Why join AIGA?

clubhouse sign

A few weeks ago, I got a wild hair you-know-where to join AIGA, “the professional association for design.” I figured I’d join for a year, go to all the NYC events, participate as much as I could stand, and then reup only if it seemed valuable.

So I poked around on the AIGA and AIGA/NY websites to refresh my memory on what they do, and then I went to the membership sign-up section. And then my wild hair totally unkinked itself.

$295 a year? Oh, never mind. I guess I’m not serious about design, after all.

But I still subscribe to the RSS feed, so the other day I saw the hed Why Double the Number of AIGA Members? by the executive director, Richard Grefé.

Today, AIGA counts 10,000 professional members. Yet, we believe the number of designers who are practicing in the United States alone totals approximately 180,000—two thirds of whom work in corporate settings and one third in design studios.

. . .

The U.S. Census has just reported that among Americans aged 19 or younger, 42 percent are other than white Caucasian.1 Yet only 10 percent of the design profession is other than white Caucasian. If the profession is to serve a diverse public, then it must, for business reasons as well as moral reasons, grow to include (and encourage) many more designers from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The global economy is changing into one that will be multi-centered, unlike the U.S.-led world economy of the past. This means that AIGA must also work with international peers in order to represent U.S. designers and the high standards for design that they have set.

The present opportunities are as clear as the challenges we must meet in order to sustain the relevance of design well into the future. We believe that consistent messaging about design is important for the profession, as its influence grows in commerce and society. These consistent messages will be heard when they represent a larger number of designers and when those designers show a commitment to articulating them. The more members we have, the stronger the impact we will have in advancing designing here and abroad.

Okay, that’s all fine and nice, but, er, $295 a year? You’re not going to get a lot of diversity with a fee like that. In particular, you’re not going to get many designers from the book publishing industry, where the pay is notoriously lousy. You’re not going to get a lot of designers who work for nonprofit organizations. You’re not going to get designers who live outside NYC, in places where $295 is a lot of money. Nor are you going to get a lot of designers who live in NYC, because they have to pay their rent.

So whom will you get? Big-name, “award-winning” (and aren’t they all?) designers whom you’re already representing. People who work at companies large enough to pay the dues for them without blinking.

Is it just me? Am I just being cheap? Is my reluctance to pony up just (more) proof that I’m a dilettante? Of course I can pay the AIGA dues, certainly for one year, but I’d much rather send that money to the Red Cross or Heifer International. Or I’d rather spend it on several months’ worth of rounds of beer for the members of my own professional group—an investment with proven returns.

Is anybody who reads this blog a member of AIGA? Do you feel that it’s worth the cost of admission? Are you a member of any other professional organizations? What do you consider a non-prohibitive membership fee? What would you expect to get in return for it?

Photo: Watch House Canal Club sign by hugovk; some rights reserved.

8 Responses

  1. Sheila Ryan
    Sheila Ryan August 19, 2007 at 10:21 pm |

    Whoosh! I think I pay $90 to renew my annual membership in the Society of American Archivists. Guess the fee is (comparatively) low on account of the (comparatively) high percentage of nuns who make up the membership.

    Wonder how many nun-designers there are? Wonder how many are AIGA members?

  2. India Amos
    India Amos August 19, 2007 at 11:06 pm |

    Not so many, I’d guess.

    Meanwhile, membership in PEN, which, you know, occasionally helps save lives, costs $100 a year. The Editorial Freelancers Association costs $125 for one year, or $225 for two. Scrabble Night!

  3. Fred D
    Fred D August 20, 2007 at 2:44 pm |

    I share your ambivalence. I just got membership because the nonprofit I work for pays for one membership for the most senior designer. The pain of losing a good partnership with the senior designer (she left to study in Basel) is bunted by gaining AIGA membership. I will let you know in six months whether it is worth it.

  4. sarah c
    sarah c August 22, 2007 at 6:51 pm |

    I belonged to AIGA for a couple years, but soon defected to another outrageously priced design organization—SPD (Society of Publication Designers)—for a mere $195. Seemed to make sense for a (mostly) magazine designer. I do kinda miss being more aware of AIGA going-ons and feel a little stuck in such a incestuous small world (mag design), but I have to admit that SPD has helped me get jobs, contacts, and all that necessary crap. And some of my best friends are members, as they say. Craziest thing though is that the annual “gala” awards dinner STILL costs a couple hundred bucks for members ($450 for non!)!.

  5. India Amos
    India Amos August 23, 2007 at 3:49 pm |

    Fred, it’s interesting to hear that your nonprofit paid your way. Do you know how that custom came to be established? Surely the boss didn’t suggest the idea spontaneously. I could probably get my employer to pay the dues for me, but I’d feel so dirty. And, again, even if I’m going to be blowing $300 of someone else’s money, I’d much rather spend it on software, or classes, or something else with a clear benefit.

    Mighty Sarah! Funny how $195 can sound cheap by comparison. But it doesn’t surprise me that the gala tickets cost bank. That’s the way galas work, in my experience. It’s a fundraising event; the honorees are just . . . party favors.

  6. Jedd
    Jedd September 10, 2007 at 1:29 pm |

    hi India. I was a member of AIGA for several years. The only tangible thing I recall getting out of it was their design annual, which would be a $60 or $80 quality hardcover book of their contest winners. I’ve never had a client ask (or even know about) AIGA. Don’t get me wrong, they have the right idea. It just seems more geared towards larger design firms, in-house corporate designers, and others where the fee is a drop in the bucket.

    If you’re someone looking to network, and maybe particularly to hire designers for your firm or look for a job, AIGA would probably be useful. Their bi-annual conventions can be amusing, and the vendors are incredibly lavish with the swag and amenities. (Of course, that is like $600, last time I noticed it, probably even more now, plus the cost of travel & hotel.)

  7. India Amos
    India Amos September 10, 2007 at 3:14 pm |

    Hmmm. I’m not getting an overall impression of value here.

  8. Jeremy
    Jeremy September 12, 2007 at 1:09 pm |

    A friend of mine is an AIGA member and I had a chance to sneak it, looks all nice and fine and you can place your portfolio there. Also, there are Job Postings and a crapload of resources. I am more concerned if potential clients will look at AIGA, how many do know of this? Whom can you reach with your work? Try in Google: “How to find a graphic designer” Try to see yourself with the eyes of someone who is looking for a Graphic Designer. AIGA is by far not on top of the list. I wonder what they do for $300 if they don’t even pay an SEO expert. Look at the Google result, you’ll find other options. Guru for instance, somewhat $100 a year. You may also consider who your competition is: Good Designer can charge more and can pay such fees. I would say: Try and error, otherwise you’ll never find out-also, it’s $25 a month, not too bad ;-)

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