More than 1,500 designers, design students, and design lovers descended on Las Vegas last week for the annual AIGA Design Conference. We heard from speakers including Paula Scher, Charles Blow, and yes, Chuck D from Public Enemy. We workshopped, we round-tabled, and we browsed magazines at the magCulture x Eye on Design pop-up shop as we sipped on cocktails named after keyboard shortcuts.

But most importantly we got to hang out with members from AIGA’s 71 U.S. chapters and design fans from around the world. We spoke to a bunch of these folks, from speakers and attendees to the volunteer crew of conference associates, and here’s what they had to say about the conference and about the design industry more generally.

AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami
Paula Scher at the AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami

Paula Scher, partner of Pentagram, New York City, New York (speaker)
What have you learned while you’ve been at the conference? I was glad to see the excitement and delight of the design community in being together and in inspiring each other. That was wonderful.

One thing the AIGA Design Conference absolutely nailed? I think the U.S. design community is united in more ways than it is divided. And that is miraculous in such a diverse community. We are diverse in disciplines and in regions and markets, but every one feels connected in their passion for the profession.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer right now? The breadth of possibilities in all things.

Debbie Millman, designer, educator, creator of Design Matters podcast (speaker)
Best talk you heard here? Alina Wheeler’s talk on David Bowie as muse. It (literally) had me dancing in the aisles.

Heard any words of wisdom worth sharing? “No one wants to get caught in the dildo aisle.” —Yo Santosa of Ferroconcrete

Complete this sentence: if you weren’t a designer, you’d be: dead.

Mike Monteiro, Mule Design, San Francisco,  (speaker)
How did you prepare for your talk? Basil Hayden whisky. And I did all the stuff, and I talked about all the stuff I did. All I did was report back on all the work I did.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer right now? The possibility I might get shot by a crazy person right now. I think it’s possible. I think I pissed off some people at this conference. Excitement goes both ways.

If you weren’t a designer what would you be? A goat farmer. I like the ones that sit in trees. They’re great, the tree goats. At some point I’m going to retire, move to New Zealand and get a goat farm.

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Amos Kennedy at AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami

Amos Kennedy, printer, Kennedy Prints (speaker)
How do you prepare for your talk? I try not to think about it.

Best talk you’ve ever seen either in person or online? Oh mine. I’m very impressed with what I say. I’m humble but I recognize greatness.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer at the moment? I’m not a designer, I’m a printer. It’s the way the industry is changing so fast with new technologies coming in. It means a lot of stuff gets out of date so it becomes real cheap.

Roundtables at AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami
Dan Mall’s roundtable at AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami

Corey Strausman, chapter development associate director, New York City, New York (AIGA staff)

Best talk you heard here? Dontrese Brown at the in-house symposium. It was just inspiring. Normally I’m a cynic at heart and I see through all the bullshit of all these talks, but even I was captivated by it. There were a lot of buzz quotes I picked up, particularly about how if you’re going to advocate for change then you need to be the change. It’s been used before, but if you believe it, be it, don’t just say it. And surround yourself with smart people. I find it very uplifting. I was freezing my ass off in that room and it warmed me up.

What’s the most exciting thing about the design industry at the moment? I like the fact that design is getting to a point where it’s not viewing itself as just an industry, but it’s becoming a movement. Some of the stuff I saw at the portfolio review was using design as a tool to engage and impact the community, and you don’t really see that in this world—how design can have an impact on the greater good.

What’s the worst thing? I would have to say it’s the designers who question what community has to do with design. I just want people like that to get over themselves and see what role design can play as part of a bigger picture. The industry isn’t a giant bubble.

Command X at AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami
Command X at AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami

Frankie Ratford, The Design Kids (press)What’s the best talk you’ve ever seen? Paula Scher’s AIGA talk in Portland, 2015. She’s very good at three things: aesthetics, problem solving, and communication. She’s 10 out of 10 for those, so the talk was awesome—intelligent, funny, and entertaining.

What would you change about the design industry right now? More integration between students and industry. That’s what The Design Kids is all about. Students need to get more involved, but so does industry. Once you’re professional you almost remove yourself from a scene.

What are the best words of wisdom you’ve heard this year? Paula Scher on working for free. There’s a massive problem with free pitching and things like that, but she was saying it’s okay to work for free if you get something from it that’s not money.

