market - but people are passionate about their Macs and what they can do with them. We simply need a bit more passion in our associations and you will see what we designers can do with that.



Brett T T Macfarlane

November 04, 2010 12:27 PM


I am not a designer, but have worked with many great Canadian designers. I am also on a working sabbatical (a romantic way of saying I'm working aboard for a while until I miss ocean fresh Vancouver air too much) which humbly exposes me to many greats, legends even, in the communication industry. What repeatedly inspires me is how the truly great, not just commercially viable or self branded, are deeply curious and caring about nurturing their very profession. Not at the expense of others but because of what it can do when at its best.

We live with a few generations around us, likely yours probably, without a sense of public duty, sense philanthropy or caring a rats ass about building a community. Maybe it's the complexity of everything or because all the big obvious challenges have been solved. Who knows.

What I do know it that Mark's individual points are not really worth our time debating because the overall spirit is so profoundly correct. Great design can change the world. So prove it. Don't worry about mediocre design. If we only worry about raising the floor we will never raise the ceiling.



Matt Politano

November 04, 2010 01:44 PM


Mark, you're singing my song. I put in a number of years on the exec of my local GDC chapter (and would probably still be there if it weren't for some health problems) and I completely agree that the larger problem isn't really engagement - it's leadership.
I really feel that, as an organization, the GDC has lost its way in terms of providing leadership for the industry and in communicating with the buying community (business, gov't, etc.)
Maybe we're crippled by being a volunteer organization, or maybe we've all retreated into our shells far too much in our reliance on online networking tools; there's a lot to ponder there. Overall, though, I believe our industry and our professional organizations need to make a tectonic shift. I guess what I have to decide is whether some of the required leadership is going to come from me.



Jim Hudson BDes MGDC

November 04, 2010 02:08 PM


Mark makes some very good points in his article and I have to admire his outspoken approach. He and I have had some great discussions and I’m glad he continues to be an active and vocal member of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC). While I don’t agree with everything in Mark’s article, I’ll admit that he’s a catalyst for change.

The GDC is growing at a steady pace in spite of the economic climate. We're the only design organization in Canada with members in every province and territory. That clearly makes the GDC a national body. Our executive director works out of our office in Ottawa and our national executive is made up of professional members from the east coast, west coast and parts in between. My point? We’re a healthy and vibrant organization determined to continue our growth throughout the country. Are there obstacles in the way? Of course. And right up there at the top is apathy.

That’s really the heart of Mark’s message to the design community. Why aren’t more designers embracing organizations that champion their profession? I often hear the question “What’s in it for me?” when we approach non-members. That’s pretty lame in my opinion. Organizations such as the GDC aren’t about you individually, they’re about us collectively. They’re about working on behalf of our profession for the greater good, educating our audiences, and protecting the interests of our members. That’s not to say we don’t provide member benefits, because we do. But that isn’t our sole purpose and motivation.

The GDC enjoys a great relationship and formal affiliation agreement with our friends at Société des designers graphiques du Québec (SDGQ). We also enjoy a similar relationship with the University and Colleges Designers Association (UCDA). Those are extremely important partnerships that we continue to nurture. We see the value in working together with other like-minded organizations for the benefit of our industry and our members. I’ll also add that in July the GDC extended an invitation of affiliation to RGD Ontario and we’re waiting on a response from them.

The GDC is not sitting idle. While our steps forward are not always obvious or as quick as we would like, I assure you that we are working diligently on behalf of our members, our partners, and the Canadian design industry.

Mark has challenged the best and brightest to get involved in a design organization to help make a difference. I’ll settle for the inspired and determined.

Jim Hudson BDes CGD
GDC President 2010-2012



Dave Lunny

November 05, 2010 12:50 AM


Why do we need these industry bigwigs to lead us? This is exactly why GDC is such a joke. They fail to understand new media and that holds us back as a country of creative intellectuals. GDC needs to understand that people, as designers are well aware of, crave "cool" media nowadays. The organization needs to be a lot more open to the communicative and inclusive mediums that exist. They should offer more student awards, encourage more design shows that showcase everyday designers, and have many web-based communication and social networking tools so that Designers in Canada can connect.

