Q + A with Kolby McElvain

Kolby McElvain is the current president of AIGA Indy, and AIGA Indy is celebrating its 25th birthday tonight! AIGA Indy is part of a national organization that advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage and vital cultural force. We spoke with Kolby on the eve of this important anniversary.

Polina Osherov: Tell us a little bit about the history of AIGA Indy? Who launched the effort? Any interesting back stories?
Kolby McElvain: AIGA Indianapolis started in 1991. At that time the association nationally had been well underway for 75 years. From what I have gathered, the city at that time already had a few active groups in the creative community such as the Art Director’s Club, but what it lacked was the national recognition and support that AIGA held. Many leaders from those groups came together to form AIGA Indianapolis. Stated in our original by-laws, the main purpose of the group was, and still is, ” To advance excellence in design as a discipline, profession, and cultural force.”

PO: What do you think is the most important/noticeable change in the Indy design community that has taken place in the last 25 years?
KM: As we reviewed the entries from designers for the show, the largest and most notable change was the progression of the type of projects design was being strategically involved in. Most of the work submitted from the early 90’s was logos, promotional posters, commemorative books; but as the years progressed you see design work that has advanced technology, lead integrated campaigns or business strategies, and even affected city planning. That is partly because of how the profession as developed over the years, but also due to the city and it’s interest to be a place where design thinking is showing up more and more as we grow.

PO: What kinds of resources do you offer professional designers? Is there special programming available to students?
KM: AIGA is a resource to designers through creating a community in which they can grow or give back to like minded individuals. We offer many types of programming such as workshops, speaker series, and social networking where we hope people find inspiration or take back tactical advice. Most people see AIGA as a recharge, away from work, but still with people who also believe that design plays a huge role many aspects of the world. We are a network of people who can help each other out on projects or just navigating the difficulties of thinking creatively in a culture that sometimes doesn’t see that as a solution driver. We also offer resources to our members in the form of discounts to software, printing, equipment, insurance, and other types of monetary savings.

Design education is one of many specific initiatives we have. It is amongst Design for Good, Design with Diversity & Inclusion, Women in Leadership, and Design for Democracy. We are lucky to have multiple great design schools in the area and therefore have a lot of members through those programs. We hold a few types of events each year that are specifically for students such as the Portfolio Review in the spring, and also for Design educators such as our Educators Form. We believe that design education doesn’t stop with undergraduate or graduate students, but continues for the remainder of a creative’s life.

PO: Is there a midwestern aesthetic in design? How would you describe it?
KM: I believe that designers aesthetics’ come from the environments in which they spend their time. For many people such as myself, being born and raised in the midwest, my work reflects what I know and what I am exposed to. People assume that the Midwest aesthetic can’t be bold because of its not-so-exotic geographical location. Though many creative designs come from the coasts, the Midwest is full of talented designers and artists who pull inspiration from history or travel. Because of their Midwest roots, they are able to take extremes and make them practical and purposeful.

PO: How would you like to see AIGA Indy evolve in the next 25 years?
KM: When I think about our chapter in the future, I look towards some other city’s chapter’s that are exemplary. AIGA Raleigh is one of those. I recently traveled there for our National Retreat and could visibly see how design focused the city was. The AIGA chapter there is highly involved as a community partner. Members from their board sit on the city’s planning committee and are a voice for design for those decisions. Their membership is large and inclusive of many different types of creatives and therefore have reflective programming that is diverse. Most importantly, I hope for us to mimic how they are able to work with all sorts of organizations and companies, so that together they are advancing the communities creative scene.

PO: What’s been your most favorite AIGA event that you’ve been a part of?
KM: My favorite part of being a member has just been the sense of connection I have to the design community now. There are few designers that I know in town that I didn’t learn who they were through my involvement with AIGA. The event that has made all the difference is our Agency Kickball League. This is an 8-week summer league, with 8 local Agencies that compete for bragging rights and a 4-foot trophy. I started this league 4 years ago when I first got involved with the board and since then we have seen a huge increase in community camaraderie and awareness. The league itself is so fun and really does a great job of introducing people from different agencies to one another.

PO: Is there a “dream” guest designer that AIGA Indy would like to host as a speaker in the future? Who is it and why would you love to see them speak to Indy’s designers?
KM: I would love to host Jessica Walsh. She has a fun story and natural ability to think outside the norm that inspires people to think differently. She has been able to really push the bounds on projects and her experience doing so would be something the community here would benefit from hearing about.

Tonight, come celebrate AIGA’s role and achievements in our community with fellow designers and design lovers! 6-9p Tube Factory, 1125 Cruft St, Indianapolis.

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