On 10 May 2006, students, lecturers and design professionals from all states of Australia and from New Zealand, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, the United Kingdom, Mexico and the USA, descended upon Melbourne’s premier art centre for the AGIdeas International Design Week 2006.

The 2006 program was the most ambitious program in the event’s 16-year history, with 35 world leaders of design presenting their insights and experiences to over 3,300 designers and design students from more than 100 design colleges. What started out as a fairly modest project with dreams, AGIdeas has evolved into a full week of design activities for professionals, lecturers and students across the design disciplines.


Roger ‘Spitting Image’ Law speaks.


It all started on the back of a bus somewhere in France. AGI was holding their annual congress in Blois. It was agreed at the congress that the next AGI meeting would be held in Australia, the first time AGI had travelled outside the northern hemisphere. The job of organizing this was not only exciting but full of potential. I remember speaking to Jim Cross and asking him what AGI did for education. His answer: ‘Not much.’ When I suggested that it was a unique opportunity to have so many of the world’s finest designers ‘down under’ and what a great opportunity it would be for the younger designers of the country to experience the presence of this talent from all over the world, Jim’s simple answer was: ‘You’re running it, do what you want.’ On returning to Australia I was quite excited and called six of the major universities. When I put forward the idea of running a two-day congress with seven or eight AGI speakers and that we would charge the students a token sum of money to attend, in unison they said: ‘No one would attend, no one would pay.’


Melbourne Arts Centre auditorium.


Out of a little frustration, I went back to the universities and asked for them to nominate two students each; not the best two designers in each case, but two students who were motivated and who might want to do something. With this group of twelve students and the help of my personal assistant, Juliet Tootell, the first educational event was born. It had no title; it was just simply an opportunity for people to meet international designers and for AGI to contribute something to young Australian and New Zealand designers.Some 550 people attended this event and, at the conclusion, the excitement level was such that the committee suggested to me that we should do it again. Realizing of course that we didn’t have the advantage of airfares already paid, we knew that fundraising would be involved. It was with a degree of trepidation that we set out on a journey. So much for the one-off event.It was at the second meeting that Heather Wellard, one of the committee members and ultimately one of the people to go on to manage the conference for five or six years, suggested that we should name the event. The idea was to call it ‘Ideas’. At the time I recall saying that I thought the name was rather boring. But when she explained to me that the acronym stood for International Design Education for Australian Students, the name seemed quite appropriate. Later this name was changed to ‘All’ Students instead of Australian, then it was endorsed by Alliance Graphique Internationale and the event became known as ‘AGIdeas’. The Design Foundation was established to run the event as a not-for-profit event and each year a committee of design students is formed to help organize the event with representatives from all the major Australian design colleges, as well as some international students. Committee members are interviewed and selected from their peers based on their ability to work under pressure, in a demanding role that requires a high degree of professionalism and motivation.The committee provides a core group of students each year with an exceptional opportunity to develop the skills necessary to stage a world-class event. These young people act as ambassadors to visiting designers and establish networks around the world from which many have gained employment and work experience. The committee is responsible for all aspects of AGIdeas from pre-production, including design, print management, promotion, ticket sales, office administration, event design and organization, to production, including audiovisual, exhibition set-up, speaker hosting, presentations, and of course post-production clean-up and evaluation that guides the future of the event.The evolution of AGIdeas has been steady. With input from a number of people, the event has grown to a scale that none of us would have ever dared dream. What exists now is AGIdeas International Design Week, a world-class, internationally recognized design event that celebrates design diversity and encourages excellence in design.  The AGIdeas International Design Forum is held over three days at the Melbourne Arts Centre with presentations from Australian and international designers. Each year we bring together some of the world’s most important creative people for a three-day forum. We provide state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment in one of Melbourne’s premier arts venues. The forum was created as a resource for anyone interested in expanding their design dialogue. This annual event takes its audience on a three-day journey through the creative endeavours of some of the world’s leading talents, from the most contemporary trends in digital design to the masters of traditional technique. Since 1990 AGIdeas has demonstrated that design excellence is inspired by creativity in the broadest sense. For this reason the AGIdeas programme explores a diverse cross-section of the creative industries, presenting speakers from the areas of graphic design, corporate branding, photography, fine art, sound design, design for film and television, industrial and product design, furniture and interior design, motion graphics and broadcast media design, interactive and multimedia design and much more. The aim is to inspire excellence by presenting those who have pushed the boundaries of their creative field and established a bench mark to which other designers must strive. In 2003 we introduced an opportunity for design colleges all over the world to present and show some of the work that is created from students with different colleges. Since 2003 alongside world creatives we have had colleges from the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan and Abu Dhabi. AGIdeas International Design Week now comprises eight distinct events: 1.   AGIdeas ‘Interact’ opens the doors of Melbourne’s design studios. Young designers have the chance to have dinner with designers and see inside the industry with a small group of other delegates. AGIdeas ‘Interact’ is an initiative designed to encourage dialogue between those at the established end of the industry and those emerging within it. As one of a small group of 15 to 20, young designers can discuss all aspects of design with one of Australia’s industry leaders over a drink and a bite to eat. Studio tours are a chance for the industry to give emerging designers some insight into the machinations of the industry, providing them a context in which to study and an understanding of the standards for which to strive.2.   AGIdeas ‘Advantage’ is a business forum that seeks to build links between the design and business communities, and show how design can deliver tangible benefits to business. 3.   AGIdeas ‘Extend’ provides the rare opportunity for both students and professionals to work closely with a design master. These one-day workshops are run by our travelling international guests and are a small workshop environment in which delegates can discuss and work through design processes with some of their design heroes.