If designers want input from the top, then have speaking engagements and conferences (I am so bummed that I cannot go to RGD's DesignThinkers this year) where the bigwigs can have their spotlight. Most of these bigwigs don't have the time to be involved in the society, as time is money. If designers want their input, they will Google the bigwigs, join their Facebook page, or maybe subscribe to their blog. But you don't need these people running the organization in order to inspire designers. We're already inspired by them. And having them behind a desk at some office is keeping them from doing what is so inspiring about them in the first place - their designs!



Amanda Fetterly

November 05, 2010 03:20 AM


As one of 'younger' execs on the GDC BC Mainland board I feel the need to officially weigh in. Please take my age and idealistic approach when reading this, most of you will scoff. But this is the design community I am inheriting, the one you have all created. I respect the generations that have come before me, but I choose to create for those who will come after me.

I think that if the GDC is about us collectively then it would be a design organization that reflects wholly the design community it serves. It should be as clear as looking in the mirror. The GDC (in its full potential) would represent the best in all of Canadian design, by trusting and empowering those to do what they do best and share that with the world. The best designers in Canada are not attracted to the GDC right now, because they feel they have to fit into a mold that no longer represents what they do, and who they are. I do not want to undermine the tireless efforts of the GDC members and its boards across the country. It has been a community that has welcomed me and taught me a lot. But there has been a continual thread of "Us" vs. "Them" (the "thems" range form organizations needing scolding on spec, to chapters vs. the national committee, to the non-member) and that is not the basis to foster community, its the basis of divide. And its perilous, as soon as we all take ourselves out of the equation and start shaking fists at organizations and broken structures we may as well call it a day. In this mode we are not creating, we are fading.

Shouldn't design organizations reflect the utmost creativity of their members? At that point the question of the "value of design" would become a non question because it is just visible and implied.

What I think the AIGA has done well is continue to evolve into an organization that reflects design in America. Without really giving a damn about what they are called. They received the "Your brand is not your logo memo" a long time ago. The emphasis of priorities is given equally across the organization from the traditional design archives, to business practices, to embracing new frameworks such as the new Living Principles. In totality none of these feels disconnected because the brand sits back and lets the content and the community speak for itself. It is ALL required to create a whole design community. And when something else new fits into the picture it will be added. I would venture to say AIGA is adaptable to change (not perfect, but adaptable), isn't that what design is? Reflective and proactive? There is also trust and confidence in who they are, an unapologetic reinforcement of the value of design not by barking but by showing. Not from a place of defense, but of confidence.

I want to be a part of an open and collaborative organization that is not heavy or closed. In learning to listen and share with each other I think we can build a trust that spans generations, a trust that its not about the title on your business card, or the header of your website. This is not a competition, it is a living breathing community. As a fellow Canadian designer I want you to do the best work you can do, be the best you can be, because that motivates me to do the same. I don't want to feel intimidated, I want to feel inspired and motivated by the generations before me. I want them to teach me, and perhaps acknowledge that I may have something to offer as well.

Its time to drop the arguments about who we are, as its clear who we are not. The GDC is not fully representing you (or me...), and that's exactly who it should be for you to even feel an iota of inspiration to GIVE your time to the organization.

It always will be a world of change, its how we respond and adapt that will dictate our future. So how will we adapt to design in chaos? We are entering an era where chaos will be a more prominent feature of everyday life. The recession, spec contests, environmental challenges, ethics...these are not passing phases. We will continue to meet challenges, and its realities such as these that require a resilient and connected design community. One that is adaptable. So how can we adapt?

