As we prepare for the inaugural AIGA Eye on Design Conference, we meet some of our esteemed speakers to find out more about them, their work, and a sneak peak about what you can expect from them on the big day.

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Steven Heller wears many literal and metaphorical hats. For 33 years he was an art director at the New York Times, and is currently co-founder and co-chair (with Lita Talarico) of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts, New York, where he lectures on the history of graphic design. He’s written upwards of 100 books on design, 20 of them with his wife Louise Fili; he founded Push Pin Editions with Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast; and for the past 20 years he has been contributing editor to magazines including Print, Eye, and Baseline, and for decades before it went defunct, he edited the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design. In short, he knows his shit. At the AIGA Eye on Design Conference, Steven will be co-curating an exhibition inspired by our regular series, The First Thing I Ever Designed.

How has working as an educator, now at the School of Visual Arts, impacted your work and your approach to design?

I’ve been doing some kind of lecturing (I wouldn’t call it teaching, which is a much higher calling) for the past 40 years. I’ve co-founded a number of graduate and summer programs over the past decade and longer, including (with Lita Talarico) the MFA Design / Designer as Author + Entrepreneur. Since I “taught” while I was an art director at the Times, teaching was integral to everything I did. My work is one part research, one part writing, one part mentoring and one part being awed by students. Teaching makes me less self-absorbed and more open to the genius that is out in the world and may need a push to show it to the world.

If you could describe the nature of your work in three adjectives, what would they be?

Information, Exploration, Education. I know these are not adjectives but I can’t think of any other than ‘droll.’

If you could give your 20-year-old self one piece of advice, what would you say?

Learn from smart people. 

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