AIGA: Unjustified

AIGA’s “Justified” competition will select examples of good design that are also described in terms of their effectiveness in meeting the client’s objectives. Entries will be judged based on their design attributes and also how well a short case is made on their effectiveness in a clear, compelling and accessible way. A discerning and qualified jury will identify submissions that serve as an effective tool to explain design’s value to clients, students, peers and the public in general.

The text above introduces a new annual design competition from the AIGA called “Justified.” It replaces AIGA’s previous annual competition, “365,” and means the elimination of its only other competition, the 90-year-old “50 Books/50 Covers.” Book design will become part of the new “Justified” competition, and like all other entries, will be judged on “effectiveness.”

How are entrants asked to present the case for effectiveness? They are required to present a “client brief and overview of market;” a description of “project challenges;” the project’s strategy, including “ideas and implementation for satisfying the brief within the context of the challenges and market demands;” and an assessment of the work’s effectiveness (“Why does your client consider the project a success? Why do you consider it successful? Include metrics and client quotes when possible.”) In the event that entrants find these demands daunting, they are further directed to “The Living Principles for Design,” the manifesto initiated by AIGA to encourage integrated sustainability in creative practices. There follow questions like, “Whether or not it was a client mandate, did you consider the environmental impact of your project?” and references to “ROI, increased sales or even money saved,” “households reached, page views, tweets, Facebook friends, strategic media placement, coupons redeemed,” “energy conservation or offsets, using recycled or otherwise sustainable materials, selecting an alternate delivery mechanism that removes the need for materials (i.e. a web banner instead of a direct mail campaign), or otherwise reducing, reusing and recycling.” Finally: “Can your solution extend beyond the target audience? Does it have an impact on the culture at large? This may mean broad media coverage, viral distribution, and even being admired and imitated.” Imagine that: being admired! Respondents are required to limit their answers to no more than 1,800 words for each entry. (By way of comparison, the Gettysburg Address is 270 words).

If you are still awake, did you notice that words like beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration are nowhere to be found?

This has been a long time in the making. Last year, AIGA attempted to cancel 50 Books/50 Covers. They were taken aback by the resulting protest and the 50 Books competition survived, barely, only to be mowed down again this year by the AIGA board, led by its new president Doug Powell. The major argument for canceling 50 Books seems to be that books are, or should be, an endangered species because the world is digital, and actual books, by their mere existence, encourage cutting down trees and are counter to “The Living Principles.” Also, presumably many board members felt that the endangered species of books was getting undue attention. 50 Books was, after all, the only other existing AIGA competition except for the all-inclusive 365, which has served for a number of years as the show for everything else that constitutes graphic design other than books. The 50 Books competition will now carry on under the auspices of Design Observer and Designers and Books continuing the on-going trend of the privatization of design competitions. (Can you imagine the AIA passing its most historic competition program over to, say, Metropolis?)

Based on the criteria of AIGA’s Justified competition, the posters of Armin Hofmann (above) and the jackets of  Push Pin Group’s Graphic (below) would not qualify

Push Pin Graphic covers

So AIGA approaches its one hundredth anniversary with a single, online competition, “Justified.” And I ask: what is the justification for this?

It used to be different. AIGA held many different competitions — large and small, general and specialized, annuals and one-offs — back in the day when its headquarters were in a modest windowless space on Third Avenue in Manhattan, and these continued when it moved to its current home on Fifth Avenue. For years there was an annual illustration competition called the Mental Picture; its goal was to demonstrate the power of illustrators as authors. There were shows that demonstrated album cover art and entertainment design, sports design, information design, design for issues and causes, and photography. In 1982, a landmark competition and exhibit called “Just Type” predicted trends in approaches to typography that would dominate the rest of the decade. And each year there was the big omnibus show called Communication Graphics that featured corporate and institutional design, logos and identities, promotion, annual reports, posters, and really everything not served in other competitions.

The CG show, as it was known, was the big moneymaking show for AIGA. But the 50 Books competition was in many ways the most esteemed of all. First held in 1923 when the organization itself was not yet ten years old, 50 Books has always been a direct link to the days of AIGA founder William A. Dwiggins, the pioneer of typography and master of book design who coined the term “graphic design” and argued passionately for the quest for excellence in the profession that he named. This was the soul of the AIGA.

