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AIGA: “Head, Heart, Hand” Conference Report

Brittany Lang, Senior, Graphic Design Major

Portfolio preparation. It was a daunting task, but it had to be done since the conference was quickly approaching. Laying out your college work, picking the pieces, typography, and how it would be presented, was stressful.

I did not know what the reviewers would be looking for. I did not know how professional I had to dress. There were a lot of unknowns going into this conference and I was afraid. What if my hard work, sweat, and tears was going to be judged with no mercy? Did I need to rethink my career as a graphic designer? I decided I should stop freaking out and go into the Portfolio Review on Friday evening with no expectations. I just do it. If I was confident in my work, I know others would too and appreciate my hard work.

As the day approached to board the plane for Minneapolis, I was nervous, but all of that started to fade away after what I began to take away from my fellow AIGA graphic designers.

We arrived Wednesday afternoon and decided to go to the Rat Race Studios gallery opening that evening. It was an exhibit about typography and it was impressive. Many of the works were by students and I thought I was in the wrong place. Is this what my reviewers are going to expect from me Friday evening? I was going to be out of luck if that were the case.

The conference began on Thursday and it opened with an Emerging Designers Symposium, which would be a perfect start. There were four speakers and each had a story that inspired me. Scott Stowell kicked it off and taught me to pay attention to the little things and not to do anything for free. Maria Giudice taught me the five steps to become a successful DEO (Design Executive Officer). Colleen Corcoran taught me how to make cities more enjoyable places to live and make humans better inhibiters of these cities. Faythe Levine taught me to appreciate sign painting. All of these people had something in common: passion. They were extremely passionate about their work and what they have done to get to where they are now. It was a fantastic opening and I was looking forward to more.

Thursday afternoon I learned the AIGA Minnesota chapter is full of great composers and should maybe look at getting into the music business with their hilarious performance. Eric Baker told me to look at things differently, while Andrew Blauvlet told me to check out the Walker Arts Center. The rebellious Nicole Jacek told me to stay wildly ambitious, stop thinking I’m special, and focus on my career. It’s the cold hard facts these designers revealed that made this conference unforgettable. To hear their stories and to see them on the stage gave us hints and tips to be successful was more than I could ask for.

I expected to hear about and see their work and that was about it. But the speakers all had a deeply rooted passion in their presentations. I could tell graphic design was what they loved to do even through all the hardships that come along with it. They explained what they thought were the most important details that a person like me would not learn in school. I could go on forever about the speakers and their inspirational words, but let’s get to Friday evening; the much anticipated portfolio review.

Nerves had been running through me all day. Why did the portfolio review have to be the last event of the day? There were rows of tables set up with numbers every six feet. I was forced to pick a random number. Back row. Of course, just my luck. I walked back and set up my work. Portfolio, business cards, résumés, process work, and my laptop with a personal website. My half of the table looked good. I was confident in my set-up. Now I had to be confident in my presentation.

I did not really remember anyone’s names that reviewed my portfolio, but I took away a great deal of information that I did happen to write down. I was given constructive criticisms to work on some of my typography to appeal my audience and one lady thought I should have more white space. I was told to make sure I keep on web design trends if that is what I really want to focus on in my career and to have more web examples in my portfolio. Many of the reviewers loved my thumbtack exhibit (which was my final and strongest piece in my portfolio). After standing around and talking to each of the professionals, I was loosening up and becoming really comfortable. I really wanted more feedback. It’s hard to get a variety of feedback at Ohio Northern when you only have one graphic design professor and so this experience was thrilling.

Finally, Michael Bierut walked up and told me to show him two pieces. I knew he liked process work. So I showed him my Urban Forest Project that I had all my process work. He loved it. Especially since it was originally an AIGA project to begin with. He also enjoyed a logo I had designed for a multicultural children’s literature conference. If Michael Bierut enjoyed looking at my stuff, then there is hope for me!

After the portfolio review I was on cloud nine. I had taken so much away from the review and the speakers. Plus I had received a ton of free stuff! This conference was an unforgettable experience and I am so thankful to go to a school that allows me to travel and increase my knowledge base. I found that I would love to work in a city like Minneapolis since I had never visited it before.

The trip also boosted my confidence. I am about to graduate in the spring and go out into the real world. I’m nervous about where my life goes from here, but going to the conference and having an awesome portfolio review reiterated that I am a graphic designer and I will be successful. I am a visual communicator. I pay attention. I am wildly ambitious. I am all of the things that every designer on that stage described. I used my head, heart, and hand everyday just like every other designer. I am passionate about what I do and I am excited to see what my future holds. None of this would have been possible without the great people at Ohio Northern who made it possible for me to have an incredible life-changing experience and for that, I thank you.