Anne Quito, writer for Quartz (press)
Best talk you heard here? Kelli Anderson’s introduction to the Craft Symposium was full of insight. It championed the idea that the hand is an irreplaceable tool amid all our gadgets, and how design can direct our attention, which is such a necessary intervention these days amid our multi-tasking modes and the so called “attention economy.”

Heard any words of wisdom worth sharing? “Dress like a designer: with intentionality, fit (tailoring!), and appropriate style that communicates what kind of design professional you are.” —AIGA Medalist Gere Kavanaugh

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer right now? We can be in the center of business, politics, academia, and however we choose to deploy our talents.

Margaret Andersen, writer and designer, Los Angeles, California (press)
What’s been the biggest takeaway? As a freelancer your world can become a little insular, so getting to share the opinions and perspectives of so many different designers was a great inspiration. I also learned that whether your job is in UX design or editorial, we all have similar goals and face the same challenges, and it was nice to recognize those commonalities amongst my peers.

One thing the AIGA Design Conference absolutely nailed for you? The roundtable format is an amazing opportunity to sit down with design legends like Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, Gere Kavanaugh, and Ed Fella, or rising stars like Jessica Hische, and Gemma O’ Brien. Getting to be a part of those conversations up close is a really unique aspect of the conference.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer right now? As a print designer I’m happy to be overwhelmed by how many amazing independent magazines are flourishing in a time when everything is supposed to be going digital. I feel like the print industry has made it through its existential crisis from a few years back, and has found a way to coexist with its digital counterparts, creating a new hybrid industry whose rules have yet to be completely established. That sense of flexibility and willingness to experiment is what’s most exciting to me.

Christopher Simmonds at AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami
Christopher Simmons at the AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami

 Archie Bagnall, co-president of AIGA OC, Orange County, California (attendee)
Heard any words of wisdom worth sharing? “I did a great deal of editing” —Paula Scher in response to the comment, “In your talk you made a whole lot of hard work look very effortless.”

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer right now? That the landscape of what it means to be a designer is changing. There are more opportunities to solve problems everywhere, and people are starting to notice that designers have a unique set of skills, insights, and disciplines to contribute to that effort.

If you weren’t a designer you’d be a: failing video rental store owner.

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Mike Monteiro at the AIGA Design Conference 2016, photography by Frank Aymami

Chanel James, graphic design student at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia (conference associate)
Best talk you heard here? The one that stuck with me the most was Mike Monteiro. He was so powerful and honest and I really respected what he had to say.

Heard any words of wisdom worth sharing? One of the panelists in the Impact of Inclusion workshop said “Designers are problem solvers, but to solve those problems we need to know those problems.” I took this as meaning that we need to be open to learning about different issues outside of our comfort zone.

One thing the AIGA Design Conference absolutely nailed for you? Everyone has access to connect and socialize with some of the worlds most well known designers. I received motivational words from Ram Castillo; I had a portfolio review with Michael Bierut; and I said a quick hello to amazing artists like David Carson and Debbie Millman. I feel like everyone was so open and welcoming that I almost forgot that they’re some of the most influential designers in the profession today. I will forever be thankful that AIGA gave me that opportunity.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer right now? That it involves much more than just art and design. As a designer I can be a scientist, a politician, and an educator. Design involves much more than just pretty things.

Matt Davidson, designer at architecture firm Hoefer Wisochi, Kansas City, Missouri, (conference associate)
Best talk you heard here? This conference it’s Dan Mall from the Emerging Designers Symposium. He talked about deciding on your principles before you need to make a decision. Like if you’re going to quit your job, know the things that would make you do that.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a designer at the moment? Oh man… Just the multimedia aspect. Everything can be designed. People now seem more open to design, everyone’s hiring graphic designers at every company now.

What’s the worst thing? Trying to keep up with all the new technology. There’s so much social media, you feel like you have to cross post from about ten different things.

Daniel Beauchamp, graphic design student at UTA Arlington, Texas (conference associate)
Best talk you heard here?At this conference it was maybe Amber Case, talking about Calm technology.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a design student at the moment? The shape of design. Not to be clichéd, but as millennials born into the digital age of social media, with companies trying to harness Facebook, YouTube, and things like that, it’s really exciting to be in the eye of the hurricane, so to speak. We have the prime spot to see these tumultuous changes—we’re the ones who pick up where older designers who maybe don’t want to adapt left off.
What do you think is the biggest problem in the design industry at the moment? Generally speaking when I think of issues in design in the the U.S. it’s about diversity and inclusion, but this year at the conference they’re really addressing that. There are great speakers from all over the world and from different backgrounds, and I hope the rest of the design world follows.