Four fearless leaders from Raleigh—Co-Presidents Hannah Hoffman & Joseph Schlosser, Vice President Lenny Terenzi and Director of Designability Lydia Kuekes,—attended the 2017 AIGA Leadership Retreat in Dallas last month. The Leadership Retreat is an annual conference where board members from chapters across the country gather to learn about initiatives, programs and goals from national, as well as each other. Last year, Raleigh had the pleasure of hosting the retreat–and it was awesome if we do say so ourselves–but Dallas did not disappoint. Each year, attendees return with renewed enthusiasm, fresh ideas and an empowering sense of community. I interviewed a few of our leaders about their time in Dallas–check it out!
What was your biggest takeaway from this year’s conference?
Hannah: AIGA national put a lot of emphasis this year on what it means to be a creative leader in today’s design ecosystem. We had breakout sessions to better understand the designers professional path. There were workshops on teaching leadership methodology. And discussions on how to incorporate career development into programming.
I interpreted this emphasis as signifying two things, one inward and one outward facing. AIGA is reimagining its role as a platform for professional growth at pivotal points in a designer’s career.
In order to successfully lead a design community as board members, we all need coaching on leadership to serve the needs of our design community first.
Lenny: There is absolutely a solidarity on getting our industry more diverse at the national and chapter levels. To hear that message and see it in the attendees made me feel as if we are already moving the needle forward.
Lydia: I really enjoyed learning about different chapters’ governance and structure. I think our structure is unique and works well, but it can always improve, so I was interested in how responsibilities are divided, expectations are managed, and goals are set within other boards.
What are you excited to apply to the Raleigh chapter?
Hannah: This year, our chapter had a great time connecting with our neighbor chapters. With three chapters in North Carolina alone, we have a lot we can learn from each other. I’m excited about the future possibilities of partnering for a larger event for our community. And to discover ways that we can swap knowledge more frequently.
Lenny: Like Hannah, working with our Charlotte and Triad family for sure.
I am also excited at the thought of really evaluating the content we want to bring to our chapter without the confines of what we have done in the past.
Lydia: I’m really excited about the idea of ramping up our programming to create either a one-day conference or a Design Week. It’s an idea we’ve flirted with for a couple of years, but now I feel like I’ve gotten some amazing insight from chapters that are doing it well and I’m excited to map that out here in Raleigh.
For those of us who don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, what is the mission and structure of the leadership retreat?
Hannah: For our chapter, the leadership retreat is an opportunity to celebrate the hard work of our board members—both those who have given back to our community over the years and those who are first-timers to the board.
It’s a chance for us to say THANK YOU for all you do.
At a larger scale, the retreat creates the space for chapters to swap stories and lessons learned. It’s a reminder that we’re all connected, giving us the time to reunite with the initiatives of AIGA national.
Lydia: The national leadership retreat is an amazing opportunity to meet and swap ideas with some amazing design leaders from across the country. It’s a chance to find out what’s working well for other chapters or share advice on how to solve a problem we’ve already faced. It builds relationships and opens lines of communication, and more than anything, shrinks our world just a little bit. It really starts our engines for the next year.
At last year’s retreat, you were just starting your board term. Now halfway through, how was the experience of the retreat different this time around?
Hannah: This was my fourth retreat and with each retreat I’ve gone in with very different goals since they have all been during very different stages of my AIGA volunteerism. I was very focused this time on learning about board structure from other chapters and programming that really brings the design community together in inventive ways.
We are a very unique chapter in how we’re structured and how we lead with a community-first approach in everything we do.
It’s always fun at these retreats to share how we work to inspire others to do the same!
Lydia: Last year, at my first retreat, I was a little overwhelmed to realize how large an organization AIGA is, and how deep the resources are for us to tap. It was reassuring to know that I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel in creating programming; there are tons of existing programming ideas that other chapters are more than willing to share. This year, I was more focused on specific strategic and practical ideas, everything from how to successfully run a full scale Design Week to how to properly price individual events.
What were the common themes throughout this year’s retreat?
Hannah: We heard so many meaningful stories of how AIGA played a role to get people to the next level, through a career change, or as a support system. AIGA was there at pivotal career moments and it’s a testament to why so many people in the retreat have decided to give back.
Lydia: I enjoyed the recurring theme of leadership – a highlight was a session about communication and leadership. Through a sort of silly role-playing game we were able to get insight into how other leaders solve problems in real time, which I really enjoyed.
What do you think is the most exciting challenge or goal our chapter faces this year?
Hannah: Our biggest challenge every year, is to make sure we’re fully serving our community and creating a place for design to thrive. For the upcoming year I hope that we can continue to bring valuable programming AND work hard towards a board that reflects our diverse design community to better serve our city.
Lydia: I’d like us to continue to earn our reputation as an innovative and inclusive chapter, not allow ourselves to start coasting on past successes. I want us to look carefully at all of our programming and ask ourselves if it’s still relevant and valuable to our membership, and how each event is creating a place where design thrives for everyone.
What is something all chapters are working towards?
Hannah: Every chapter is trying to find the healthy balance between a board that’s engaged and a community that’s engaged.
The ability to have both is key in the success of creating a place where design thrives.
Lydia: I think that most high-level companies now realize the power and importance of design and design thinking. We have their attention. Now it’s up to us to use that power for good – not only to solve problems across many disciplines, but to advocate for ourselves as designers and the worth of what we create.
About the Author: Chelsea Brown is a UX/UI Developer at the McClatchy Innovation Lab. She is passionate about improving the experience of reading, writing and publishing news through UX design. On her days off, she works on her side project, Issue NC, and enjoys long runs and reading Jane Austen novels.
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