A Better Jacksonville By Design A Four Part Series on AIGA Jacksonville

by joey marchy
Everyone is talking about community. Online communities like Facebook and Twitter have given birth to micro-communities that revolve around fan pages and hash tags. Tough economic times have forced people to look seriously at themselves and make value judgements on what’s important. Many are finding things like garage sales, knitting and bingo to have more value than Target, the Gap and video games.
Jacksonville residents are beginning to realize that a great city begins with a strong community and I agree with this wholeheartedly. As a connector in the community, I see an increase in people engaging with others to build and grow our local community. Jacksonville is beginning to realize a vibrant community does not create itself; it takes hard work and initiative. Building a stronger community is not something one person can do. It takes hundreds of committed individuals and organizations doing small things.
As Northeast Florida’s local chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design, AIGA Jacksonville is actively contributing to the local community. AIGA Jacksonville understands the value of design as not only a professional craft, but also a strategic tool and vital cultural force.
Design, when woven into the fabric of a city, elevates the entire community. Design can uplift the spirit and build respect for one’s community and city. In a January Urban Jacksonville post entitled “20 Urban Jacksonville Predictions for 2010” I commented on the parallel between design and community, saying “Graphic design in the city will continue marching forward, elevate the city visually in ways we haven’t experienced.”
I was called out by a reader who asked to explain this prediction: “What does this even mean? ‘Elevate the city visually in ways we haven’t experienced?’ What, nicer ads being put up?” This comment hinted at a limited public understanding of the design community and its far-reaching impact. So let me explain my theory on how graphic design can elevate a community.
By having a strong design community, we present a visually unified face to people who may only experience Jacksonville through the media, billboards or logos we create. Each well-designed component of Jacksonville, be it a bus stop ad or a public city space, reflects positively on the city.
Let’s take outdoor advertising, a straightforward example of design, as an example. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens billboards are interesting and visually striking examples of design you’ll see while driving along I-95. If they looked terrible, people might form a negative perception of the city zoo and decide not to visit it. Anyone who’s been to the Jacksonville Zoo will tell you it’s a crowning jewel on Jacksonville’s Northside. Like most things in life, you only have one chance to make a first impression. Putting our best (designed) foot forward increases the likelihood of making a connection with people and encouraging them to invest in our city’s businesses and residents.
Let’s take that example one step further. When you walk into a retail store or restaurant in Jacksonville that’s been merchandised and designed well, you’re transported to another place. Nestliving (www.nest-living.com) in 5 Points gives you a sense of place, like arriving at a destination of note. Ditto for Chew, a restaurant in downtown Jacksonville. The same cannot be said when you walk into a fast food restaurant or a knick-knack gift shop.
Design is important and plays a role in how things are perceived both by the residents of the city and by visitors. Good design instills a sense of pride and respect for one’s city. Good design increases our city’s reputation. Design magazines like Communication Arts highlight talented designers from around the country. Increasingly you will see Jacksonville designers appear in these annuals, reinforcing the case that our city embraces good design. If we can only continue to build the graphic design community in Jacksonville we will continue to attract and retain talented young designers who bring with them the enthusiasm, creativity and energy needed to improve our city.
When people think about AIGA in the community most think of design-specific events like Art Walk or other popular art shows. There is another side to AIGA in the community and it’s about giving back. The AIGA Jacksonville Gives Back program has actively supported community staples such as the City Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army and the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens. This illustrates dedication to varied aspects of the local community, not just art and design. Next month, AIGA Jacksonville will participate in St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s Shave It For Kids’ Cancer 2010, raising funds and awareness for childhood cancer research.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the value design can bring to the boardroom and the business suit. Be sure to read parts one and two of the series A Better Jacksonville By Design.