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Looking Back at 2009 as a Design Association Volunteer

Mark Busse – One Comment

Mark Busse gives his final speech as President of GDC/BC in January, 2009.

Mark Busse gives his final speech as President of GDC/BC in January, 2009.

GDC/BC‘s President, Marga Lopez, recently asked me to submit an overview of 2009 from my perspective as a GDC Executive. After a little thought, I jotted down the following, which I thought I’d share here.

I’ll never forget 2009. As far as my career goes, it was filled with breathtaking highs and terrifying lows. I’m not ashamed to admit that my own company suffered when the economic crisis hit and I was gravely concerned when numerous friends scaled their design firms way back or even found themselves without a job altogether.

This was my mood as the year began, but I’d have to say this was a rather good year for GDC/BC—and for me. Deciding to not run for another term as GDC/BC President was difficult for me as our team was gaining momentum and there was much work left to do. But in retrospect it was the right thing to do as Marga Lopez has blossomed as a leader we can all rally around. My hope is that Marga will not make the same choice and decide to run for another term. I would follow her into battle blindfolded.

Beyond supporting Marga as Past President, my duties included serving as Co-Chair of Design Week have kept me busier than ever. Sometimes my role seems to be one of catalyst and conduit, generating ideas or fostering relationships, other times I seem to be the voice of dissent, expressing strong opinions about issues that can rub people in the wrong ways at times.

Money was tight for our chapter this year, but we budgeted smartly and kept our eye on expenditures. Sponsorship has been a struggle as companies are reticent to spend money on marketing when they are laying off staff, but we also managed to create a new partnership with Rogers that brought enough savings to members to offset annual dues—and I finally got an Apple iPhone!

I was encouraged to see our public image gain traction this year, with improved PR efforts and the press interviewing GDC Execs, industry speakers, and running stories about the efforts of GDC in British Columbia, such as the “Vancouver’s Ambassadors of Design” article in Design Edge Magazine. Having been on the receiving end of interviews a few times this year, I have much to learn before I feel “media savvy”, but I’m getting better at navigating those trecherous waters and feel it’s an important thing for the GDC to be aware of in the coming years.

I really enjoyed this year’s events. Michael Strassburger’s hilarious presentation at the AGM in January, Michael Osborne’s irreverent yet enlightening talk at the 2009 Salazar Awards, the eager students I met at POGO ’09, and watching people gorge themselves on my moose chili at the association BBQ were all memories I’ll cherish. Our professional development breakfasts were spot on and well-received, the Graphex exhibit in China was a resounding success, and Practivism was once again the crown jewel—who would have thought our little idea to make a design lecture series about using design as a practical approach to activism?

Serving as a co-chair on the Design Week committee has been terrifying, exciting, challenging, and rewarding. It’s hard to believe this all started with a casual comment to an Icograda colleague at the 2007 World Design Congress in La Habana, Cuba. I think I said something like “What would it take to bring Design Week to Vancouver?” Another lesson in being careful what you wish for perhaps. Planning for the conference has progressed well and we have been truly blessed that so many world-class speakers have agreed to be our guests and contribute their time and energy toward this dialogue about defining the value of design.

Speaking of Design Week, leading a GDC delegation to China to promote our conference was an experience I’ll never forget, and one I owe a debt of gratitude to my colleagues in GDC (especially Patricia Xu) for helping make happen. I truly believe that the Graphex exhibit, combined with the lectures and presentations that Rod Roodenburg and I gave to universities, general assembly and conference audiences helped improve the reputation of Canadian communication design internationally. I’ve already received invitations to return to China, so at least I didn’t offend anyone. 🙂

This year included some sadness for many of us who lost friends and loved ones. The sudden passing of my friend Leo Obstbaum left me shaken, but I am glad his community has chosen to honour him in death by inducting him posthumously into our fold. And learning that our mentor and friend Jim Rimmer was struggling with throat cancer was a shock. Thankfully Jim is fighting back and the prognosis is positive, and witnessing Hemlock name their new scholarship fund in his name was a high point for me this year.

As the year winds down, our struggles are not over. Many of us still seek work and worry about the year ahead. But I am hopeful. The last year has forced me and my company to really look inward, make sacrifices and refocus on what we’re best at. By not compromising and working harder than ever to be examples of the GDC ideal, we’ve not only survived, but thrived.

So too with the GDC/BC community and executive. Some have disappeared from our ranks, while many others have recognized that this is exactly the right time to be involved in our professional association. In fact, those generous souls who sit around the GDC/BC executive table each month have grown in number—with more passionate professionals than ever committing themselves to a term of service to our industry. For them I am deeply grateful and proud.

Each year we write these reports to summarize our recollections and thoughts about the year. This year I find myself asking what lessons I learned? My answer is twofold.

First, our situation—that being the struggle for recognition, fair pay and respect as design professionals—is really our own doing. There is no one to blame but us and the sooner we realize that, the better. We aspire to be experts in branding, positioning, and messaging, yet our own lack of business and marketing acumen has led us to drift off course. Instead of focusing our learning on become better skilled business specialists and communicating our value to business community and public we serve, we have been (poorly) marketing to gain more membership and self-pleasuring ourselves on design fodder—designsturbation. This must stop.

Secondly, change and improvement in the communication design industry will only happen when if we want it to and actually DO something about it. We need more passionate leaders within our community to step forward and lend us their brilliance. We then must celebrate those among us that excel and learn from them. Together we must boldly infiltrate non-design networks and demonstrate our value by the things we DO, not the things we SAY. If we want government support? We must meet with government, give presentations to their ranks and convince them that the future of our province depends on design thinker like us. If it pisses them off, so be it. And if we need more revenue, we need to not only seek more sponsorship by proving the value to those who want to do business with us, but seek other ways to create revenue for our chapter so we can operate more like the businesses we work for every day.

Here’s wishing happy holidays to all my friends in the design industry and a prosperous new year to you all!