Nikki Gonnissen on building a united AGI in a divided world

“Good design is not only about good form, it’s also about a better world.”

As the difficult relationship between Mexico and the United States continues under the Donald Trump administration, with a bigger wall proposed for the border between the two countries, and immigration policies that are growing increasingly harsh, graphic designers who are part of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) have decided to take a stand.

Founded in 1951 in Paris,  AGI is a professional association of over 500 leading graphic artists and designers from 40 countries across the globe.

AGI president, Nikki Gonnissen says it was due to the situation between the US and Mexico that designers from both countries decided to collaborate for this year's congress.

She adds: "Not in America as one might expect, but in Mexico. They also bravely chose for the central theme of 'el otro lado/the other side' – a hard-to-miss reference to the tense political relationship between Mexico and North America. There is an unfounded bias towards Mexico fueled by a president that has made it his personal mission to build an actual wall between countries and people, between cultures and between ideas. AGI Open in Mexico shows that we wholeheartedly believe that people have more in common than they differ. I strongly believe that in our differences lie our strength. But in order to re-emphasise this notion we need to be in constant dialogue.”

This year's conference, which takes place later this month, picks up from last year's theme "borderless" which was a direct response to increasingly nationalist politics across Europe, the UK and the EU.

Some of the speakers from last year's conference included co-founder of Dalton Maag, Bruno Maag; graphic design educator Lucille Tenazass; transmedia artist April Greiman and Lance Wyman who famously designed the identy for the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.

For Gonnissen an important part of her work since taking on the AGI presidency is to build on the expertise of those who came before her, broke down barriers and introduced new perspectives.  

“Since taking on the presidency of AGI I have made it my mission to make sure that AGI's relevance would be guaranteed for the next generation and I truly feel that the way to do that is by making sure we have a stance in the world. My presidency has very much been about involving everybody, all cultures and different generations. A plurality of views is necessary for any democracy …to make sure there is also room for the minority point of view, ideas and values.”

She says that having a clear vision and working with fixed themes (heritage, education, social issues and new technologies) has given AGI a clear purpose and a sense of direction that will ensure its relevance into the future.

But being relevant, especially with a field of design that transcends language, is also about building a diverse membership. 

“Inside AGI we represent not only designers from the western world (Europe and the USA) or only Japan and China in the East. We have made it our business to make sure that we explore new territory and encourage emerging countries such as India, Korea, Brazil and Mexico to join us.”

She adds that when it comes to African designers, “I am speechless and words fail me. AGI has never been in Africa and we have no members of this enormous, wonderful continent. But it’s definitely our greatest wish to have a complete and rich assembly of members truly forming all the colours of the rainbow.” 

After Mexico this month, the next AGI will be a smaller version of the larger conference, which will take place in Pune in India this November while the next annual AGI Open will be in the Netherlands next year.

Read more: 

Brazilian Graphic Designer Elaine Ramos among the speakers at AGI Open 2019 

Selva Hernandez on design and independent book publishing in Mexico

Sebastian Gier's futuristic Xplore project nominated for Dezeen Award