Design in Hawaii – The Struggle is Real
Why AIGA Honolulu is focusing on increasing the perceived value of design in Hawaii.


I am old enough now to hear myself saying “back in the old days…” a lot. Mostly, I’m referencing being a shiny new designer at the turn of the millennium, when there were more small design firms than you could shake a stick at thanks to a healthy foundation of steady print jobs. Paper shows were the bomb, particularly on the mainland where we had easy access to about a million different paper varieties. I’m not old enough to wax poetic about Ruby lith and paste-up – but I do know enough to be grateful that I dodged that era.

A trip down Memory Avenue, AIGA-burg, Designland.

I have been a member of AIGA on-and-off for over 15 years. When I was hired in the 90s as a junior designer, the typical client came to a design firm to get their logo, a stationery set and a brochure (a brochure!) Of course there were larger projects, but your typical small business needed to start by hiring a designer. There was no way around it. Once the relationship was forged, we could help our clients grow using design and branding to solve more and more sophisticated problems. Small design firms flourished and grew.

AIGA memberships were commonly offered to employees of design firms as a benefit. Fresh out of college, it made me feel official, and gave me a sense of place and a sense of pride in my new industry. We would receive nifty printed stuff in the mail all the time. We’d get a binder with pamphlets about design ethics and other resources. The AIGA design annual alone was worth the whole price of membership, featuring cutting edge design from all around the country. Now it’s easy to find design inspiration online, but the internet back then was (IMO) pretty useless. There were no blogs, no online aggregators, no Pinterest. So, to designers, these books were the best-things-ever. Today, AIGA continues to supply inspiration through events and online resources. But the perceived value of membership has declined.


Some of the cool printed stuff we used to get from AIGA as members.


The design times, they are a-changing

Let’s say there’s this guy, Kimo, and he wants to start a bakery. He wants a logo, but isn’t sure where to start. Kimo might ask a friend where she got hers. She says “Just search Google for ‘custom logos’ and there are these sites where you can get two logos to choose from for five bucks!’” Kimo’s stoked. He doesn’t need stationery or a brochure to get rolling, but he wouldn’t mind a business card, so he goes online and makes 100 for $20. Kimo’s feeling super legit. “Now how do I get the word out? I’ll just start up a Facebook page for my business and go from there.” Kimo’s in business. All of his branding cost him $25, and he has no relationship with a designer. – devaluing designers, branding, and the design – devaluing designers, branding, and the design process.

We know that designers offer so much more than this, but many entrepreneurs don’t. Fewer businesses have designers to which to refer their friends. More and more have a decent experience doing everything themselves online, and tell their friends to do the same. We aim to do what we can to revitalize the public’s awareness of Hawaii’s design industry.

By aigahonolulu
Published January 22, 2016
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