Highlights from AIGA’s Head, Heart, Hand Conference

I am still in awe of the gorgeous and inspiring design and smart people that encompassed me at AIGA’s Head, Heart, Hand Conference in Minneapolis in mid-October. The city of Minneapolis is absolutely stunning with well-thought design, a park every mile and a pretty sweet bike share program that I got to try. Additionally, AIGA Minnesota is one of the most lovable chapters of AIGA (next to Charlotte, of course)! All of this made for the perfect setting for the event.

This conference had a ton going on. In addition to the Design Educators’ conference happening concurrently, there were studio tours, gallery shows, business workshops, hands-on letterpress workshops, a design fair, roundtables, CommandX, main stage speakers, a dozen affinity sessions happening twice each day, Pixels of Fury (featuring our very own AIGA Charlotte board member, Adam Iscrupe), an ending party at the gorgeous Walker Art Center and more! AIGA definitely covered every topic of detail fitting its title of Head, Heart, Hand.


Calligraphy by Rachel Martin

Compared to AIGA’s GAIN conference which is focused on the business of design, this one was more about beauty, inspiration and positive change through design. I think GOOD’s Casey Caplowe stated it best with the quote, “Beautiful things matter, beautiful things that matter, matter more.”


A main highlight throughout this conference was AIGA’s Centennial in 2014. Check out celebratedesign.org along with aiga.org and celebrate collectively in 2014 with AIGA Centennial Day on January 21, 2014, as well as local events throughout all 67 chapters in AIGA.


rmpost_hhhcolorgraphicsPhoto via Rachel Martin

As with most conferences, there’s way too much to cover in one blog post so here’s my Top 15 Head, Heart, Hand Highlights:

1  Eric Baker opened the conference with a presentation of beautiful visuals alongside f* bombs galore that sparked the audience with a bit of shock, then laughter, which set the tone for the conference and broke down any design pretentiousness. In his talk he enlightened us to always consider our roots and our youthful aspirations for design. “Embrace the future but always keep an eye in the rear-view mirror.”

2  Andrew Blauvelt wooed us with nearly 75 years of design from the Walker Art Center. He also gave us a glimpse into a virtual design collection comprised of examples drawn from around Minnesota. This got me thinking… wouldn’t it be awesome to have a similar platform of “Designed in Charlotte” or “Designed in NC”? My wheels are turning to perhaps launch this new endeavor at least on a local level in Charlotte first. I think having a “Designed in Charlotte” virtual collection and campaign would help educate the public and businesses of the importance and value of design.

rmpost_georgeloisPhoto via AIGA Flickr

3  Finally ending the first night, the legendary and original “Mad Man” himself, George Lois, told us how he really felt about the show Mad Men. He basically thinks it’s complete !@#$%^&* <insert profanity here>. He also said “You can be cautious or you can be creative but there’s no such thing as a cautious creative.” Basically, you can never be truly creative without taking a little risk and causing disruption. If you don’t evoke something through your design then you’re not doing it right. He also stated that “no one can make you do bad work,” so if your work sucks, that’s all on you. You’ve got to love his wisdom!

Danny Yount walked us through the Art of the Title Design which was completely brilliant. From doing the title graphics for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man 3, his presentation brought a fresh perspective of animated graphics and design for the screen. Seriously, check out his work here.

5  I enjoyed listening to Charlotte’s very own Matt Stevens alongside Jen Bilik from Knock Knock and Jake Nickell from Threadless who were on the panel of Kern and Burn: A Conversation with Design Entrepreneurs led by Kern and Burn founders Jessica Karle Heltzel and Tim Hoover. They discussed the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and risks they all took to do what they love. They’ve all pioneered in creating something fresh and continue to push the definition of designer to maker.

Sappi Ideas that Matter Winner: Real Foods Farm CDP from MICA Social Design.

6  The Effecting Social Change Through Design affinity session featured a group of my fellow social design heroes: Doug Powell, IBM and AIGA’s Design for Good; Dawn Hancock, Firebelly Design;  Mike Weikert, Center for Social Design and Master of Arts in Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art; Mark Randall, Worldstudio and Casey Caplowe, GOOD. All of these folks advocate the importance of creating positive social impact through design and shared their inspirational stories of what they do to ignite change. If you’re interested in doing a Design for Good project locally in Charlotte, AIGA Charlotte will be launching one soon. Email our Design for Good Director, John Fuller, for more info.

7  I was very glad to see that sustainable design was a focus on the main stage as well. Leyla Acaroglu of Eco Innovators shared stories of design impacts and that what is incredible about designers is our power to influence and affect people that we work with, as well as people throughout the world. However, sometimes even our simplest choices can lead to amplified negative impacts. She gave some examples including the paper bag versus plastic bag debate and that as designers, we have to understand that what we put out in the world has far-reaching consequences.