The goal of all these AIGA competitions was to make visible the best and most innovative work in American graphic design. The audience for the competitions was designers and anyone else who might be interested. The goal was to raise the bar of the practice and to inspire designers to make better work through the examples of their peers. “Better work” here was not directly related to sales or a quantifiable success for the client. Better work meant the elevation of the expectation of what the design could be. That could encompass anything: intelligent messaging, beauty, wit, surprise, materials, stylistic breakthroughs, maximum impact from a minimal budget, social consciousness, environmental awareness. Ideally, each competition would highlight the best crafted, most intelligent, most innovative work in any given area, based on who entered the competition.

There have always been many complaints about these kinds of competitions in general. Work that was awarded tended to be pro bono assignments, or personal promotion pieces, or in other areas where a client didn’t interfere much. There might be a lot of work that wouldn’t immediately — or perhaps ever — have a measurable effect in the marketplace. It could be dismissed as “design for designers.” But consider, for example, the posters of this year’s AIGA Medalist, Armin Hoffman; only initially seen by several hundred Swiss townspeople, they are still influential today. The same could be said for the Push Pin Graphic, a studio promotion piece that influenced three generations of illustrators and designers. Can one doubt the significance of these seemingly irrelevant pieces, which first gained wide exposure in competitions? So many of America’s most visible, successful, influential, and admired designers working today cut their teeth on dumb promotion pieces that they designed for designers, and that were first seen by their community at AIGA competitions.

Pro-bono work, personal projects, professional promotion, and any work without marketplace concerns always allows for more risk taking. That’s why so many of us with serious commercial design practices engage in this kind of work whenever we can. It gives us an opportunity to experiment, to ask questions, even to fail, but to raise the expectation of what design can be.

“Justified” changes the goals of AIGA’s only remaining competition. The goal of the new competition is not to inspire the design community to better design, but to “explain design’s value to clients, students, peers and the general public” by “justifying” the work. The justification is part of what is being judged.

I’ll just come straight out and say it: if educating clients is the goal here, this competition probably won’t achieve it’s goal, and moreover may have bad consequences for the designer who hopes to enlighten their clients about the “value” of design. While clients enjoy finding out that something they were involved in won a competition, they never make business decisions based that and will more often than not state that they are not in business to win awards. If the hope here is that a client will see actual proof that a specific design made money for a business, and if that client is, indeed, impressed by it, then the likely outcome is that the client will want to replicate the very same thing with adjustments to suit their particular circumstances. Should that be a desired outcome of a design competition? It simply reinforces design solutions that have already been proven successful. It promotes what already exists. It does not raise the expectation of what the design can be.

If the goal here is to educate students, peers, and the public about “design’s value,” we’d all be better off buying everyone a copy of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. But if we want to educate people with a design competition, the criteria for this one is simply wrong-headed.

Let’s start with the “strategy” criteria. Relating a logical and productive strategy is important to persuading clients to do the right thing. It can help make a group of decision makers behave more constructively in the design process, but it doesn’t insure an interesting design result. Serious design, design that makes breakthroughs, design that inspires, is often a result of accidents, personal obsessions of the designer, and that designer’s intuition, determination, arrogance, and naivety. Great design solutions often fly in the face of logical explanations, even when the designer provides one.

The best article I’ve read on design rationale was published on Design Observer by my own partner Michael Bierut, and was aptly entitled, “On (Design) Bullshit.” I would never underestimate the benefits and import of bullshit — I sling it well myself — but judging design work by the quality of the designer’s bullshit as required in this criteria seems pointless. If the work is terrific the bullshit is irrelevant. If the work isn’t terrific, but the jury is moved by the entrant’s arguments, it demonstrates the dangers of bullshit. Is this something we want to encourage? If we want to educate students and peers shouldn’t the jury be writing why the design is terrific, not the entrant? If the AIGA wants to make a special competition on bullshit, I’d welcome it. The competitors could select one of three designs for three different companies and write a rationale for them. The most persuasive bullshit would win.

