AGI Chicago Trip


Crown Fountain gargoyle

If you are one of the UMD students who attended the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) Student Conference in Chicago, Please post your reflections about the trip to the comments below…

UMD was very well represented with over 40 attendees. It was terrific to see our students make the effort to get themselves to Chicago for this mid-week event. Please report on your travel adventures, workshops with famous designers, and impressions of the conference overall!


students drawing in Millennium Park with Seymour Chwast.

from the conference website:

On September 23-28, 2008, over 1000 of the world’s top designers, students, educators and graphic arts professionals will converge in Chicago for the 2008 AGI Congress and AGI Student Conference. Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) will bring their annual Congress to America for only the third time in fifty years. Billed as the global design event of 2008, the event will present lectures, exhibitions, and a host of unique interactions with the world’s most notable leaders from the design profession.


Francois Robert purchases this pepper spray with face from a student in his seeing and noticing workshop.

ALSO>>> Check out the Sappi Blog 24-7DesignHeaven for more comments about the AGI conference!

Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) is a club of the world’s leading graphic artists and designers. There are about 350 members from 27 countries


The designers belong to this fraternity by invitation only. (This is very different from the open membership of AIGA.) Perhaps this explains why so few women designers were represented on stage during the student conference. (Perhaps AGI will be discussing ways to redress the lack of diversity in their membership… ?)They were put on the spot with a few embarrassing questions from the audience, and no one seemed prepared with an answer as to why there wasn’t more diversity on stage. The one woman on the stage was Jennifer Morla. She remarked that there seems to be a lack of interest in public speaking among women designers. She urged more female students to build skills in this area.

speakers included

paul sahre

john bielenberg

niklaus troxler

victor … (for gabriela rodriguez)

michael vanderbyl

jennifer morla

nicholas blechman

steff geissbuhler

leonardo sonnoli

christoph niemann

expert workshops with

rick valicenti

paula scher

seymour chwast

francois robert

stephen doyle

AND chicago design office tours:

unique and behind-the-scene tours of your favorite design firms at Crosby Associates, Leo Burnett USA, Gensler, or Bruce Mau Design


Students please post about your experience in Chicago!


8 thoughts on “AGI Chicago Trip

  1. John Bielenberg. Really.

    Of all the things I was able to experience in Chicago for the AGI conference, I think I took the most out of his lecture. He had a profound impact on me, especially since I had been looking into ways to help spark interest and action in the peace movement at UMD. Shameless plug for UMD students for peace, but we’ve been considering different things we could do to gain involvement – or at very least, capture the attention of fellow students who may have anti-war views, but haven’t gotten involved in the effort. Awareness is better than nothing.

    The Project M efforts explained by Bielenberg is an ongoing design experiment involving architecture and graphic design students. Basically, every year project M starts a humanitarian effort. For example, one year they worked to build houses in an impovershed southern town, and worked to bring running water to those without it in a campaign where they sold t-shirts for $425 each. (And they sold out.)

    Their tagline, “think wrong,” involves all sorts of aspects of their work. First of all, they reflect this in their ideas – promoting their program with guerilla-style postings of cheap newsprint ads featuring text running on both sides, meant to be read from the same side despite some of the text appearing backwards.

    An ongoing message throughout AGI was to use design for something you care about, which I think was showed most in project M.


  2. Christophe Nieman!!!

    This guy inspired me to go home and illustrate! Seriously, the way this man presents his illustrations as well as the illustrations themselves blew my mind. To think that an image could create such a burst of laughter is inspiring in itself.

    I learned a lot from his lecture as well as being entertained. First off, i would like to think of myself as an illustrator so i took what he said to heart. First important factoid for me was, “By with holding information in the illustration is sometimes better because it makes the viewer realize it him or herself. ” He also dove into style work. He mentioned that it is far better to be able to switch different styles rather than be stuck in one and be referred to as only that. For example he said use your style of illustration much like you use a typeface. Thats a huge idea for me!

    Another very important thing he taught me was our own “pre-emptive censorship” and how it gets in the way. We should never limit ourselves merely because the client won’t necessarily like it. Thats why it is important to have side projects, to delve into the unknown side or our own design.

    So if your into Illustration and humor without any words (!) then check out Christophe.

    All in all, i learned a ton from the conference. The designers were amazing and each one had their own side of design to comment on. It encompassed many sides of design. From Converse and Coke to Project M and NoZone to Poster and Logo/Corporate Design. It was great. Chicago is a great place to be in the Midwest! It was a bit unsafe at night for a scrawny punk like me, but nonetheless I had a blast.

    ( i am going to buy the cloud book by Christophe! )


  3. PAUL TEW, DAVID BUTLER, and tour of LEO BURNETT !!!

    I thought day 2 of AGI was awesome. I’m really interested in advertising so Paul Tew and David Butler really influenced me. They were both excellent speakers and I gained a lot of insight from them at the conference.

    Paul Tew had a strong impact on me as a designer. He talked about the development and rise of Converse and what they’ve been doing recently as a company. I thought it was really cool how they support music, put on concerts, etc, and donate money without even branding their name. The photos Paul showed at the conference were really cool and I love the way they run their business.

    Paul Tew was the most interesting speaker I’ve seen for graphic design/advertising.

    You will see me sporting a new pair of Chucks Monday. ☺

    David Butler talked about the advertising of Coca Cola and how it has changed over the years. I thought it was interesting to see how a company thinks from the inside…how they went from the beginning and in a sense back to the beginning in their advertisements. After his lecture I noticed every Coke ad in the city of Chicago.

