I am fairly out, and you are fairly in.

President Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, 1960

"I am fairly out, and you are fairly in. See which of us will be the happiest." This is a quote President George Washington said as he passed the presidency to John Adams. I thought about this today as tomorrow is my last day as AIGA president. On July 1, the job is Su Mathews-Hale's. She will be a dynamic, smart, and visionary president. And, clearly infinitely more patient than me. The floggings will stop.

I stepped in for a second term 2 years ago. I did this, not because I have a huge ambition for power. If I did this is the wrong job. AIGA was in the midst of a controversial issue, the sale of the building. This and the next challenge, the search for a new Executive Director, were critical. And I might be of some help.

Me and Debbie Millman (my first term) 2008

AIGA Presidents, L-R: Clement Mok, Sean Adams, Bill Drenttel, Debbie Millman, Michael Bierut, Ric Grefé (Executive Director), Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

My first term as president from 2007-2009 was like the Eisenhower years. It was a good time. Membership and revenue was high, chapters were growing and thriving, and the organization was efficient and had a remarkable support system of Ric Grefé, Denise Wood, an amazing staff, and nation of volunteers. We had board retreats in Palm Springs (yes, board members pay for it all themselves). The only thing missing was Mamie.

Mamie Eisenhower, 1954

This term was more like the Clinton years. Change is never easy and progress seemed to happen in hard jolts, not a seamless walk. Social media and online conversations create an immediate response to every decision. This is good because dialogue is the basis of a vital democracy. The downside is that rumor and conjecture quickly became facts. At times it felt like there was a vast right wing conspiracy. But, to keep it in perspective, it's AIGA, not the United States Senate.

President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

People ask me how I feel about leaving after so many years. In fact, I'll be staying on the board to work with the Executive Director search committee, but my days of demanding that others bow to me are unfortunately over. 

The best part will be the chance to devote more time to education, supporting young designers, and actually designing. I look forward to spending less time on conference calls (which I hate because I never know who is speaking, and am easily confused). But, I will never again feel the same pride, as I do now serving the profession. 

Me and the fabulous Katie Baker, May 2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan

AIGA is more vital and stronger than any time in history. To all of you who have been part of this two year journey: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the organization and design profession stronger, and we leave it in good hands. All in all, not bad.

I will leave with the greatest pride for this organization of ours and eternal optimism for its future. Su, you're on.

The flawless Su Mathews-Hale, Madam President

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Jennifer's Body... of Work

Tomorrow, my wonderful friend Jennifer Morla is having an opening in San Francisco. I am trapped at my desk and will miss the fun, but at least I can talk about her here. Now I know, someone is probably muttering, “Why promote someone else? It should only be me, me, and me. I’m cranky.” In this instance, it’s obvious. If we looked at the work of Jennifer Morla alone, we should bow at her feet. Jennifer’s vision is so clear, and focused, its razor sharp. Her work is intensely energetic and unapologetic. It has a no holds barred approach paired with surgical finesse. And then, there’s Jennifer herself. She’s committed to the profession, an educator, and an industry leader. She is also a remarkable and rare friend. Whenever I feel tired and think, “I can’t take so and so out for dinner. It’s a Wednesday night.” I consider what Jennifer would do. She would ignore being tired and go to dinner. Which she has done for me many times.

On one visit to San Francisco for a speaking event at CCA, she, Clement Mok, and Michael Vanderbyl stayed up late on a Wednesday and took me to dinner. Afterward, Jennifer drove me to the CCA apartment. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the exact address. I only knew it had a steel door. We found a house that matched the description, and the key fit.

Once I opened the door, however, I realized I was in someone’s hallway. There were coats on a rack, little children shoes on the stairs, and umbrellas in a stand. I didn’t know if the CCA apartment was upstairs, or down the hall. I also, wasn’t convinced I hadn’t broken into someone’s house. I opened the door on the right; it was the garage. I opened the door on the left down the hall; it was a closet with clothes. At the end of the hall, the door opened onto a bedroom. Either this was the CCA apartment, or someone’s bedroom who wasn’t home yet.

I put my pajamas on and went to bed, hoping that I wasn’t sleeping as a surprise guest for a sleepy owner. Nobody ever came home, but I didn’t want to be discovered sleeping in their extra bedroom by the innocent family upstairs, so I left at 5:00am and waited for the sun to come up.

Jennifer is having an opening Friday, November 5th at 6pm at California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco.

Designers in Black, part 1

Sean Adams and the wonderfully jewelled Madame President, Debbie Millman

Last Thursday, I attended the AIGA Design Legends Gala in New York. I was in Kona the week before, and it was a helluva flight from Hawaii to LA to New York, but the Gala is an evening that reminds me why I’m a designer. Of course, there are inspirational speeches and presentations. Debbie Millman gave an eloquent speech about the current economy and why designers are more important than ever. The Medalists, Carin Goldberg, Doyald Young, and Pablo Ferro were remarkable and seeing their work is exactly the shot in the arm I needed. But, many of you are probably asking, who looked good? Fortunately, I’m shallow and took my camera to find some of the best dressed. Now I admit I’m bad at this job. I started and then had a couple of Gin and Tonics, then the gorgeous Marian Bantjes sat on my lap, then I lost interest in the photography. Nevertheless, for your pleasure, here are some of the highlights I found before forgetting I needed to do this post.

Stefan Sagmeister with snappy tie and Marian Bantjes in a dress of her own fabric design

Petrula Vrontikis unbelievably gorgeous and dapper Armin Vit

Pam Williams outdoing Madame Pierre Gautreau by John Singer Sargent

This defines classic and glamorous, Michael Donovan and Nancye Green

This defines classic and glamorous, Michael Donovan and Nancye Green

Board heartthrob Brad Weed and beautiful wife Susan Pappalardo


Immaculately dressed Michael Vanderbyl and ever-charming Gaby Brink

Sean and Kenna Kay absolutely perfect

Paint by Numbers Extravaganza

Bad Boy, Eric Fischl, 1981

Our good friend, Clement Mok, recently sent me a link to this wonderful museum, paintbynumbermuseum. I love the DIY aspect of this. These paintings brought making art into the living rooms of much of the population that would never typically paint. The subject matter is especially telling. The innocuous American landscapes, sad clown, girls with giant eyes all share the trait of working very hard to not be offensive or off-color in any way. But I imagine if you’re working on your painting in your rumpus room, circa 1955, you don’t want to make a painting like Eric Fischl’s Bad Boy

Bad Boy, Eric Fischl, 1981