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Designer Sylvia Harris passed away Sunday, leaving a gaping hole in the design world. Sylvia was a true pioneer, breaking new ground with virtually every move she made in our profession. Sylvia was participating in a meeting of the of the United States Postal Service Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee in Washington DC last Thursday when she suddenly collapsed.

I was introduced to Sylvia several years ago by designer Katie Osborn, who worked closely with Sylvia. We instantly connected around our mutual passion for the possibilities designers have to improve the patient experience in healthcare. Whether you knew Sylvia Harris or not, your experience as a designer has been positively impacted by her—all too short—time with us.

Jessica Helfand was with Sylvia when she collapsed, and shared this eloquent remembrance on Design Observer. AIGA also posted a thoughtful piece in her honor.

I must admit, my heart skipped a beat when I clicked on the AIGA board of directors web page this morning and saw my name and pic next to the word “President.” Despite this minor cardiac episode, I am thrilled and humbled beyond belief to be assuming the position of National President of AIGA, the professional association for design. After years of involvement with AIGA at the local and national levels, this is an organization that has meant a tremendous amount to me personally and professionally, and I am fully aware of the central place it occupies in the design community. While I struggled at first with the decision to accept this position, it was the experience I’ve had writing this blog and exploring the new ways designers are (and should be) working that illuminated for me the immense opportunity present with AIGA. With more than 22,000 members in 66 local chapters, AIGA is the largest design organization in the country (and growing), and as it approaches its centennial in 2014 with a solid fiscal foundation, it is also the oldest and strongest.

Despite these undeniable assets, AIGA as an institution is a macrocosm of the professional experience many designers are currently facing. Filled with creativity, energy, intelligence, and potential, AIGA must find a way to adapt to an environment that is evolving before our very eyes. Unless it remains relevant to designers and to the broader community AIGA will fizzle and fade. It is this challenge—and massive opportunity—that fuels me as I look ahead over the next two years.

I want to pay special respect to the outgoing AIGA board members during this transition, your leadership has been exemplary. To outgoing president Debbie Millman, I am in awe of your energy and passion—you are a gift to our community. To the incoming and returning board, chapter leadership, and national office staff, I am eager to collaborate with you as we seize this amazing opportunity!

Below is an excerpt from the comments I made at the AIGA Leadership Retreat in Minneapolis last month.

“This is an amazing time to be a designer. The pace of change in business, and culture is blinding, but for people with the right skills and creativity and vision, that wild change can mean an awesome opportunity to change the world around us. Designers have that skill, creativity and vision. But we cannot assume that we can seize this opportunity by working in the same way we have always worked. This is true as we build our individual careers and design practices but it’s also true as we build AIGA as an organization.  With AIGA approaching its 100th anniversary we have a rare opportunity—actually I’m going to rephrase that—we have an imperative to rethink what AIGA can be in this new and exciting time. To reconnect with our traditional audiences, but also to envision what new audiences we can attract. And to reposition AIGA to be a relevant, essential, and central player in this amazing time.

The work we’ve done in the last few days has been incredible but this…is the easy part. The challenge comes Monday morning when we start making these ideas happen on the ground in our communities. I am so psyched to take on that challenge with you all. Let’s have a blast together tonight, and then let’s get to work and make this thing happen.”

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