Drawing from the Source

When Caryn Sterling and I first started planning the AIGA Raleigh celebration of AIGA Centennial, we went back to the source—we met with David Burney.

Recognized as a 2009 AIGA fellow, one of the founding members of AIGA Raleigh and its former president, David emanates a keen passion for and deep knowledge of design, a humble and unassuming demeanor, and a sophistication of design interests. A former Vice President of Brand Communications and Design at Red Hat, currently a Founder, CEO, and Partner at New Kind, David has about thirty years of experience in the field of design and many stories to show for it.

David BurneyIn a conference room at New Kind, David takes us back in time to 1979 when he first joined AIGA. At the time, the organization was strongly anchored in and identified with New York City, and there were only a few chapters elsewhere. Design as the profession that we know today was still in its infancy in Raleigh and design firms here were scarce. There existed in Raleigh a few strong advertising agencies (including McKinney), but few actual design firms. Burney Design, Advent Communications, Forma, and Nix Design merit mentions among the earliest pioneers. They strove to raise awareness about the role of design within the local community and to bring about a recognition for the profession.

In early 1985, David Burney gathered with Sue Hall and Nancy Ahrens to formulate the idea of establishing a local branch of AIGA, and soon thereafter AIGA Raleigh was formed as the association’s eleventh regional chapter. The early leadership of Peter Taflan, Meg Revelle, Ken Barnes, Debbie Rives, Lynn Scott, and many others created a viable chapter that served as a model as other small and medium-sized chapters joined AIGA. Over the past decade the Raleigh chapter has enjoyed the talented leadership of Christy White, Mike Joosee, Matt Muñoz, Jonathan Opp and Joe Schram, and the many volunteers. Today, our efforts continue to lead the national scene in how chapters in smaller markets can serve their members and prosper while helping define the role of the association and the profession on the national scene.

During our conversation, David reflects on the changes that the design scene in the Raleigh area has undergone in the last three decades. Thirty years ago hardly anyone knew what a designer did; now the level of visual literacy has grown and many people recognize and appreciate good design. It has taken years of hard work to bring the discipline of design to the fore and to help the larger community realize the significance of design and its relevance in people’s lives.

David also stresses the indispensable role of the NC State College of Design, the NC Arts Council, and the NC Museum of Art in helping set and promote design standards in the region. Along with other organizations and companies that came later, e.g. UNC Press, UNC Television, CAM, IBM, Red Hat, McKinney, Design Dimensions, DesignBox, and Capstrat, those institutions provided leadership and have served as a source of inspiration and direction for designers.

David Burney’s rich history as a designer, innovator, and organizer is in itself a powerful source of inspiration. To understand the roots and the beginnings of the local design community is to find one’s own place in it. Join us on September 10 at 6:30 PM at the City of Raleigh Museum at the AIGA Centennial Party, during which David will share with us the stories and the lessons of the last three decades of design in the Triangle region of North Carolina.

Photo credit: Jonathan Opp
Line drawing: self-portrait by David Burney

By Basia Coulter
Published August 31, 2014