The “Effectiveness” criteria are scarier. It’s rare that clients and designers will totally agree on what makes a design successful. That’s because, for the most part, clients and their audiences are most comfortable with things that already exist. Relying on sales as a demonstration of success or popular response as a criteria ensures a predictable mediocrity. It’s counter to AIGA’s goals toward better design.

There is a form of design that I sometimes refer to as “solemn” as opposed to” serious.” It is work that is well-crafted, solves a problem, pleases a client and an audience, makes money or increases market share, but breaks absolutely no new ground. It’s not bad work, just expected work. I make it all the time because often it is the most responsible way to approach a design challenge. But I know when I’m doing it and why. Designing something that is comfortably recognizable for a client makes them feel secure enough to make an investment in it. It may even raise the bar a little bit in that the details are professionally achieved, or it pushes a category into a more visually sophisticated space. It’s incremental improvement. I am personally proud of this high level, professional, solemn work and respectful of others who accomplish it, especially in difficult markets. I will show it and I’ll talk about it. In fact, this sort of work fulfills all the criteria of the “Justified” competition to the letter. But it is mediocre work. It is excellently executed, expected work, not innovative work. There should be discussions about it, a maybe a special show for it, but not AIGA’s ONLY show. Because we, the design community, will learn absolutely nothing from the winners.

And this is what’s wrong with the premise and criteria of this show. It advocates for what already exists. It will demonstrate what we already know. It does not raise the expectation of what design can be. It is anti-creative, it is anti-innovative, and it is deliberately so. Innovative things are sometimes financial failures. Innovative things may miss their target audiences. They take time to become influential in the mainstream, just like Armin Hoffman’s posters did. Those posters couldn’t get into this show based on the criteria. And we, the members of AIGA, are the losers. We give up what makes us great.

The AIGA membership never believes that their clients respect them. Maybe they don’t. But it seems pointless to deny our own special irrational creativity and intuition in order to try to gain that respect. When we try to behave like our clients we give up our own special difference.  We give up the thing they admire us for and are often jealous of. We give up the reason they need to hire us. When we cut creativity, and innovation as a primary goal out of the criteria of AIGA’s last remaining competition, in order to prove our “value” to clients, we not only lose our opportunity to learn and our capacity to grow,  we also lose our souls.

Paula Scher is a partner at Pentagram and a member of the AIGA.

 


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191 thoughts on “AIGA: Unjustified

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  3. Jason Pamental

    Hi Rob-
    I do completely agree that seeing/thinking/problem-solving is of paramount importance, and I would likewise hire on curiousity and problem-solving over rote knowledge (which can be learned) – but my issue with the way we teach design is that we are teaching problem-solving based on skills with an inherent print bias – because that’s what the teachers (or at least many of them) know. All the projects have to do with (generally) putting something up on a wall to critique, and the generally means that the students take time to learn how to mock things up – out of paper. The reason I think learning about interaction, HTML & CSS is so critical is that without understanding the medium, your capability to innovate and problem-solve is inherently diminished. So while I don’t want design school to devolve into a vocational endeavor (for print or for web), there must be some grounding in these avenues in order to have horizons broad enough to see/think/problem solve in a truly holistic way.
    Honestly I’m not entirely sure of what shape this would take in the context of a 4-year program, but I personally experienced a very strong combination of teaching myself HTML starting the same semester I begain my first class in Graphic Design. Learning those things toghether was tremendously beneficial. I suspect that if there were an elective or two on interaction design and web-standards-based HTML & CSS in the 2nd year it would really help lay valuable grounddwork for further exploration as the student reaches their 3rd and 4th years of more advanced thinking.

  4. Tushar

    As a designer, I’d read the last two paragraphs of this article and skip the rest, as I think that is sufficient to get the point across, especially when it comes from Paula Scher. This is not to say that there is any structural issue with this article, I just don’t need that much of an explanation. I’m going to pull out the dusty Armin Hoffman book from my bookshelf now.

