Introduction to the 2007 European Design Annual

A Scotsman, a German, and a Swede walk into a design magazine
office—you know how this one goes, don’t you? They judge an
invitational competition that includes work from all over Europe, from
countries and firms big and small, and shake it down till only the best
are left standing. It’s a riot! Our 2007 judges—Julia
Hasting (originally from Germany), Toby Southgate (a recent arrival from
Scotland), and Jakob Trollbäck (the Swede recently showcased in the
Cooper-Hewitt museum’s Design Triennial)—made it a focused
but friendly event. Trollbäck, in particular, is a pun-mad cutup
prone to statements like “We saw Turkey and we got Hungary.”

Judging took place over a coffee-fueled day that included some
confirmations of long-held preferences (nice work from Switzerland and
the Netherlands), surprises (the impressive strength of Slovenia), an
unexpectedly erotic theme (“What’s going on with Poland?
Everything’s sexual,” said a bemused Trollbäck), and
frustration when crucial context was absent from an entry (or that it
was an inadequate reproduction)—not to mention the occasional
appearance of Hasting’s fetching baby daughter.

Aside from
different languages, there was little indication of where the pieces had
originated, with a few exceptions—perhaps due to the influence of
the evolving EU, or a continuation of the trends in global economics.
Still, as Southgate noted, “I don’t agree with the idea that
‘European design’ is all strong; there are massive
distinctions.” In any case, good design speaks for itself, and the
judges reached consensus quickly in almost every case. “Work that
was selected tended to appeal across the board, which you would
expect,” Southgate said. “Removing the subjective element,
principles of design and layout will always apply and will always

Some firms were especial standouts. “Norway
surprised me with [Oslo firm] Yokoland,” said Hasting, adding,
“but that’s not the country, that’s the studio.”
Sweden’s Gabor Palotai Design was another group favorite:
“Best of show,” Trollbäck said happily. All the judges
expressed disappointment that firms from traditionally strong players
like Germany, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and France
hadn’t elected to submit work up to their usual standards. As for
the work that wasn’t selected, as Southgate observed, “There
were some pieces that were almost too well produced; they were
very corporate.” One entry was embarrassingly Escher-derivative;
another just had too much type; in one case, the judges elected not to
reward the designer, as Trollbäck put it, “just because he
learned how to use the blur in Photoshop.” Southgate summed up the
remainders: “We wanted to be challenged, and nothing really
stopped us in our tracks and made us say ‘Wow.’” For
the ones that did, check out the May/June issue of Print.