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Spreading Wings: from the Guild to the ico-D Board

Posted by Guest on October 24, 2017

by Lara Kisielewska

The Graphic Artists Guild’s Advocacy Liaison Rebecca Blake was elected to the ico-D Executive Committee October 16th and will serve as International Treasurer. It’s the culmination of years of work; Blake has been the Guild’s representative to ico-D since 2007. She also became directly involved with ico-D, first by serving on the organization’s Audit Committee, and later by heading their National Design Policy workgroup. I interviewed Blake to ask why she sees ico-D as being an important part of the Guild’s portfolio of activity.  


Q: What is ico-D and how did the Guild first get involved?

Ico-D is the International Council of Design, a global umbrella organization for design associations, which constitute its professional membership. Essentially, it’s an association of other organizations around the globe that are like the Guild. When we first joined ico-D in 2007, the organization was called icograda – they changed their name in 2014. We had a provisional membership in 2006, and in 2007 were invited to join for full membership.

Q: Why was it important for the Guild to join?

At that time, the Guild’s executive director and National President felt it was important for the Guild to become involved internationally, since increasingly so many of the issues our members were facing were global – spec practices, infringement, and the commoditization of design and illustration. Icograda (or ico-D) supports raising the awareness and value of design, as well as best practices. That includes being solidly anti-spec. It was a foregone conclusion that we would join them, so the Guild board voted to pursue membership. I was asked to attend the General Assembly where the Guild was welcomed to full membership as the Guild’s representative. That was in Havana, Cuba, in 2007 – of course I said yes!

Q: Ico-D seems to meet all around the globe. Where else have you attended their meetings? 

The General Assemblies (basically in-person membership meetings) take place in different regions so that members from different parts of the globe have the opportunity to play host. I’ve been to General Assemblies in Cuba, Beijing, China, Tapei, Taiwan, Montréal, Canada (twice!), and Gwangju, Korea. Usually the General Assemblies are associated with larger design conferences, which are often organized so that the member delegates can visit local exhibitions, do studio tours, and visit design institutions. It’s a fascinating peek into the design sector in the host country. 

ico-d meeting materials

At ico-D General Assemblies, representatives sit in order of country (and sometimes that place setting includes cool swag!).

Q: How does ico-D membership benefit the Guild?

The travel is a lovely side benefit, but it’s icing on the cake. The crucial thing we get out of ico-D membership is a global perspective on what’s happening in our industry. That’s why I agreed to head the National Design Policy workgroup. It has entailed hours and hours of work, but the perspective I gleaned from it was invaluable, and it’s information the Guild board can use in formulating a more nuanced response to policy and issues. 

For example, one of my ico-D colleagues from Indonesia has spoken quiet openly about the struggles her design association has had in educating local designers on how detrimental speculative practices are. In her country, designers can and do earn a decent living from logo mills and crowd-sourcing platforms – exactly the business practices that are driving down the earning power of US designers and illustrators. Her struggle is in communicating what a zero-sum game speculative practices are for designers in her country; that business model consistently drives wages lower and lower, and eventually designers in her country will be struggling to make ends meet from those platforms as well.

Q: So what made you decide to run for the ico-D board?

It wasn’t anything I ever thought I’d do. Many of the ico-D board members are quite accomplished and well recognized; I’m a very average designer for the United States. But I realized the Guild has given me some experience that will be valuable to ico-D. The Guild is really involved in “in-the-trenches” advocacy work – working on legislative issues and policy in a way many other associations in other countries aren’t, just because of how the political structure in the United States leads to activist associations. 

On top of that, I had been on ico-D’s Audit Committee for three years. (That’s a committee that reports back to the membership of ico-D on how the organization’s finances are being managed.) When the Treasurer’s slot opened, I thought I might run for it, since the Audit Committee experience has given me a lot of insight into ico-D’s finances. I contacted some of the ico-D leadership to ask what they thought, and spoke with the Guild’s National President and Executive Committee. They were all very encouraging, so I decided to run.

ico-D board 2017-2019

ico-D 2017-2019 Board: (left to right) Jonathon Strebly (President Elect – Canada), Tyra von Zweigberk (Secretary – Sweden), Rebecca Blake (USA – Treasurer), ZInna Nizar (Vice President – Indonesia), Daniela Piscetelli (Vice President – Italy –), Zachary Haris Ong (President – Malaysia), David Grossman (Immediate Past President – Israel), Cihangir Istek (Vice President – Japan), Desmond Laubscher (Vice President – South Africa), and Ziyuan Wang (Vice President – China)

Q: What do you hope your involvement on the ico-D board will bring to the Guild?

First of all, I hope it continues to give us that valuable global perspective, particularly on speculative practices. We need to engage respectfully with our international peers to understand the cultural differences in how designers run their businesses. Secondly, there really needs to be a unified voice from the international design sector to counter how technology is being used to degrade our industry – by facilitating infringement, by creating platforms that legitimize detrimental business practices such as spec work, and by eroding the respect for copyrights. I’m hoping that ico-D becomes a platform for the Guild to unite with other design associations in educating on best practices.

Also, being able to meet with other design associations and share war stories and advice is just invaluable. We’re all struggling with how to engage our members, reach out to new members, revive our mission, and strategize to keep up with change. Hearing how other associations are struggling makes us feel less alone in our struggles. And hearing how other associations are thriving gives us a model on how we can grow and evolve.

Lastly, hearing about what graphic artists – designers and illustrators – are contending with in other countries gives us a heads-up on issues we have to keep an eye on. It helps us think proactively about what our members are going through, and devise creative ways to serve them.

Q: So what’s the future for the Guild and ico-D?

Hopefully it will continue to be a long and fruitful relationship! Since I’m now on the ico-D board, someone else from the Guild board needs to step up to the plate to be the rep to ico-D. We have a number of people on the Guild National Board interested in doing so – some relatively new, some seasoned Board members, and all people I think very highly of. As for how involved that rep will be, it’s really up to them. Chances are that they won’t be asked to run a work group as a new representative – there’s a lot to learn when you first get involved with ico-D. But in my experience, if you jump in, there is so much to get out of it, both for the Guild and personally. 

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