  5. Rob Henning

    These discussions often seem to devolve to one–or more–people who stupidly feel justified in making personal insults. I feel compelled to come to the defense of Kenneth FitzGerald. Well, come to think of it, I have no doubt that Kenneth can defend himself. So I will only say the following. Kenneth’s comments, whether one agrees with them or not, do not seem to be born out of sour grapes any more than do any other comments on this forum. By accusing Kennth of sour grapes, Mr. Baker is merely being intentionally insulting. It comes as no surprise to me that Eric Baker would be so openly insulting, but his insults add nothing of value, interest, or substance to this discussion.

  6. eric baker


    Kenneth FitzGerald:
     
    ONE hot summer’s day a Fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of Grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the things to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”
     

    Æsops Fables.
    The Fox and the Grapes

  7. Rob Henning

    Jason Pamental: Your assertion that every designer should come out of school knowing CSS, HTML, etc. Is one way to look at it. The other way is that designers should come out of school having learned the fundamentals of how to think, see, and solve problems. They can learn all that technical stuff–CSS, HTML, 4-Color printing, what have you–on the job. I tend to lean towards this other approach myself. FIrst, it has been exactly my experience. I graduated design school a long time ago, but I feel that my education taught me the core skills of thinking, seeing, and problem solving. I understood almost nothing about 4-color printing when I graduated in 1982. Somehow, though, I have managed to make a handsome living as a designer ever since. Four-color printing I learned. Now, I know the world of design has changed a lot since 1982, and my own shcool experience may not exactly apply. But, it is also my impression that design students are too wrapped up in playing with technology and not enough concerned with the fundamentals of problem solving. I say this having, in the past, taught in the design school at Carnegie Mellon University. It was my impression there that focus on, and struggling with, technology was a distraction for many students–preventing them from really learning how to solve problems. Given the choice between two graduates: one who knows how to think, see, and solve problems (but isn’t so good with HTML, etc.) and another who does know HTML, etc., inside out (but isn’t so good at thinking, seeing, solving) I’d lay odds that the former is the one with higher potential to become a great designer. So, if AIGIA is going to lead in helping shape our profession, and therefore influence educators in how to educate future designers, I would personally hope for more emphasis on the seeing/thinking/solving skills and less on the technical skills. Of course, one way to promote the importance of the essential core skills is to recognize, promote, and publish work that exemplifies these skills.

  8. Dana Arnett

    Sometime in the last century, the idea of “marketing effectiveness” emerged from a relatively dusty corner of the business-school curriculum to become an industry in and of itself. In its ascension, ROI also became a business craze — a form of corporate measurement and self-help in which weak performance could be miraculously healed by applying quantifiable metrics to measurable results. Other evangelists preached, “own a brand” and you own something just as valuable as the product or service you’re trying to sell. And while it’s true that any savvy business professional can measure, quantify, and justify effectiveness, you can’t make people believe in value until they recognize and experience it. If AIGA could only realize the merit of this simple distinction, it would be hard to ever imagine design in any other context than being effective. Paul Rand once shared this thought on the designer’s role and responsibility, “Providing meaning to a mass of unrelated needs, ideas, words and pictures — it is the designer’s job to select and fit this material together and make it interesting.”  This ideology helped companies like IBM understand the real value of engaging a designer by having them think, create and contribute on the larger strategic level. Rand’s elevated view also cleared the way for designers and organizations to realize design’s catalytic force to inspire change, accelerate competitive metabolism, create irresistible marketplace attraction and fulfill a greater state of enterprise potential.Like many of his 20th century design contemporaries, Rand began what would become an unprecedented run of design’s higher purpose. Whether he knew it or not, he was “justifying” design’s worth. That’s a much bigger deal than simply delivering results or pushing more products out the door. But at the very heart of his success and all the fruitful outcomes, was an equally significant force… creativity. For two of his most cherished CEO clients, Thomas Watson Jr. and Steve Jobs, creating meaning and reaping the rewards of ROI was never about selling more stuff.  To be clear, the best of us concluded design is far more than mere decoration long before AIGA decided its latest competition required a newly flavored “justification” standard. From my perspective, if we want our work to be justifiably measured and rewarded for effectiveness, I would much rather the design community enter more visible and proven competitions like the Effie Awards. As AIGA puts all its competition eggs into the “justified basket,” it risks the organization being viewed as a poser versus a player. This new competition directive implies the organization is actually qualified and credible enough to judge ROI, environmental impact, economic return, audience effectiveness, etc., etc. Is this something AIGA can actually justify?But is this really the point?Because most of us are dreamers, we believe in the countless virtues of design: its power to differentiate, inspire curiosity, sharpen human understanding, shape our perceptions, and inevitably, make the world more beautiful. So is design something artful? Something practical? Something profitable? All of the above, I think. The debate about design’s role and worth will rage on for years to come, and not because AIGA’s current instinct is to include more rather than less. What all this tells me, even more loudly than before, is the urgent need for AIGA to agree on a game plan that we can live by, and not just live with.  Sure, we’ll still question how much is too much, but directionally we aren’t on the same page and that’s a scary place to be.  A good place to start would be to focus the energy of AIGA’s 22,000 members on an agenda that we know well — one that celebrates what we do best and what our world desperately needs more of. Great design.Ah, but that would be too simple for idealists like us.

