- AGI Today
The current membership stands at 550 and collectively represents 46 countries. Believing that graphic design is fundamental to how we communicate, educate and inform, AGI members have been giving shape to the world’s many and varied messages since its inception in 1952.
Membership is prestigious. Prospective members are invited to present work to the annual new member jury on the basis of quality and reputation. Members range from single practitioners to partners in global agencies. From branding to self-publishing, design writing to way-finding, image-making to animation and typography to experience design, member expertise spans all the multifarious activities described as visual communication today.
Each year members convene in a differing city at the AGI Congress. Here, members meet in a spirit of friendship, curious to hear of each other’s activities, keen to debate the profession and learn more of their host city. In keeping with AGI’s stated aims the student-focused AGI Open design conference runs concurrently with Congress. Central to the success of the Open is that AGI members freely participate in talks and events that extend knowledge and encourage generations of designers to come.
The extract below, taken from AGI: Graphic Design since 1950 by Ben Bos, outlines how the association first came about and the role of those still highly influential early practitioners without whom AGI would not exist.
- How it all Began
—We Want You!
In the 1940s, commercial artists, mural makers, typographers, printmakers, art directors, illustrators and poster designers increasingly realised their common bonds, and the modern profession of graphic design began to be defined. In 1951, five graphic artists—two Swiss and three French—decided to formalise their relationship into some sort of association. Their idea was simply to share common interests and friendships across national and cultural borders.
It was a notion that soon attracted leading exponents of the graphic arts from elsewhere in Europe and in the USA. In 1952 the Alliance Graphique Internationale was incorporated in Paris with 65 members from 10 countries. The first AGI exhibition was held in Paris in 1955 and in 1969 the headquarters moved from Paris to Zurich. Student seminars were introduced in 1979 and the first Young Professional AGI Congress was held in London in 1994.
Jean Picart Le Doux became the president, Fritz Bühler and FHK Henrion were vice-presidents and Jean Colin became the secretary general. Jacques Nathan Garamond was the treasurer and his wife, Cathy, worked very hard for AGI in its first few years. Those efforts won her the title of honorary vice-president for life.
The founders and a number of ‘new members’ met again in London (1952), Paris (1953) and Basel/Zermatt (1954). In Basel they celebrated the very special local carnival, after which they travelled to Zermatt to enjoy a wonderful time in the mountains. This must have been the very start of a long AGI tradition: a General Assembly, a Congress and an interesting venue in which to enjoy them. In Zermatt a special committee was appointed to prepare and organize the first AGI Exhibition, held at the Louvre in 1955. Jean Carlu took over the presidency of AGI and was also in charge of the Paris exhibition.
- The Golden Era
of the AGI
The Alliance had also established its ‘way of life’: an annual congress, somewhere in one of the ‘member states’ and regular exhibitions in major cities, in museums of high standing.
The congresses were on the theme of justifying the role and significance of visual communication. The discussions were primarily about philosophy, responsibility and ethics. Initially, an air of ‘advertising’ still clung to the profession: my own evening course (1956–61) at the Applied Art College, later the Rietveld Academy, in Amsterdam, was entitled ‘Advertising Design’. In practice, the assignments set by lecturers such as Wim Crouwel and Peter Doebele had hardly anything to do with it; they were more about graphic design.
The 1960 congress was held just outside Paris.
Fritz Bühler, AGI president, wrote in a foreword: ‘One of the first questions raised in the circles concerned—and above all among designers themselves—is whether they should rather be equated with free artists or with scientists, who are entrusted with the solution of a given problem. Since discussion on this point rages even at the highest levels, but has never been carried far enough beyond the limits of the private conversation, the AGI decided on a thorough investigation of the question.’
- A Time of
AGI had got through its adolescence. The 1970s were characterized by consolidation. We knew what we wanted from the Alliance. Donald Brun, one of the AGI’s five Founding Fathers, had taken over the chairmanship, the registered office moved from Paris to Zürich and the articles of association were re-formulated in accordance with the solid rules of Swiss law. That was all organized in a formal meeting in Ulm, in southern Germany, which, with its Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) had become the temporary capital of Functionalism.
Unlike the Bauhaus, the link from modernistic theory to industrial practice had been fully made in the instruction at the HfG (1953–68). Based on the ‘dream’ of Universal Human Rights (UN: 1948),‘all people are essentially equal’, the HfG focused on the Ideal Product, intended for Everyone. Design should not be for an elite public. Averse to all trimmings, it should simply work on the idea of ‘less is more’ and therefore be as accessible and affordable as possible.
- New Waves
Violating Old Rules
This was the decade of seminars. Paris 1981: an audience of 350 (80 percent students) from 20 design schools listened attentively to Paul Davis and Saul Bass (USA), Alan Fletcher and FHK Henrion (UK) and Shigeo Fukuda (Japan), leaving a varied impression of our many-faceted profession. A year later, it was Paris’s turn again. This time, the École Supérieure des Arts Graphiques was the venue. Otl Aicher (Germany), Adrian Frutiger (Switzerland), Seymour Chwast (USA) and Bruno Monguzzi (Switzerland) performed under Henrion’s direction.
In 1983, AGI, Icograda and the Amsterdam Gerrit Rietveld Academy cooperated in a huge seminar. Again a full house of 500 students, listening to heavy discussions on form and content. On the stage were greats from design education: Jurriaan Schrofer, Wim Crouwel, Jan van Toorn, Ootje Oxenaar, Anthon Beeke and Simon den Hartog (The Netherlands), flanked by the great Swiss innovator Wolfgang Weingart, the German Gunter Rambow and the Pole Waldemar Swierzy. These teachers’ objectives and ideals often differed dramatically. Where, with Crouwel, the emphasis was on exact designing (developing skills, theory and general knowledge), Van Toorn attached the greatest importance to the social context of working in this profession. They did, however, agree about the responsibility of the designer. Rambow felt it is the designer’s task to discover forms of ‘Utopian hope’.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Van Toorn made it clear that it is important to listen to people with a different view. It is then up to the student to make his or her own decisions. Beeke focused on the process, which is more important while studying than the presented result. Oxenaar was anxious that technology should not get in the way of creativity. On the other hand, there is no reason to fear new techniques, which provide a vast source of surprises. Schrofer stressed the generous dose of intellect the discipline demands: ‘A designer must be an Uomo Universale’…