Accompanied by Assistant Professor of Communication Design Shannon Zenner, five Elon University students attended what is billed as the “premier conference for the design community.”
Matt Newberry ’24, one of five Elon University students to attend the 2022 AIGA Design Conference Oct. 20-22 in Seattle, admits that it’s difficult to pinpoint just one highlight from the experience.
There was meeting legendary graphic designers Paula Scher and April Greiman, as well as connecting with Elon alumna Rachel Cifarelli ’21, who was also in attendance. He recalled leaving the presentations hosted by Radek Sidun and Kelli Anderson “absolutely astounded.” Plus, it was his first west coast trip, made even better because he experienced it with fellow members of Live Oak Communications’ creative team. Oh, and he won the conference-wide raffle, too.
When pressed, the communication design and Spanish double major, settled on one lesson he will take with him: there is always something to learn.
“A key takeaway for me was the realization that learning never truly ends,” Newberry said. “Even the great designers I learned about in my classes — of whom I was also able to meet at the conference — were all still attending each session to expand their knowledge about design-related issues and strategies. I was very inspired by that, with the idea that my journey at Elon is just the core foundation to a lifetime of learning.”
Joining Newberry in Seattle for what communications professionals call the “premier conference for the design community” were Live Oak colleagues Olivia Parks ’23, Ashley Stanbro ’23, Sydni Brown ’24 and Ayla Brongo ’25, as well as Assistant Professor of Communication Design Shannon Zenner. The group’s travel and conference registration were financially supported by the student-run strategic communications agency.
For Zenner, who serves as Live Oak’s faculty creative adviser, introducing the students to the design community, both working professionals and aspiring graphic designers, has undeniable benefits.
“While we were in Seattle, students were face-to-face with the world’s most influential designers, design researchers, historians and others, whose work we had discussed so much in class and who had influenced their work directly,” she said. “At each session students were exposed to the most important topics of the field, for example, the need for greater inclusivity and accessibility in design, using design to promote social good and democracy, and how designers can learn to protect themselves financially and legally. ”
Like Newberry, Parks was awestruck by her Seattle experience, including meeting Scher, the first female principal at the renowned design firm Pentagram. “She is a designer that I have looked up to for years, and having the opportunity to tell her in person how much her work has inspired me was something I will never forget,” the communication design and strategic communications double major said.
Parks enjoyed hearing the unique perspectives shared by the designers in attendance, and she felt she gained a better understanding of where a career in design might lead her.
“Seeing firsthand just how many different creative career opportunities are available for designers – and how many are still yet to be explored – has made me very hopeful for the future as I enter the professional world after graduation this spring,” she said.
Among those young designers still charting their paths was Cifarelli, a former Live Oak member who is working as a freelance designer following graduation. The 2021 Elon graduate served as a volunteer conference associate, facilitating the event’s on-site logistics. While the conference associates work approximately 30 hours during the four-day event, their registration is comped, and they can attend conference sessions for free.
Cifarelli wasn’t just in the background either. The Elon alumna had an opportunity to serve as a main stage speaker during the conference’s CRIT: A Live Review of Archival Work.
Zenner said she relished the opportunity to share the greater design world with her Elon students, while also getting a chance to enjoy the conference through their fresh perspective. But the professor wasn’t just a chaperone. Zenner also presented her new research, titled “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: The Typography and Design of Local Political Yard Signs.” As part of her exploration of political yard signage, she has collected and analyzed more than 400 examples in the last four years.
“The interest and questions I received from my design and design education colleagues let me know that others are also interested in the questions that I’m asking and trying to answer,” she said.
The students’ experience wasn’t limited to the conference’s convention center. Prior to the conference, Zenner arranged for a personal tour of the Seattle Public Library, where one of her former design students, Danny Ramirez, works as a graphic designer.
AIGA, the professional association for design, advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage, and vital cultural force. As the largest community of design advocates, AIGA brings together practitioners, enthusiasts, and patrons to amplify the voice of design and creates the vision for a collective future. AIGA defines global standards and ethical practices, guides design education, inspires designers and the public, enhances professional development, and makes powerful tools and resources accessible to all.