  9. Howard Stein

    @Pablo, we are not even remotely in a post graphic design era where anyone can do it. What are you talking about? The users of new technology have some toys they can play with. So what. You can’t download a trained eye!
     
    @Jason, well said, any designer who ignores new technology is not doing due diligence to the marketplace.
     
    @Paula, fabulous job, Parts I and II, done with grit and ladylike restraint. Don’t know how you kept your hat on.

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  11. Jason Pamental

    Hi Pablo - 
    I think this only underscores the need to be able to communicate effectively about what we do as designers and what impact it can/will/does have on our clients (read: we have to understand, evaluate and present the metrics that prove the value). That’s part of what I think the ‘new design’ is and should be. We need to understand our own work in the context of its use and impact on and for our clients, and be able to put it into words. What we do still provides value; we just have to focus on the higher-value work and thinking that is beyond the 99-designs type of ‘everyone can do it’ reality. Good designers are still getting work – but we have to stay on our toes, keep learning and pushing the boundaries of our own limitations, and above all – understand what we do, the value it brings and be able to communicate that to our clients and employers.

  12. Jason Pamental

    Paula, and all the other commenters – thank you. I’ve been thoroughly incensed, inspired, put off and fired up.
    First – I’ll admit. I do think the AIGA in its current form is in fact fairly irrelevant – at least to me. I’ve been working as a web designer, developer, creative director, technologist, user experience professional and general design fanboy since 1994. But last year, I (for the first time) joined AIGA. Not because I saw a value for myself in the AIGA as it was/is – but as others have said, because I realized that it would never be relevant if I didn’t step up and help it become so. So when I was asked to become part of the board in Rhode Island, I sent in my dues and said yes. I’d say that to anyone: nothing changes unless you help change it.
    With regard to ‘Justified’ – I’m in agreement with Paula. The biggest takeaway from school for me was the requirement to write a paper (even a few paragraphs) about every project, explaining the decisions made and directions taken. That has informed me as much as my clients for the past 20 years, and when I teach, I require the same. We should all be able to fill out the paperwork required by this competition because if we can’t relate what we do for our clients to outcomes, we’re not doing our job. But that’s not a good basis for a design competition.
    The fundamental purpose of design is two things: to communicate ideas and influence behavior. If we cannot communicate that ourselves, we’re failing as designers and we’re failing to serve our clients.
    So – yes, we should be able to fill out the forms. But those are skills that should be taught in school. We should all be able to do that. But Marc, with greatest respect to you and your work, I think that ‘Justified’ is a terrible name, and a concept that implies that we’ve already lost. If we have to constantly justify ourselves to our clients to try and convince them to respect us then we’ve already lost. If we have to to prove to ourselves that the work that we did ultimately provided value then we’ve already lost. I _DO_ think most of my clients respect me. Because in the course of my relationship with them, I am constantly educating them about the decisions I’m making and helping them come along on a journey to better outcomes. If that respect doesn’t develop I’m not doing my job or I’m working for the wrong client, and that relationship should come to an end. Of course we have to have, know and study business metrics. Because what we do must communicate ideas and influence behavior – so it’s our job to study outcomes as much as it is to influence them.
    I don’t want to participate in a competition that is all about what I should already be doing in the first place. I want to participate in a competition (and more importantly – VIEW ONE) that inspires. The paperwork is interesting, but anecdotal. Truly great design will by definition tick those boxes, but must also stand on its own as a fantastic work of aesthetics and communication. The paperwork bits should be getting taught in school.