4.   AGIdeas ‘NewStar’ comprises a set of international travelling scholarships. Students and young professionals are the future of the industry. It is the emerging design industry that has the most to offer the future of design and its contribution to an innovative and competitive economy. These are the people most likely to change, and to accept and adopt new ways of operating. Since 1990, AGIdeas has run an award programme for young designers that encourages excellence and places their work on the international stage. It is an opportunity for students to expose their work to world leaders of design and to the local design industry. It is also an opportunity for the design industry to see the emerging talent. Each year travelling scholarships are offered to students and new graduates to attend international events and to engage in international work experience opportunities. In 2003 we developed a relationship with Fabrica which allows one of our scholarship winners a trial at the infamous Fabrica workshop in Italy. Fabrica is the research and development communication centre for the Benetton Group. These scholarships are an exceptional chance for young designers to broaden their knowledge and skills and to enhance their career opportunities and the standard of Australian graduates in our workforce.

5.   AGIdeas ‘Futures’, introduced in 2006, is a special evening dedicated to those secondary school students interested in a design career, along with their teachers and parents. This mind-opening event presents design in all its facets and provides essential insights for anyone interested in a career in the creative industries. Design is an important element in our everyday living and is one of the fastest-growing professions around the world. Design is seen as a competitive advantage in business and nearly every business employs design from one end of the design spectrum to the other. AGIdeas Futures aims to encourage the right people into design and offer a glimpse at what is possible.

6.   AGIdeas ‘Alumni’ runs events throughout the year, and seeks to connect the vast network of past AGIdeas presenters and organizing committee members from its sixteen-year history. In its first eighteen months we have managed to track down more than one hundred past participants who have formed the founding membership.

7.   AGIdeas ‘Discourse’ is a lavish, end-of-event, thank-you function for the year’s generous sponsors and tireless supporters. This is an important and rare opportunity for international designers and the design academies to network.

8.   AGIdeas ‘Unite’ caps off the week as speakers and delegates come together to celebrate a massive week of inspiration and imagination. Since the inception of AGIdeas, some 290 of the world’s leading designers have inspired over 24,000 designers. In addition some 1,740 volunteers have helped stage the event and 28 young designers have benefited from embarking on travelling scholarships around the world and internships at Fabrica.Like all good things this was achieved the hard way. AGIdeas challenges itself. It has stood the test of time and gets better every year and will continue to do so. We embark on a comprehensive evaluation process after every event, compiling feedback from our audience into a report that forms the basis of planning for the following year. We welcome contributions from anyone with an idea for the betterment of design. The conference seeks to provide inspiration. It seeks to put designers in contact with other designers and other creative professions. It seeks the interaction of young designers with the more established members of the profession. It seeks to offer opportunities to those with special talent. It seeks to bring designers from all over the world just a little bit closer together.I’m intensely proud of all members of every committee who have helped us do something very special. In a profession that often doesn’t collaborate in the way one would hope, this event sees a group of students from different universities and colleges come together for the first time. To watch the friendship and the bonding and the efforts culminate in what seem to have become life-long friendships and to trust and believe in others. Collectively they might do something that none of them could do on their own and this is a very special reward for those who organize.Kristin McCourtie, Heather Wellard, Kate Delves and Juliet Tootell have been the absolute backbone of the day-to-day organizing and to them I owe enormous thanks. To the 200 or so student committee members who have undertaken an enormous task, with demanding task masters, when they already have a full schedule of education and often a part-time job, hopefully this brings them rewards and satisfaction from their efforts. This event is not interested in people who want to show portfolios. It’s about people who have something to say who have done great work, and are prepared to share their insights, experiences and opinions through that work to inspire others and perhaps lead others into new arenas.Financially the hand-to-mouth existence has passed us by. AGIdeas is now well grounded and is assured of a bright future. As I get older, the events seem closer together. At the same time, the anticipation of what we will create has not lessened.

Ken Cato, Melbourne, 2006


Essay taken from 'AGI: Graphic Design Since 1950' by Ben & Elly Bos