a land of opportunities

by Nikki Gonnissen

As of October 2015, Nikki Gonnissen has become the International President of Alliance Graphique Internationale. She followed up in the footsteps of Lars Müller. You will find her opening speech below. Dear friends and colleagues, dear AGI members, 

First of all I wish to thank Lars Müller for the great work he has done over the past three years, together with the other IEC members: Elisabeth Kopf, Kenya Hara, Patrick Thomas, David Smith and Lucien Roberts.

Spurred on by Lars’s enthusiasm, energy, knowledge and his visionary speeches we have seen AGI embrace the world. Through his work as a designer and publisher Lars was always well placed to investigate new themes in design and culture. His collaborations with some of the most prolific makers and thinkers of our age surely helped him put crucial global issues onto the AGI agenda.

To name just one example, I think it was a true milestone when Kenya Hara was invited to become the first Asian representative in the IEC. It signalled a fundamental change in the way AGI perceives its position, and I can only applaud the initiatives to bring in new cultures and new work practices, without forgetting how valuable AGI’s heritage still is for maintaining the standards of quality in our profession.

AGI congresses and also the AGI Open meetings are fuelled by a powerful mixture of proven authority and a deep sense of curiosity for what’s to come. We want to know about each other’s work. We want to know about changing skills and technologies, but is doesn’t end there… We also want to know about the world around us.

I have fond memories of the contributions by ‘outsiders’ such as Edmund de Waal, Thomas Heatherwick and Zuza Homem de Mello to our recent London and Sao Paulo meeting. Their perspectives helped me look beyond what we do, to the way each of us – in realising her or his projects – constantly creates new meanings. Such dear experiences made me realise that every gathering of AGI members demonstrates the enormous potential within the organisation.

During my presidency I will draw on this impressive body of knowledge, talents and ideas, and I hope to stimulate members’ initiatives in fields such as education, internationalisation, heritage, new technologies, reflection or funding. I strongly believe that the direct involvement of the members will strengthen our impact – which benefits the organisation and supports the way AGI is perceived in the outside world. One of my ambitions is to move AGI to the centre of discussion about our profession.

The London, Sao Paulo and Biel/Bienne meetings featured inspiring panels on education. Again, we have to thank the current IEC – and especially Elisabeth, David and Lars – for their pioneering work.
I feel committed to the subject in many ways: through my own teaching for instance, and it was Ahn San Soo who stole my teacher’s heart in his Sao Paulo presentation. His gentle plea for an educational system that looks for shared experiences and collaboration instead of only nurturing the development of the individual not just charmed me; I think it is highly relevant today.

All these examples underline that AGI has been in good hands and I cannot help feeling a little nervous, now that I am about to step into the shoes of such esteemed professionals as Lars, and for instance Paula Scher before him.

AGI members during the Biel congress in 2015. Photo by Ahn San Soo.

In recent years – as my own practice broadened and became more international – I started to consider my personal ambitions. How do I see design? When do I consider my work to be meaningful? And how can I create a relevant practice in the context of our fast-changing contemporary world? Around us – at least in the West – we have seen traditional markets collapse, many trusted institutions have lost their credibility and social systems declined. Culture became a branch of the financial sector. There were all sorts of reasons to be pessimistic. And I was, for a while – until I started to sense the emergence of a new public spirit.

In AGI I recognise several developments that mirror my own search for a relevant position, both as an individual designer and as a representative of the profession. For me it is important that graphic design, like all design, connects to ‘the real world’. That term was introduced in the design vocabulary by Victor Papanek who published his famous book “Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change in 1971”.

I was only four years old at the time, I couldn’t read and I had no notion of what design was. But I knew then that the real world was an optimistic and colourful place: a land of opportunities. And in a funny way, that is exactly the land that I see before me now, despite all tragedies the world is facing.

We all experience how graphic design is changing. Former AGI president Wim Crouwel once told me how he admired a younger generation of designers for their ability to deal with the complexities of today’s society. “Things were so much easier when I started working,” he said. “I seriously doubt whether I could cope under the current conditions.” Wim was too modest, but there is definitely an element of truth in his words. Growing complexity is a critical issue nowadays, for designers and for the rest of mankind. And perhaps, by the speculative nature of our work, designers are best placed to deal with this.

For the next three years I intend to focus my work for AGI on the consequences of this growing complexity. I have translated our ‘program’ into three main questions:

  • How can we broaden the profession in response to the opportunities (and threats) presented by technological innovation and a continuing process of globalisation?
  • How can we stimulate debate on design’s contribution to society and how do we publicly demonstrate the ability of designers to communicate – and perhaps contribute to – much needed change?
  • How can we support commitment among AGI’s members to strengthen the organisation, clarify its position and diversify its output?

Dear AGI members, dear friends and colleagues, I am honored to be your president for the next three years. I’ll do my best to turn ambitions into actions and I will be keeping my ear to the ground. Rest assured: your ideas and initiatives will be welcomed.

Thank you.