    But that last point brings me back to ‘where the problem starts in the first place’ – design school. Sadly, the issue of relevance I have with AIGA pales in comparison to how woefully broken our design schools still seem to be. Why are we still not teaching designers about business? About psychology? Why is it optional to learn about interaction, HTML, CSS and other web-related standards? We expect students to know how 4 colors of ink go down on paper, how to buy velum and print on it, how to carefully create our own die cuts to simulate expensive printing processes, yet balk at requiring them to understand the medium in which every single one of them will have to work eventually: on the web. We still make distinctions about ‘designers’ and ‘web designers’. With the former being all that 99% of the schools out there are capable of producing. Every student should come out of design school with as much knowledge about the basics of the web and how HTML/CSS works as they know about 4-color printing. That’s why, in reviewing the work of graduating seniors at RISD, I found two students whose work showed even the remotest sensitivity to interaction design and the web. Thats it: just two. It’s not to say that there were not other talented seniors, but I suspect that we’d all have a hard time finding a job for each of them (just from that one class) that will not require that they design for mediums other than those on paper.
    If the AIGA is going to become relevant, it needs to inspire and lead. That leadership must be in a direction that is relevant now and 10 years from now (which is why I lobbied so hard for responsive design in our new web architecture). It has to represent what design is now and what it will be – and that is indeed a tall order, because ‘what design is’ has changed quite a lot in the past 20 years. But if the AIGA doesn’t help show where the profession is, and where it’s going – the schools will not follow. And we’ll be left trying to ‘Justify’ ourselves TO ourselves and our clients for the next 20 years or more.
    Thanks for the discourse – I look forward to more of it! (And also – Eric G. – I applaud your honesty and likewise hope that this serves as a reminder that ordinary should not be the norm!)

  13. Paula Scher

    Marc and really everyone,
    Here is the irony.  If you go to the AIGA website now you will read a letter from Ric Grefe talking about the changes at AIGA.  AIGA has accomplished research about competitions etc.and has determined what it’s membership seems to want based on contemporary business conditions.  in his letter Ric is “justifying” the new direction AIGA has taken, and has said that the AIGA has not abandoned inspiration and innovation but that this will best be served by “Design Envy” a regularly curated posting of design on the AIGA website by it’s membership.
    Everything that AIGA has accomplished here,based on the research, are rather signifigant changes: no publishing what-so-ever, the canceling of 50 books and 365, leaving a sole competition that relies on a variety of metrics to “prove” design’s value to clients and peers,  the repurposing of the Gain Conference to a “Public Good” symposium, and the (heretofore unmentioned) diminishment of inspirational content at AIGA National conferences.
    All of these changes are direct responses to the research AIGA carried out.  I see corporations and institutions conduct this sort of research all the time and make similar kinds of decisions.  Then they fail. AIGA’s responses make sense based on the research, and every decision they made can probably be justified in the short term.  Except, we are destroying the brand.  Because when we take the creativity and innovation out of AIGA and make it about “quantifiable design value,” and when we don’t publish regularly to demonstrate our authority, and when design discourse within the organization is all but disappeared, (and lots of people seemed amazingly threatened about it occurring here,)  then DMI is a better organization for business, the Art Directors and Type Director’s Club are more inspirational and better if you still like to compete and see what’s going on, and there all of the other blogs that do what “Design Envy” does. We’ve left ourselves with no definable position because we have lost sight of our founding goals, our original brand mission.
    The role of the designer is often to provide an outsider’s form of insight and observation that cannot be provided by inside group think and quantification.  We can design because we can observe. Let’s operate as designers help AIGA save it’s brand.
    I thought Chis Simmons ideas on his own blog post were terrific.  