Amanda Fetterly
GDC BC Mainland Sustainability Chair
Manager, Communication Design UBC Sustainability



Kevin Broome

November 05, 2010 01:47 PM


So bored by this topic. My opinion of the gdc at the moment is this: paragraph upon paragraph upon paragraph of writing. Endless writing. The old BC blog was just a mess of writing. The national site is hardly any better. Message to the gdc: Show me. Show me that you are designers. Get your egos and self consciousness out of the way. It is blocking the view. Design something. Celebrate the practice. Stop talking about it. Do.



Errol Saldanha

November 06, 2010 02:31 PM


Mark, I hope your words will challenge more leaders to get involved.

I agree with the above comment ... the Canadian design community has to stop talking/following and start DOING/LEADING - if we want to stay on the map. The traditional the role of the designer has changed and so must the role of design associations.

As you know, Communication Designers of Toronto (CDOT) just rebranded to Communication Designers Association (CDA) to expand globally. Though I am off in the CD direction, I believe the GDC can move forward and I hope we can collaborate.

Errol Saldanha, Founder/Global Organizer
Communication Designers Association (CDA)
(organizing] CD professionals, resources + events



Karin Jager

November 07, 2010 10:10 AM


Mark, your message about the fractured state of our professional persona is compelling -- and for all the reasons you've listed. But I have to argue that -- "self-promotion, pursuing speaking engagements at design conferences and/or publishing books of their ramblings " . . . IS giving back to the industry -- and I thank those who commit to these endeavours for their contribution. Sharing what you know is all about leadership, inspiration and passion. It truly supports our profession.



Lionel Gadoury

November 09, 2010 10:31 AM


Best of Times or Worst of Times; Mark Busse, You are Not Alone

Mark, you are not alone in your concern for the health of our graphic design profession. Clearly you have the best interests of designers at heart, but here in Ontario RGD is making progress and does have the support of many of the brightest and best in the industry. The good old days simply never were; we’ve been living at the epicenter of explosive changes in media and technology for 25 years. For some, it’s been a brutal journey and we all might wish for simpler times, but overall we’ve never been more connected and design has never been a hotter topic.

The difficult reality is that what can be commoditized will be commoditized and design is not an exception. Technology and the media landscape seemingly change overnight. Schools are struggling to keep pace. And the design process, by its very nature, strives to be radically different and is often misunderstood or seen as risky by clients.

So what can be done to help one another individually and as a profession? First, join the ranks of accredited designers and speak in terms that clients can appreciate! Wishing life was easier and prices higher simply won’t cut it; prices will continue to fall for services where supply and demand dictate. The challenge – and opportunity – is to move higher up the food chain. We can learn a lot from each other on how to achieve this and attending events such as DesignThinkers is an inspiring way to get started.

RGD is striving to serve our community and achieve a graphic design profession that is broadly valued for its contribution to life, commerce and society. Our mission is to be the hub for graphic design in Ontario – the source for continuous learning, sharing, advocacy and mentorship.

The level of commitment from RGD members, the voluntary board, and staff who are responsible for a year-round agenda of professional development, communications, advocacy on key issues and liaison with other organizations is clear evidence of what can be accomplished within a budget.

It would be wonderful if simply having the designation would make your phone ring and command a premium for services, but that’s not realistic – at least not today. RGD is us and we are its voice. Promoting the value of accreditation takes many voices, but in Ontario, across Canada and Internationally, we are being heard.

The best way to make a difference is to work together.

Lionel Gadoury RGD
President, RGD Ontario



Steve Fisher

November 10, 2010 01:31 AM


Ok. This has inspired me to pick up my efforts with the GDC, specifically the national website committee that I chair. Thanks for the kick in the butt Mark, wether you meant to or not.

Errol I too hope that the CDA and the GDC can collaborate! Woot!



Terra Gillespie

November 10, 2010 05:49 PM


As an active participant with design associations, and after letting this sit with me and reading the comments and feedback I too would like to respond.

