Last May, we had the opportunity to partner with AIGA, a longtime collaborator and dream client, on a new microsite to commemorate their centennial and celebrate the last 100 years of American design. Our first reaction was excitement: as designers who pride ourselves in our discipline and our history, we were honored to craft stories that include some of the world’s most influential designers and their work. Our second reaction: where do we start?
At Second Story, we often describe our process as “designing from the inside out.” As we thought about AIGA and what made it special, it became clear that the organization sits at the epicenter of the conversation between design and society. This simple diagram was our first attempt to show how this conversation and how the artifacts in AIGA’s archives could become the lens for the site.
Building a project’s foundation is one of the most challenging and exhilarating points in our creative process. We refer to this discovery as finding the heart—the one truth of the project that will never change. The “heart” is the story that the experience is begging to bring to life. Creative Director David Waingarten has described the task of finding and articulating this conceptual foundation as “being the first to walk into a dark room and look for the light switch.”
To find the heart of the AIGA Centennial project, we fully immersed ourselves in the content. We delved into the vast collection of artifacts in AIGA’s Design Archives, combed through articles from diverse voices in the design community, and looked at other retrospectives, critiques, and blog posts. In our quest for enlightenment, we noticed there was little discussion of design history that was not organized by time, form, medium, or discipline. While these ways of presenting design history are informative and educational, we wanted to create a living resource that captures the ever-evolving conversation between design and society and invites everyone deeper into it.
As we were having this discussion, our collaborators at AIGA pointed us to “No More Heroes,” a poignant article from a 1992 Eye Magazine that really spoke to us. This quote from Bridget Wilkins was especially inspirational to our conceptual development:
With AIGA’s guidance and after countless thought-model sketches and “what if!” epiphanies, we landed on a framework that gives diverse audiences a new way to look at and evaluate great design. We organized the stories by design intent, allowing the purpose of the artifacts to be revealed for the visitor. The intention is what defines design, and as Milton Glaser so eloquently states: “The best definition I have ever heard about design and the simplest one is moving from an existing condition to a preferred one, and that is a kind of symbolic way of saying you have a plan because the existing condition does not suffice.”
We had to consider how to make this story framework exciting and accessible for guests with varied knowledge of design. It couldn’t overwhelm the general public, but it also had to meet, if not exceed, the expectations of design enthusiasts and practitioners. To strike this balance, we created an experience with two layers. At the surface layer, visitors can view carefully curated artifacts, quotes, videos, and listen to audio clips. Those who are interested can go a level deeper to see additional artifacts, designer profiles, and moments from AIGA’s history. With 11 videos, 26 audio clips, 120 design artifacts, 17 designer profiles, 15 AIGA historical moments, and 19 quotes, there’s a wealth of content for visitors of all backgrounds to explore.
AIGA also wanted to extend the conversation to ensure that the microsite became a meaningful record of this time in design’s history. To foster discussion and participation, we needed an engaging prompt. How can we ask a stimulating and meaningful question without leaving the guest lost or spending 20 minutes trying to create a response? The ideation that we spent on those six words was extremely thorough: looking at the reactions from using words like “think” vs. “feel”, finding out if users were comfortable contributing from the first person (“I am connected by design that…”) or from a general perspective on design (“Design that connects is…”). We settled on a phrase that could be applied across all five intents and that allowed guests to choose an intention and add their own thoughts and images.
The results have been incredible to watch. Each day the conversation grows, with over 700 user contributions and counting. We are thrilled with the final site and hope the experience engages a broad audience in a dynamic conversation about the role of design in our society and everyday lives. We encourage you to explore these narratives and add your voice to celebrate the evolution and impact of American design over the last 100 years.
Our studio is forever grateful to AIGA for giving us the opportunity to be part of such an incredible moment in design history.
— Laura Allcorn, Senior Content Strategist & Kirsten Southwell, Experience Designer