  14. Christopher Simmons

    But Marc, Paula and her contemporaries who have posted here are all still practicing. So even if it was “easier then” than it is now (which I suspect it was not) they share the same professional challenges today as you and I and every other designer. The designer of today inherits a profession defined by these enduring practitioners. Yes, it’s a changing profession. Not only have they adapted to those changes, they have provided leadership around them. This debate is but another example. It seems counterintuitive to dismiss the views of more experienced professionals simply on the basis that they have more experience.

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  16. Erik Schmitt

    Marc Levitt said: “Today’s designer — especially those who have not realized their full potential — faces a much different reality than designers in the past.”Is the implication here that Paula is old school and unaware of current trends? That she’s achieved success already, and can now ignore the brutal climate designers work within today? This is obviously not the case, as a review of her body of work will make clear. I think your laundry list of obstacles and issues that today’s designers face proves her point—in a climate like this, what we really need is to be inspired. To your question, why would submitting rationale behind the creative hurt? Because by heading down a path where the emphasis is placed on measuring our work as if it were some metrics-based scientific process, we may lose sight of what really matters: the raw creativity; and an emphasis on design that makes breakthroughs and that inspires us to continue doing culturally relevant work. It’s a valid concern and a major change in priorities that should be hotly debated.

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  18. Marc Levitt

    My studio helped the AIGA bring “Justified” to life. The AIGA had already decided to host only one competition when they came to us, and our role was to bring light to the competition by promoting the value and benefits of entering and winning to designers and clients alike. We felt that the name and the promotion of the competition itself must establish some gravitas and the word “Justified” seemed to do just that. This assignment was thrilling because we felt that there finally was a place where great thinking and results beyond just aesthetics could receive merit and justification. “Get Justified” could become a phrase to aspire to. Contrary to Paula’s opinion, great, innovative design is still a part of that equation, too. Yet, it seems that Paula is asking for things to remain the same, rather than change. Not surprisingly, many of her contemporaries’ echoed similar sentiments in the comments that followed. I can’t blame them, since things were easier then than they are today. Today’s designer — especially those who have not realized their full potential — faces a much different reality than designers in the past. Consider the realities: • the digital democratization of design via Macs with sophisticated, free software• a glut of unemployed designers underbidding each other on a race to the bottom• a historically high numbers of graphic design students graduating, also competing for projects• royalty-free (and often just plain free) artwork accessible from any computer• heavily-edited reality shows where contestants compete to design projects in one day• prevalence of websites offering rock-bottom priced logos ($19!) with endless rounds of revisions • crowd-sourcing websites such as 99 designs• a global marketplace where clients are no longer constrained by any geographical boundaries• a litigious society where tight contracts have replaced handshakes• the ability for clients to alter artwork in ways never seen before• social media providing instant opinion generation and crowd-sourced approval/disapproval• the ability to make changes to projects at later and later points in the process• fewer opportunities for studios to earn income on the handling and supervision of printing, photography, comps, etcAs an owner of a small studio, we grapple with these issues on a daily basis is the environment in which great work must rise above. Personally, I feel that it’s perfectly justifiable to have a design competition which attempts to acknowledge these harsh realities.Paula’s main thesis is that this competition will breed sub-par, yet well-argued work. I can’t imagine why submitting rationale behind the creative hurt. I remain optimistic. Perhaps, Paula, it may be best to reserve judgement until after the judges have had their say?