    The tour of Leo Burnett was the best thing I’ve ever seen. Really. I’m sorry for everyone who did not see this place. It’s incredible.

    I want to work there.
    I think that’s all I really have to say.

    Overall this was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. I will definitely be back in Chicago soon.


  4. The AGI conference gave me a well rounded look into the world of successful designers. I was impressed and surprised by the diversity of the work these people do under the umbrella term of Graphic Design. From traditional posters and logos to designing furniture, building interiors, building exteriors, interactive environments, etc. It was inspiring to see how much farther than brochures and newspaper ads design can go. Overall I was in awe of the passion these people have for design, they fully believe in the power of design to change the world, for the better.


  5. I made a last minute decision to attend the AGI conference in Chicago. The knowledge I gained about the lifestyle and development of such well-known designers made my decision completely worth it! I was intrigued by each designer’s personal process, their climb to the top, and their extraordinary yet distinctive means of communicating about their work.

    Although the conference was characterized by enlightening information, I was fairly disappointed with the question/answer session. I assumed that some of the world’s top designers would have a tasteful way of responding to any question, no matter how vulgar. Silly me. It took a few minutes for the designers to come up with an appropriate reply to some questions; hopefully they thanked Paul Sahre later for saving their behinds with a great response! No worries though, the question/answer session was not as big of a disappointment as the bagels… Yuk!

    Regardless, I had so much fun in Chicago. These designers introduced me to many things that have motivated me. My head was filled with countless design hints, information, and stories of experiences, but mostly, I was inspired…

    *Christoph Niemann: “Always have an ongoing side project with no restrictions.�?
    *Jennifer Morla: “Accidents produce good things.�?
    *Michael Vanderbyl: “Never let yourself get comfortable, always challenge yourself.�?
    *Steff Geissbuhler: “Nothing dulls faster than the cutting edge.�?

    Glad to have attended! ☺


  6. This trip kicked ass. big time, and anyone that didn’t go is a sucker. bottom line. i thought that Michael Vanderbyl was the most influential on me. He has done all sorts of architectural in interior design projects, as well as furniture, tradeshows and has won tons of awards. he presented 19 “-isms” of designing:: 1) Design is hard 2) Design is art 3) Always talk up to an audience 4) Big always works 5) Dollhouse, model train syndrome. Use miniature models to show what you mean. 6) No idea is too stupid 7) Find beauty in ugliness 8) The client is your friend 9) Work with the negative 10) Stripes always work 11) Let the problem solve itself 12) Boundaries. Know them. Break them. 13) The work is what gets work. 14) Its only graphic design 15) Robin Hood theory 16) Never get comfortable 17) There are no answers 18) What’s in will be out. 19) Reinvent yourself.


  7. These are the rules of designing that Jennifer Morla gave to us:: Design doesn’t live in a vacuum. Design brings content into focus. Design doesn’t solely support consumerism. Design must surprise, then inform. Design can be seductive propaganda. Design has a symbiotic relationship with style. Always question any need for print communication. Respect the power of printing. Multiplicity works. Find your own voice. School is a luxury. No design is completely original. A good designer is a great listener. A good designer is a great story teller. Typography can be revolutionary. Words are important as images, but images can be way more powerful. Accidents often make the best solutions. The process can manifest the solution. Gather info, analyze, ideate, strategize, create, evaluate. Passion allows us to evaluate. Big always works, extremes work, think “very …”. Reconsider absolutes, always challenging the status quo. We are creators of artifacts. The medium is the message. Designing takes time. Ideas come faster the older your get. Questions generate ideas. Practice working without an approach. Seriously funny works. Dichotomy works. Designers are like the architects, using structure and space. The in-between is as important as the space occupied.


  8. I’ll describe the AGI Student Conference in two words.


    It was an amazing journey of knowledge, understanding, appreciation, and so much more. Being in Chicago again was somewhat surreal and I was very excited to get the ball rolling come Tuesday. In the lectures, the designers poured out their work as well as themselves. How inspiring they were! Easily the best lectures I have witnessed regardless of content. It had to have humbled the room to see how some of them executed brilliant work and then used them to create positive impact on the world, e.g. Project M. For those two days I was pretty much in awe. My butt was dead yet my mind was alive .

    Every speaker left their mark on me in some way. Having said that, I found Niklaus Troxler’s posters to be very innovative and effective. He had one piece of red rectangles creating words in their negative space. The rectangles looked like they were physically vibrating. I’ve never seen that illusion of design worked so well.

    And of course, Christoph Neimann, the delightful and unconventional hero of illustration. He stole the show for me. What can I say? His art and concepts were superb and he cut lines across what we expect in corporate design. It felt almost like watching stand-up especially during his hilarious sequence of work+money=happy.

    There was a really cool moment during the trip where I saw Paula Scher. This time not at the podium. I was just enjoying a sandwich and then there she was, passing right by me. She had a big smile on her face and I just watched her make her way down the packed sidewalk. She can probably float, but she chose not to this afternoon. When she was at the end of the block I knew there was something special about to click with me. Earlier that day I had seen a Citibank across the street. Sure enough, there was Paula Scher looking up at it. I thought it would have been priceless if she had yelled, “I made that logo!”

    All in all, It was great to be a part of this conference and experience the unforgettable city of Chicago at the same time.


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