NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

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Neshan 45


The Alliance And The Student

Sarah Snaith

Educating design students worldwide has been a core feature of Alliance Graphique Internationale’s annual members’ gatherings since 1979, when the prestigious professional association of the world’s leading graphic artists and designers first introduced student seminars to their Congress programme. 
Congress that year took place in New York – ten students and one tutor from each college where members taught across thirteen different countries were invited – and three hundred students were in attendance. Colin Forbes (USA), who organised the event, wrote: ‘It has been decided to take advantage of the opportunity of so many eminent designers in one place to hold a graphic symposium … It is intended to be an international occasion supported by presentations given in English, French, German and Polish’. These came from Cuban-born Félix Beltrán (Mexico), Henryk Tomaszewski (Poland) and Armin Hofmann (Switzerland), alongside nine others.

The mission of Alliance Graphique Internationale, or AGI, has since grown and evolved to promote practices of design through talks, partnerships, exhibitions and publications as well as annual ‘Open’ conferences  – named in 2010 under the AGI presidency of American graphic design and Pentagram partner Paula Scher – which are held consecutively with the AGI Congress in a new city each year. These have taken place in Barcelona, Hong Kong, London, São Paolo, Biel/Bienne, Seoul and Paris. In September 2018, AGI Open was held in Mexico City at the Conservatorio Nacional de Música where AGI members gave talks to a sold-out auditorium, bursting with nearly 1200 students and young designers alike whose energy and enthusiasm was palpable throughout. 

Founded in 1951 by Jean Picart Le Doux, Jacques Nathan Garamond, Jean Colin, Fritz Bühler and Donald Brun (who hailed from either side of the French / Swiss border), AGI now includes 528 elected members from 42 countries across the globe who have expertise in typography, graphic design, branding, self-publishing, design writing, way-finding, illustration, animation, experience design and many other creative pursuits. Each year the work of potential new members are presented to a jury; 28 new members were inducted in 2018 including Gail Bichler (USA), Véronica Majluf (Peru) and Yoshie Watanabe (Japan). They join some of graphic design history’s most venerated practitioners including Saul Bass, Willy Fleckhaus, Alan Fletcher, Massimo Vignelli, Paul Rand and Tibor Kalman, to name a few. 

In Ben and Elly Bos’s 2006 book AGI: Graphic Design Since 1950 (Thames & Hudson), Ben Bos writes that the 1980s were ‘the decade of seminars. Paris 1981: an audience of 350 (80 percent students) from 20 design schools listened attentively to Paul Davis and Saul Bass (USA), Alan Fletcher and FHK Henrion (UK) and Shigeo Fukuda (Japan), leaving a varied impression of our many-faceted profession.’ In 1982 there were two student seminars, one is Paris and another in Toronto. In a report on the Toronto event, Wim Crouwel (Netherlands) wrote: ‘Each student had to do research on the life and work of his or her chosen designer; welcome him at the airport on arrival and introduce him to the seminar, having first researched and designed a broadsheet on his work. It all resulted in a warm and human integration of students and speakers throughout the seminar.’ This integration is something AGI Open continues to strive for; after each talk in Mexico City there was a speaker meet-and-greet that gave students the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the finer points of design in a more personal setting. 

Bos details that annual Congresses aimed to justify visual communication, and its role and significance; ‘discussions were primarily about philosophy, responsibility and ethics.’ While members agreed on the responsibility of the designer, many members differed in opinions on how design should be taught and practiced. At the 1983 Student Seminar held in Amsterdam, themed ‘AGI Points of View on Design Education’ (when AGI teamed with the Amsterdam Gerrit Rietveld Academy, supported by ICOGRADA), Crouwel placed his emphasis ‘on exact designing (developing skills, theory and general knowledge)’, whereas Jan Van Toorn ‘attached the greatest importance to the social context of working in this profession’ and Gunther Rambow ‘felt it is the designer’s task to discover forms of “Utopian hope”.’ 

In FHK Henrion’s book AGI annals: Alliance Graphique Internationale 1952–1987, he recounts the many rich experiences students and members alike gained from these educational interactions. Reporting from the 1987 Student Seminar in New York – where AGI members Massimo Vignelli, Colin Forbes, Seymour Chwast, April Grieman and Ootje Oxenaar gave lectures – Henrion wrote that ‘Oxenaar seemed the most thought-provoking and unusual … he showed that art direction is a highly creative activity. His enjoyment presented with conspicuous modesty seemed infectious and was shared by everybody present.’ 1988’s seminar was themed ‘Sequential Design’; 1994 marked the first Young Professional AGI Congress. 

As design education continued to shift and change, so too did AGI’s approach in terms of scale, ambition and the themes, including social, political and cultural subjects, that are tackled year on year. The current Education Chair on AGI’s International Executive Committee Chris Ro (South Korea) recently instigated the first forum discussion with those AGI members who are educators or are interested and involved with education. The event, called ‘After School: A DownTown Roundtable for AGI Educators’ that was held at Vertigo Gallery in Mexico City as part of the Congress programme. Ro says that the format for the discussion was intended ‘to change the one-channel approach to discussions that often take place at conferences and gatherings’, with the aim to ‘provide a method for more interaction amongst colleagues and peers’. This closed meeting was fruitful and will appear on future Congress programmes with the inevitable ripple effect being felt by the students of AGI members worldwide.

In addition, Ro is working to collate an archive of projects, curriculums, coursework, course results and workshops that have been submitted by AGI members who teach. Ro reports that ‘so far the contributions are extremely diverse and fascinating’ and there are further plans to publish this archive in a bilingual Korean / English edition for international distribution with an accompanying sub-domain on the AGI website ‘that will be open for the public to access and explore some of the education activities of our membership.’ 

Throughout Alliance Graphique Internationale’s 68-year history, the education of young designers has been of great importance to both the association and its members and will remain the subject of ongoing debate and discussion as they turn their attention toward AGI Open, to be held in Rotterdam in September of 2019. 2018.

Sarah Snaith

is a Canadian-born design writer, editor, lecturer and consultant living in London. She works with several leading companies, institutions and organizations including holding the positions of Assistant Editor of Eye magazine and Pulp journal, Visiting Lecturer in Critical and Historical Studies at the Royal College of Art’s School of Communication, and Editorial Consultant to Alliance Graphique Internationale. She has written for many international journals including Creative Review, Gym Class, Progetto Grafico, Design Indaba, Design 360 and YouCanNow, among others.

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