Reflections from a Rookie at the AIGA Educators Conference at Head Heart Hand

Only one week after Head Heart Hand in Minneapolis and all the main stage presentations, affinity sessions, round tables and educator workshops seem like ages ago. I haven’t had much time to reflect on the whole experience since Sunday morning, as I promptly went into the AIGA Design Educators Community Steering Committee (AIGA DEC) retreat and then back to class in Seattle bright and early Monday.

So what are my initial impressions of Head Heart Hand and the Educator Conference that preceded it? I came away from the entire experience tired but energized. There were some great presentations: Magic(!), Ryan Jacoby on Design Leadership, Eric Baker, Mentorship in Design Education and Aaron Draplin with 10,000 pt Futura bold type to name a few. Minneapolis was lovely, the weather fabulous, and the Walker Art Center was an amazing place. Drinks and curse words flowed amongst fellow designers and friends. Who knew designers were such a raunchy bunch?

Even though I’ve been to several other AIGA conferences, my role at the AIGA Educators Conference at Head Heart Hand was different. This was the first time I was attending as a member of the AIGA DEC, the organizers of this education conference. I was also in Minneapolis as a presenter. My poster on the University of Washington’s sophomore design curriculum was on display in the Exhibition Hall; I moderated a session Thursday morning titled “Developing and Guiding a Graduate Thesis,” and I ran a round table (a little too early) Saturday morning on a tool I’m developing called the Design Projects Resource (stay tuned for more details on that initiative).

Despite the copious amount of work involved in all of these endeavors, it was rewarding to contribute to the ongoing dialogue at the conference. There’s a certain amount of trepidation associated with bring a first time presenter at an AIGA education conference. There are a lot of smart and opinionated people in attendance. You go in thinking, “What if no one is interested in my sessions, or what if I miss something vital in my presentation and an audience member calls me on it?” I imagine I’m not alone in experiencing these feelings. It’s probably a fear all educators carry at some point in their careers.

We attend these conferences for a variety of reasons: to be informed, to learn something new, to be inspired, and to connect with like-minded people. Delivering a memorable presentation or running a successful workshop is part information, part entertainment. We’ve all suffered through bad presentations, so it’s no secret as to what engages an audience.

Despite my concerns, the overall education conference was a success. Both my sessions went well, and the poster held it’s own in the Exhibition Hall. There were good questions in both the Graduate Thesis discussion and the Design Projects Resource round table. No one left early or fell asleep. I have come to realize that preparing a talk for a conference is much like prepping a class lecture. The only difference is that unlike classes at UW, conference goers aren’t required to attend my sessions because they have several others to choose from.

Depending on your point of view, speaking at a conference like this can feel a bit like a wedding: lots of worrying about all the components, then comes the big day and it’s over in the blink of an eye. While there is no honeymoon phase for me, I’m satisfied with my part and I hope other people who attended Head Heart Hand are too. Reaching out to other educators and sharing my point of view has been a valuable learning experience. I certainly encourage other educators to get involved in some way – join the AIGA DEC, submit a paper to one of the three upcoming education conferences, or post something through the AIGA DEC blog.

Kudos to my fellow committee members for organizing the conference and a “high five” to the other newbies like myself who were first time presenters in Minneapolis. For the rest of my fellow educators in attendance, join the conversation, or better yet, start one of your own. We all have valuable stories to share. Time to begin thinking about the next education conference, hosted by the University of Cincinnati. I look forward to seeing new faces presenting there in March 2014.

Annabelle Gould is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Division of Design at the University of Washington, Seattle. She is also a member of the AIGA Design Educators Community Steering Committee.



By Annabelle Gould
Published October 21, 2013
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