Closing the second night of the conference was the famous J. J. Sedelmaier of J. J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc., a small, independent cartoon and design shop that created the cult favorites The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Beavis and Butt-Head, animation for The Colbert Report, SNL, plus more. J.J. shared stories behind the scenes of some of the most entertaining animation film clips. Check out his montages that are sure to delight!

rmpost_nytimesgraphicsPhoto via AIGA Flickr

Steve Duenes and Matthew Ericson of The New York Times presented evocative and informative data visualization that blew us all away! The two of them along with The New York Times Graphics Departmenthave set a new level of design with visualization to tell a story and how information and news is shared. It’s not a surprise the amount of awards they have won along with Cooper-Hewitt’s 2009 National Design Award.

10  A nice break in the agenda was magician David Kwong, behind the hit summer film Now You See Me, who uniquely synthesized magic with puzzles to create a miraculous intellectual illusion. He was engaging and pretty amazing!

rmpost_allanpeters_artcrankposterArtcrank Poster by Allan Peters

11  I always swoon over Allan Peters‘ blog so I was excited to see him talk about his life, family and design career. In his talk, he showed us his process, ups and downs throughout his career and even dove deep into his personal life sharing his near-death experience that has shaped who he is today. His presentation was honest, heartwarming and moving as he shared behind-the-scenes stories and photos of his work for Target and how much he loves design and vintage badges. Above all, he taught us to embrace life and express it through our work.

12  In sticking with the “Allans,” I attended Allan Chochinov’s (Core77) It’s All Bad talk, which was a nice juxtaposition to Allan Peter’s one. Allan Peters was more about aesthetics of design where he showed us his gorgeous design work for Target and doing design with passion. Allan Chochinov, on the other hand, humorously showed Target commercials along with several other brands using propagandist media that aims to influence our ideas about value and consumption. Allan Chochinov definitely struck a cord. He dug deep into how designers have influence and that we need to stop just creating more stuff that does not add value. It’s dangerous and also dilutes brands and the market with confusing messaging. As designers, we should always be asking “why” and avoid indulging in the typical trappings of consumer culture.

13  Have you ever heard of OCD | The Original Champions of Design? Yeah, me neither, but they were an entertaining duo of Jennifer Kinon and Bobby C. Martin Jr. who discussed their design projects including the rebrand of Saul Bass’s legendary Girl Scouts of the USA logo, the WNBA and Friends of the High Line. Their work was pretty slick and it was nice to see someone new who I haven’t heard of on the main stage. I look forward to seeing more of their work to come.

14  Margaret Gould Stewart from Facebook, talked about Designing with Humility. “Design is often seen as an art form, and something that creates value for those who can afford it. But the promise of modern technology and social media is the democratization of access to information and the channels through which we tell our stories.” She shared with us about the future of what social media has on design and the National Geographic movie Life In A Day comprised of YouTube footage from 192 countries all shot on the same day on Earth. Mind = Blown.

rmpost_draplinPhoto via AIGA Flickr

15  Last but not least, Aaron Draplin, of Draplin Design Co., stole the show! It was a perfect ending talk to the conference since Aaron started his career in Minneapolis along with his recent speaking tour, Tall Tales from a Large Man. He definitely delivered his sucker punch of a talk and then some. In his Aaron Draplin fashion he taught us to do good work for good people, be humble and always be grateful for getting to do what we love for a living. It was the best talk I’ve ever seen him do and very bittersweet since Aaron’s family was in the audience to see him shine at one of his greatest moments in life!

Want more about AIGA’s Head Heart Hand Conference? Check out the Twitter stream and photos on Flickr and Instagram tagged #HHH2013.


Rachel Martin is design director of Rachel Martin Design LLC, a sustainable and socially responsible collaborative design studio. As an avid do-gooder and advocate for sustainability, Rachel collaborates with socially conscious businesses and nonprofits on a national level to help build unique brand messages that inspire positive change to shape our world and culture for the greater good.

Prior to relocating to Charlotte, Rachel worked in New York City with top leaders in design at Louis Dreyfus and BBDO Worldwide. Rachel is the national director of The Living Principles, sits on the advisory boards for AIGA Charlotte and Green Drinks Charlotte, is an adopter of the Designers Accord and a curator for AIGA’s Design Envy blog. She has also helped launch AIGA Charlotte’s sustainability and Design for Good initiatives to educate designers to be more sustainable and socially responsible in their design work.

By By Rachel Martin
Published November 7, 2013