IT'S SPRINGTIME FOR CROSS-CULTURAL DESIGN IN THE UNITED STATES

13 November 2006
Christopher Liechty, Chair of the American Institute of Graphic Arts Center for Cross-Cultural Design (AIGA XCD)
Christopher Liechty, Chair of the American Institute of Graphic Arts Center for Cross-Cultural Design (AIGA XCD)

A new level of interest in international issues is arising among designers in the United States. While there are many designers who travel, there has been little connection between the travel and work. For most people, international issues were simply not on the radar - not for clients, not among friends - these issues just never came up. However, there have always been a few designers who have made an effort to connect with the international community. In the late 1980s Robert Linsky started up a design association called International Society of Graphic Designers (ISGD). The main purpose of ISGD was for groups of U.S. designers to travel and meet designers in other countries, to build relationships, and maybe even have a little positive effect on some of the world's problems. Aaron Marcus has been very active with cross-cultural interface design in the computer interface community. And other U.S. designers found their way to Icograda meetings and returned to the States with tremendous enthusiasm, but the interest of the broader community was not there.

Ah, but winter has broken and the warm winds of spring are beginning to blow. A few years ago, a group of about 20 designers from around the country had lunch at an AIGA Leadership Retreat. Several Icograda enthusiasts were in one place and they had an interested audience - an historic event. Later, Shelly Langton and others from the AIGA Seattle chapter worked with Icograda and the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC) to hold an Icograda Regional meeting in Vancouver, with the idea that U.S. designers would be likely to attend a meeting held there. As it turns out, several U.S. designers attended that meeting and shortly thereafter, with a few others, founded the AIGA Center for Cross-Cultural Design.

New growth in international interest can be seen across the AIGA landscape like a cast of green just beginning to cover the brown earth. In October, AIGA held its national design conference in Vancouver - the first time AIGA has held this conference outside the United States. One reason for holding the conference there was to emphasize the need to consider international issues in design. The cross-cultural design group made its official debut to AIGA members by offering a presentation by Robert L. Peters and distributing a version of our Manifesto, printed in English and Arabic. In addition, many of the speakers also included cross-cultural case studies or emphasized that clients have international needs that are not being met by the design community. Overall, it was clear that there is a sharp increase in awareness and interest in these issues.

Since its inception, the AIGA Center for Cross-Cultural Design has been very active in developing programs to help designers increase their knowledge and skills in cross-cultural design, to help designers connect with other designers around the world, and to raise awareness of the design industry's cross-cultural capabilities with client communities. We realize the best way to learn about peoples and cultures is to make friends. We also know that there is no way any one person from any country or culture can know everything about all the others. The globalization of business demands that our design work will travel. Having an established network of designers makes it possible for designers to more easily collaborate in the sharing of information and has already led to collaboration on client projects. We hope to establish friendships in every part of the world and to be active participants in the world design community. Here is a brief description of some of our programs and publications.

AIGA Design Forum
We have begun to publish articles in a cross-cultural section of AIGA's Design Forum. This includes commentary, visual work, reprints of some Icograda articles, and educational examples. Design Forum is open to everyone, and we welcome you to submit articles and commentary at any time to the site.

International Design Partnerships
We have also created a program called "International Design Partnerships," which links AIGA chapters and members with design organizations and designers in other countries. We currently have relationships developing in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cuba, as well as other places. If you are interested in developing an exchange relationship with an AIGA chapter or with designers in the U.S., please contact or

Exhibitions
We are currently developing an exhibition to be held in New York City and possibly other cities internationally where we hope to gather a database of comparable images from as many as 40-50 countries. The curators will develop a list of items to be collected that represent the visual vocabulary of each country. These items, such as product packaging, calligraphy samples, stamps, etc., will then be exhibited together, creating a means of seeing many points of similarity and difference in the culture of design. If you are interested in participating in the collection of these samples in your country, please contact .

Conferences
For the moment, we are primarily working to attend and join forces in existing conferences rather than to create our own. For example, we are encouraging our members to attend as many Icograda conferences and meetings as possible. We will have some of our members at the Sao Paulo conference in April. In addition, we are providing support to a conference in Seattle organized by AIGA Seattle and Icograda. The tentative date for this conference is summer 2006.

The early spring flowers are in bloom, a sure sign that interest in international issues in the United States will continue to grow. We appreciate the role Icograda has played in nurturing the development of the AIGA Center for Cross-Cultural Design. And we believe our relationship with Icograda will continue to be critical in helping us achieve our goals. Click here to read our Manifesto or to join our e-mail list.