And, like Amanda, I too am one of the hopeless members of the younger generation – in fact still in school.

I would love to say that this is a case of you get out of associations what you put into them. And while that is partly true, I admit there is always room for improvement.

But I have to say, out of all the organizations that expose me to design, RGD does an amazing job. I am obviously biased seeing as I volunteer as the Student Board Member for RGD, but what led me there?
Well, out of the several organizations available to me in Toronto to volunteer at, RGD has given back the most. They give me Design Thinkers, Head Start, Webinars, Studio Tours, a library, they watch out for Spec work, Design Ethics, Internships, Networking opportunities, The opportunity to have a real accreditation (via a carefully planned exam, not just a fee anyone can pay), Salary surveys, and lets not forget, a business relationship with Applied Arts so that it's members can read this lovely magazine.

And while there can always be improvements, the kind of associations being talked about here are run by minimal staff and then people who volunteer their time (like me!). And for that kind of wo/manpower, I think what is being accomplished is stunning. For example, Design Thinkers has over 1,200 people registered and a fantastic line up of design 'bigwigs' is a huge undertaking for a non profit organization.

As for the designers, I think no matter what field it is (do I go as far to say that this is a life lesson in general?), there will be people who do not prioritize the values in their career, or take pride in their work, or get involved enough in their industry, or don't give back to the community, or slack off a little too much. Maybe I'm naive, but from where I stand I don't think graphic designers are a sole breed who sometimes squabble and practice unethically, or not to the best of their ability. The best we can do is to try and educate those designers, and let them know what opportunities and situations exist. If they don't respond or simply don't care, it is no one else's place to drag them kicking snd screaming.

I (as a naive youngin'), just have to put faith in the fact that those who take pride in their work and industry will be those who rise to the top and lead my generation. And I can honestly say that this does not worry me, through the people I have met and learned about through RGD, it is an inspiring idea to have faith in.

Yours peacefully,
Terra Gillespie



Marion Branch

November 14, 2010 12:13 PM


Where was Mark and his new guard when the GDC national election was called this past spring? Neither he nor any of his group stood up to get involved, lead and make change.

But then again, as a professional designer, I don't need my industry to be "hauled into the modern world" by other designers. I live it every day. I'm use my professional status (and certification) as one more tool in my business arsenal. Your professional organization doesn't exist to change the world for you.



Stuart Thursby

November 15, 2010 09:28 AM


A big thank you to Helen Walters for quoting Mark in her keynote presentation at the RGD's Design Thinkers conference last week in Toronto.

The full transcript of her speech is here:




Lisa Hemingway

November 16, 2010 05:35 PM


Love this discussion. Really, I agree with so much being said. Outdated structure, not representative of active community, not as useful as it could be. Got it.

So, if the GDC isn't built for change/agility that we all need, can we re-build it or remove some restraints? I know when I volunteer for something it's because I'm inspired to make a difference - the more barriers, the less fun/efficient this can be. How can we make this more attractive - specifically to us, as members/volunteers of the group but also to the larger audience - the business community. Is the GDC open to this kind of conversation?



Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki

December 01, 2010 11:44 PM


Well said guys. And sadly so true. I feel exactly the same about new entrants and recruits into the world of brand marketing/experience design. It's so easy to follow the lines, connect the dots and take the ball to the 5 yard line, but to really make brand mean something demands a deeper commitment. I, like you, am tired and ashamed of myself for preaching it, and am making the commitment to show by example. To teach. To make time to share my perspective (and yes, I know it's only mine) when asked to speak.

Maybe if we strip away all the jargon and complexities that have somehow adhered themselves to the field of design and brand experience, and took the time to do the thinking to really understand the simple things that matter most: the customer's needs/wants/ambitions/motivations, the promise of a given product or service, and the competitive landscape, we'd be better able to show what it means to produce some amazing work and the next generation of design thinkers.

Thanks for sharing your insights!




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