Earlier this month, over two hundred design leaders from across the nation converged on Dallas for the AIGA Leadership Retreat, an annual three-day conference where the professional association for design plans its future. These are the folks who care the most about the creative community—who advocate for the value of design to business, government, and society at large.

Frequently, this advocacy happens at their local design-related events: guest speakers, film screenings, workshops, and more. AIGA’s 72 nonprofit chapters produce hundreds of events per year, so we went to Dallas to discover what AIGA design leaders felt was the best event branding—the most inspiring visuals from that vast event pool.

Inspired Work + Inspired Setting = Inspired Answers

What do designers design when they design for designers? Two trends we noticed: custom photography that felt fresh and authentic, as well as some fancy typography not frequently seen in the greater event branding sphere. The best thing about doing a cream-of-the-crop event branding survey at this particular conference was referring to the conference’s own collateral as a great example. Created by AIGA DFW President Emeritus Frances Yllana (with some initial work by longtime Dallas design leader Doug May), the conference identity communicates the theme “Center” on multiple levels. Frances told us about the retreat’s theme and how she figured it into the visuals:

“The spirit of this year’s retreat is ‘Center.’ It’s about returning our AIGA leaders and their chapters to a strong focus and solid foundation organizationally, spiritually, and professionally so they can build for the future. We’re not only bringing them to the center of the country (Texas, symbolized by its lone star), we’re ensuring they can become problem-seekers and problem-solvers, bringing design leadership to the center of the cultural table.”

Frances Yllana
President Emeritus, AIGA Dallas-Fort Worth

AIGA did that in spades with the “Center” conference design—from custom T-shirts and playing card decks to an extensive conference website, curated especially for exploring the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Best of all was how the conference identity truly succeeded in the most critical aspect: literally helping attendees “center” themselves with color-coded, foolproof wayfinding.

The event program and venue map work together perfectly: each general session, symposium, and workshop was color-coded to match its identically-colored location, both on the map and on nearby signage. Further color-coding (and a hidden star!) showed up in the conference’s name badges, which signified attendees’ experience level at the retreat:

  • Green and teal badges went to first-timers at any level, from chapter leaders to supporting national staff, board members and initiative chairs.
  • Pink badges were issued to attendees who were chapter leaders who’d been to just one previous retreat.
  • Orange badges went to chapter leaders with two or more retreats under their belts.
  • Purple badges went to supporting staff (sponsors, national staff, board members, initiative chairs, and chapter advisors) who’d attended multiple prior retreats.

AIGA design leaders are like family to each other, but for newbies at any level it can be intimidating—so clear visual aids helped to put them at ease during their first retreat.

The Best of the Best: Attendees Flaunt Their Faves

We asked design leaders from around the country the same question: “What’s the best event branding your AIGA chapter did this year and why?” Here’s what they said:

“My favorite was last year’s Baltimore Design Week. I loved how flexible it was. We’re still using its elements in new collateral!”

Joseph Carter-Brown
President, AIGA Baltimore

“My favorite event artwork was for our ‘Better Letters’ workshop with James Todd. The entire branding was original artwork, created for the event by hand and digitally.”

Bri Piccari
President, AIGA Central Pennsylvania

“I really liked the PGH 365 design competition concept, which evoked the ‘broken record’ of similar issues all designers face.”

Jon Brentzel
President, AIGA Pittsburgh

“My favorite was definitely the 2015 Phoenix Design Week ‘Method+Madness’ identity. Clean, subtle, and geometric.”

Amy Robinson
Vice President, AIGA Arizona

“My favorite was our ‘Bare Your Finest’ portfolio boot camp artwork. It playfully used varied typography and different boot styles.”

Cathy Bruce
President, AIGA Blue Ridge

“Our entire board is pretty proud of the ‘Struggle is Real’ materials and event album.”

Monique Duquette
Programming Director In-House, AIGA Connecticut

“I loved the 2016 AIGA Design Awards Gala identity. That splash of gold is a great touch of class!”

Sophia Ahn
AIGA Managing Editor

“My favorite AIGA OC event branding was for our 2017 Spring Membership Drive. It was loud and proud!”

Archie Bagnall
President, AIGA Orange County

“I liked the FLUX 2016 student design competition branding best. The date was Nov. 11 and it played with ‘making a wish’ on 11:11.”

Kimba Green
Vice President, AIGA Blue Ridge

“The ‘Design is Everywhere’ fundraiser branding is my fave. It encouraged the recognition of design in everyday community life.”

Taylor Kinser
President, AIGA Chattanooga

“My favorite event branding is for our upcoming ‘Art of Bookbinding’ craft workshop. The multi-icon logo works well anywhere.”

Korey Clements
Communications Director, AIGA Indianapolis

“One of our Women Lead events was my favorite: Fall Feast with Renee Erickson, for the elegant typography.”

James Holt
Student Events Director, AIGA Seattle

“I loved the branding for DC Design Week. A local illustrator created a fun, repeating pattern full of hidden DC Easter eggs, and we used it on everything!”

Lara Noel Key
Programming Coordinator, AIGA Washington DC

“My favorite event branding was for our most recent Poster Show. Great use of an art-directed photo shoot for the main graphics. Situational but festive!”

Nakita Pope
Education Co-Chair, AIGA Atlanta

“The one I liked most was our BIG One Alaska 2016 competition: a hand-crafted anthropomorphic moose with details unique to Alaska.”

Becca Rosal
President, AIGA Alaska

“Our Small Talk Series ‘Evolve’ panel was definitely an artwork fave: local creatives discussing the variety of career paths within design. It was a hit!”

Sandi Deitrich
VP Communications, AIGA Charlotte

“We all loved our Design Week 2017 branding. We partnered with a local design firm and the collateral turned out great, with a lot of elements that could be used throughout the week.”

Elyse Flynn
President, AIGA West Michigan

I’d be remiss in asking for event branding favorites from these brilliant and talented people if I didn’t choose one as well, so here’s mine:

“My pick for best recent AIGA SB event artwork was for our 2016 Indigo dip-dye workshop. Hand-lettering artist (and one-time board member) Joya Rose Groves created the type and combined it with great photography to make the dye look like magic potion.”

Keir DuBois
President, AIGA Santa Barbara

Effective Event Design is Attendee-Focused

At this conference, AIGA showed exactly how event branding can be totally trendy and flawlessly functional. It’s no surprise to see these empathy-driven design leaders working to create branding and collateral that deliver exceptional experiences for their events’ attendees. For event professionals, creating good design for a good attendee experience is easier with the right help. Working with a single creative firm for all your visual identity collateral keeps your event on-trend and attuned to your present and future attendees.

Tight Ship’s team delivers compelling visual identity across multiple media to help ensure engagement, consistency and memorability ship-shape for the entire cruise. Get a look at what we can do for you by contacting us today for an exclusive portfolio.