Friday, 10:15am
20 September 2019

Work in progress in Rotterdam

AGI’s international president Dean Poole (New Zealand) talks about the ambitions of ‘In Progress’, this year’s AGI Open, 24 September 2019

Established in 2010 by the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) – a network of graphic designers that spans 43 nations – AGI Open is an annual, student-focused conference designed to share ideas with students and the local design community, writes Dean Poole.

While recent conferences have taken place in Mexico City, Paris, Seoul, Biel / Bienne, and São Paulo, this year’s AGI Open, ‘In Progress’, takes place in Europe’s busiest port city, Rotterdam in the Netherlands. While the title reflects the uncertainty of contemporary times it is also reflective of the optimism common to all good designers. Design is an optimistic act and designers are interested in progress. If it could be better, it should be better.

Nikki Gonnissen, co-founder of Dutch design group Thonik and former AGI international president, on stage at AGI Open São Paulo, 2014.
Top. ‘In Progress’ identity designed by Netherlands chapter of AGI.


Designer James Brown at AGI Open Mexico City, 2018.


Based in ten locations in Rotterdam’s Katendrecht, ‘In Progress’ encourages acts of making, thinking and collaborating in a new festival-style format. AGI’s Netherlands-based organisers headed by Max Kisman take the view that multiple smaller experiences can be richer than a single linear event. The small venues are varied in type, and include bookshops, cafes and a tattoo studio. Within them, 60 speakers – including Ariane Spanier, Lex Reitsma and PARKC’s Karin van der Heiden – will lead talks and workshops that respond to the concerns of a younger generation of designers. Exploring topical themes such as humanising technology, world issues, and how aesthetics are influenced by time, culture and thought. Talk titles range from the potentially heretical (‘God is not a Coder’), to practical (‘Twenty-first-century Publishing’), societal (‘Splash Activism’) and cultural, with a series of talks showcasing design voices from China, Brazil and South Korea. This being the Netherlands, no programme would be complete without broaching the topics of ‘tattoo stories’ and ‘beer design’.

Detail of Hansje van Halem’s lettering for the Lowlands Festival, designed in collaboration with Just van Rossum, 2018. See ‘Strategy of excess’ in Eye 98.


Installation view of ‘Found Abstracts’ by Na Kim, 2011.


The optimism of design is inherent in any inter-generational and cross-cultural transfer of knowledge. AGI strives to show that great design transcends languages, borders and time; that design as a skill base can make sense of the world today. If today’s progress is yesterday’s plan, then AGI Open events are an important step in equipping designers with the ability to create a continuum between past and future.

Illustration by Brian Rea for the ‘Modern Love’ column in the New York Times.


Below. Book cover for The Modern Arabic Book: Design as an Agent of Cultural Progress designed and written by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, 2017.


Dean Poole, designer, AGI international president, Auckland

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.