Ric Grefé: 2016 AIGA Medalist

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Early in 2016 five names were chosen to represent the field of graphic design. Their achievements, services and contributions to the field have been beyond exceptional. And for that, they have been honored as AIGA medalists—a tradition that dates back to the 1920s and is considered the most distinguished honor in the field.

We had the opportunity to collect bits of advice, inspiration and anecdotes from this year’s recipients.

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Ric Grefé was awarded the AIGA medal for “his commitment to championing the rights of designers and increasing the awareness of the value of design in our everyday lives through his leadership at AIGA.” Red his full bio written by Julie Lasky on AIGA’s website.

Q: Did you have any major inspirations while growing up that led you to the creative field?

A: The inspirations then, as now, come from all that we experience around us. Even in the onslaught of popular culture, there are always ideas, objects, and experiences that can stir us; those of us familiar with extraordinary design will find their inspiration. There were two adolescent encounters that signaled to me that great design was different: discovering Dieter Rams’ Braun portable radio and purchasing a small German book set in Hermann Zapf’s Melior [typeface.]

Q: What inspired you to become such a powerful advocate for graphic design and the rights of designers?

A: As with most professionals, your strongest role depends on reinforcing what you want to do with what you are able to do. Throughout my career, the measure of my aspirations was based on causing change for others…this was true in my careers in journalism, urban policy, public broadcasting and then design advocacy. I have always felt that great design could change the human experience and my background (particularly advocating the power of public broadcasting to inform, enlighten, educate, and entertain) gave me the tools to advance design in the public imagination and the business environment.

Q: What was the most difficult thing you had to do during your career?

A: Looking back, perhaps the greatest challenge I faced was maintaining the long view on the nature and role of AIGA as an institution that was accountable to designers past and future as well as present. In any membership organization, members naturally prefer benefits to accrue to them, now; it can be a lonely endeavor to be urging priorities that assure the strength and influence of the institution (and hence the profession) well into the future (to benefit other than today’s members).

Q: You were the director of AIGA for 20 years, and now you’ve been awarded and AIGA medal. How does that feel?

A: It is an honor and a privilege, although I believe it is principally a recognition of what we (staff, board, chapter leaders, and members) have accomplished together, not what I have achieved alone. To that extent, it is a validation for all of our hard work over twenty years in advancing design as a professional craft, strategic value and vital cultural force.

Q: Is there any advice you can share with young designers?

A: Designers have a special talent which involves curiosity and the creative mind. Their ability to execute solutions that are clear, simple, engaging and pleasing is unique. Yet it is the combination of their empathy, creativity and capacity for inspiring execution that gives their human-centered solutions to complex problems such powerful influence. Recognize that it is the diversity of perspectives that you bring to framing and solving problems, as well as your design skills, that will distinguish you. Remain curious, read literature, study human behavior, listen to others.

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Ric Grefé, 2011, Bright Lights: The AIGA Awards Gala

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Ric Grefé onstage after Su Mathews Hale announced Grefé’s 2016 AIGA Medal.

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AIGA Design Conference 2015 (photo by Frank L. Aymami).

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Ric Grefé and Karen Vogel Grefé at the 2015 AIGA Awards Gala photobooth.

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Ric Grefeé and the 2015 AIGA Medalists. From left to right: Ken Friedman (brother of the late Dan Friedman)m Paola Antonelli, EMory Douglas, Marcia Lausen and Christina Curtis (widow of the late Hillman Curtis).

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Ric Grefé with “Get Out the Vote” posters, 2004.

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Ric Grefé at Head, Heart, Hand AIGA Design Conference in 2013 (photo by Jay Larson).

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Ric Grefé at Bright Lights 2013 AIGA Awards Gala (photo by Angela Jimenez).

Images courtesy of AIGA.com

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