Graphic Design Professor Margo Halverson underscores the importance of play at 2022 AIGA Re-Connect

Prof. Margo Halverson being interviewed on the AIGA conference mainstage by Design Matters host Debbie Millman.

“While working alone gets it done–improvising with others means you have to respond to what you couldn’t predict,” started Margo Halverson, current professor and former Chair of our Graphic Design department, in a keynote address—Unknown, Unplanned, Unfinished: peripheral vision as an act of inquiry—on the mainstage at this year’s biggest professional association for design conference.

The three-day event in Seattle, WA, which took place October 20–22, officially marked the return to in-person opportunities for American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). Since the last gathering of its kind in 2019, the focus of the event was notably different. What used to be a chance for designers to show off specific work changed to an opportunity for the field to reflect on ways of working and the true impact graphic design has on lives.

“Design isn’t the things we make, design is what humans do,” explained Rick Griffith, 2022 AIGA Design Conference Chair in a tweet during the event. Halverson’s thoughtfully constructed presentation engaged with this idea of design as play and encouraged the audience to add “why not, what if, yes, and… try it” to their vocabulary to push the design process into unknown places.

“We’re all really practiced at working with what’s in front of us–we're good at heading in a direction to get somewhere–but trade tunnel vision for a play corner,” Halverson advises. “Focus on giving up a judgment mindset to embrace the unpredictable. Recognize what is in front of you versus what you wanted to be in front of you.”

In the address and further dialog with Debbie Millman, host of the award-winning podcast Design Matters, Halverson shared examples of play used at the legendary Maine Summer Institute (now DesignInquiry) that she spearheaded at Maine College of Art & Design in the 90’s. The aim of the institute has been and continues with DesignInquiry to be making a space for designers to connect, collaborate, find better ways to create questions, and test how improvisation can support fresh approaches in design practice.

“Working together means I can't predict outcomes and I don't bow to the lone critic inside my head that wrongly says play isn’t worth it,” Halverson recalled.

When Halverson retired from her position as Professor and Chair of Graphic Design in May 2022, she shared a “treasure trove” of design pedagogy and programming ephemera from the Maine Summer Institute with the People’s Graphic Design Archive.  It was 10 years directing this program that inspired her continual updating of the roles of student/teacher and inserting improvisation into the classroom and into DesignInquiry, which still uses these methods today.

Explore the Maine Summer Institute archive