Lead By Design, AIGA Leadership RetreatOrganization: AIGA Baltimore

Client: AIGA, The Professional Association for Design

What: 2018 National Leadership Conference Experience, Event Concept

Role: Conference Concept, Project & Resource Management, Session Ideation, Schedule Planning, and Framework Development

Goal: Produce a two and a half day leadership conference, hosted in Baltimore, to engage 300+ design leaders representing AIGA’s 72+ chapters from across the country.


While being awarded a leadership retreat is a high honor and recognition for a chapter, as the chapter president, at the time, I knew that developing a successful conference whilst guiding a local chapter in coordinating its existing set of programming and content would take a considerable amount of effort, especially with a relatively small and inexperienced board. Therefore, prior to kicking off the initiative, I spent time assembling a team of past AIGA Baltimore chapter-leaders to assist in spearheading this effort. In the time after assembling our team, we began mining for information to help support and inspire our decision-making as it pertained to the retreat. We spent hours poring over pages of whatever data we could find from past retreats, this included survey data, comments, and attendee reviews.


Collaboration with AIGA National

To officially kick-off this initiative the AIGA Baltimore leadership team traveled to New York to spend 2 days collaborating with AIGA National organizational leaders on the direction of the conference.

At Work at AIGA HQ

The challenge—as conveyed by AIGA Executive Director, Julie Anixter—was to develop an experience that provided inspiration, professional development, organizational growth models, and interactive experiences that would invigorate board leaders from chapters small, large, and in-between.

Day 1:

Content Theme

Planning the conference content proved challenging as the reviews showed a growing number of dissuaded attendees, citing concerns pertaining to an overwhelming amount of information that was seen as neither relevant nor deep enough to meet the needs of chapter leaders.

Brainstorming 2-up

Through many theme concept iterations, we started to focus our attention on creating a framework for chapter and leadership development, something that chapter leaders could use to build their boards, respond to the concerns of their local design community, and something they could even use to create a personal development roadmap.

Brainstorming Clusters

We ideated around the common competencies that are required in leadership across all forms of business and created a cross-section of roles executed by chapter board leaders. We also developed a measurement scale that would pair the competencies to the relative scale in which the individual, or chapter has used these skills. Allowing a visual method to identify strength areas and growth opportunities.

This would be the beginning of the AIGA Leadership Framework, and Conference Playbook Guide.

Framework Foundation

Day 2:

Conference Schedule

Schedule Brainstorm

In creating the conference schedule and format, we leaned on our learnings from the survey data and attendee reviews; there we identified the stand out pain point as those of frustration and exhaustion, a result of increasingly packed session schedules and blurred timelines.

Therefore, we narrowed our focused on streamlining the conference format to allow sessions to run timely, while also encouraging a sense of wellness by embedding free-time, and in an attempt to reduce the anxiety and stress of missing out on some of the more popular session tracks we mirrored the content themes throughout the days so that more attendees could benefit from the popular sessions.

Stacey Presents

Joe PresentsFinally, after 2 full days of brainstorming, collaborating, testing ideas, feedback sessions, scrapping ideas, leaving rooms in frustration, and possibly some tears, we presented our final plan to our executive stakeholder team, and confirmed their full approval of the concept.

Conference Naming BrainstormWe wrapped the workshop with a final brainstorm session on the conference name; with this retreat being seen as a pivot point for inspiring design leadership development, and positioning AIGA chapter boards as leadership incubators, our theme name was clear: Lead By Design.

In the months that followed, AIGA Baltimore and AIGA National worked and met regularly (remotely, and directly) to develop the final schedule, and flesh out our newly conceived Leadership Framework.

Framework Fleshed Out

Schedule Fleshed Out

See the Conference Playbook Guide and AIGA Leadership Framework ›

The Outcome

Retreat Survey ResultsThe response from conference attendees was largely positive, while there was admittedly some confusion on how the leadership framework was to be used, there was a lot of excitement to see targetted leadership skills development, and methods to inspire growth. We also heard from a number of attendees who were appreciative of the intentional focus on timeliness and wellness encouragement.

Baltimore Retreat TakeawaysReviews Are In

Since this retreat, the Leadership Framework has continued to play a role, being used to identify skills development focus for sessions at subsequent leadership retreats and chapters continue to grow in their application of the framework, using it to identify areas of strength or weakness in their boards.

Framework & Playbook

See the Conference Playbook Guide and AIGA Leadership Framework ›