  19. Pingback: Justification for the AIGA’s Justified Competition

  20. Pingback: “Unjustified”, Part II — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers

  21. Pingback: Design Justified. « Denver Design and Marketing Agency Blog from Hero Design Studio

  22. Robb Smigielski

    Because I can’t help myself and because this whole thing reminds me of the glory days of Speak Up, I’ll riff on the topic some more. :)
    —-
    As far calling people out for branding AIGA irrelevant, that wasn’t directed at Paula particularly but a trend that appeared in several comments. This conversation has grown beyond reacting to Paula’s premise into a broader discussion of AIGA’s role and philosophy on recognizing the “best” of design. And it’s always my duty to remind everyone how much AIGA really is built from the bottom up. 
    —-
    Debbie. I agree on your well-defined point of intuition being trained pattern recognition. Really wasn’t speaking about intuition in the classic sense as a thing of mystery. But I don’t think that detail changes the two viewpoints of the argument being had. 
    One side implies that we can continue to rely on the “intuition” of proven leaders to determine good work from bad. In my mind, here’s still a troubling “know-it-when-we-see-it” mentality to that. I think it’s indisputable that the format rewards certain types of design. The dirty secret being that many designers and agencies enter alternate versions of real work that is more design minded as a means to gain appeal to jurors (quite common in the design categories of advertising shows). While this format has advantages and disadvantages, I don’t think it’s helping legitimize the value of great design to culture as a whole. Does that lead us to question whether design awards can ever help legitimize great design to the world? I’d to think the answer is yes. 
    The other side desires for awards to be less defined by the “tastemakers” purview and more about results, meaning and effectiveness. I don’t think these criteria at their heart are bad things to pursue. Perhaps we haven’t figured out how to express and ultimately judge them, but I think we must try. 
    To Ric’s point about the results of the mandate, people did ask for this. But as Armin pointed out, they are also reluctant to participate. I know my interest is not particularly passionate. Which begs the question, is this a clear example of people not being able to identify what they really want, but instead saying what they think they are supposed to say? The ongoing failure of data gathering as permission asking. 
    The grand experiment to inject business minded metrics into the competition system may completely fail because of this insight. As identified by the voices in this dialogue, it may be going too far. Paula accuses AIGA of having only one show with lopsided criteria as objectionable in it’s misguided objectivity. Ric points out there are actually plenty of other avenues in which work is being recognized beyond the official “competition.” 
    As a president of a local chapter, Kansas City, I see the competition system totally differently. I accept the traditional format with all its flaws because it works on a regional level very well. It raises money and creates a center of excellence that is entertaining, rewarding and connecting. It’s big with students for chance to win their first award. It’s big with agencies for it’s stewardship of the organization and the exposure the get to new student talent. 
    Do I think that it’s actually a barometer for what great work is or isn’t? Hell no. It’s flawed beyond belief. But it’s benefits outweigh it’s faults. So it’s not worth rocking the boat. 
    I’ll end with one last thought (indulge me, I think this topic is particularly fascinating). 
    My wife Jamie Gray asked this morning, “is there a point in merging business success metrics with an evaluation of good design in a competition? Doesn’t business already reward good business metrics? Perhaps the role of competitions is to champion the other?”
    An interesting thought, but one that leads to the potential of two practices of design. Are we okay with that?

  23. Kelly

    Of all the areas of agreement/disagreement, I’m struggling with the characterization that Paula’s article was “inflammatory” or a “personal attack.” Was honestly suprised by these reactions. Maybe the word “mow” rubs some people the wrong way or they connect it to mafia gunfights and not grass, but I definitely didn’t walk away with the sense that an attack or inflammatory language was made/used.

  24. David Cabianca

    [I posted this a couple days ago, but it still says "avaiting moderation" so I don't think it is otherwise going up, so I will post it again sans the URLs in my original post.]
     
    Wow.
     
    Arrvied late to the party, and only crashed it because I was looking up some archived columns in the Print magazine archive.
     
    I do understand the need for change, specifically, for the AIGA to evaluate where the profession is going. So I understand (but don’t agree with) the parameters of Justified. I would rather see a “both/and” attitude rather than “either/or.” The profession is (still) sufficiently diverse that a competition that celebrates making has merit. It is interesting to note that while the AIGA sees no reason for a 50 Books competition, such appreciation for the printed book is alive and well in Switzerland, Germany, France, Sweden, Belgium and now South Korea. (See the South Korean graphic design magazine, Graphic issue no. 19:  What a Beautiful Book Is: Best Book Competitions Issue.)
     
    We all have anecdotes, so please indulge me. I recently participated as a jury member for a student competition. It was an interesting experience, and in many ways exactly as Marian Bantjes described. All the jury members did their best to engage the work and if at any moment one of us needed additional information we pursued it. I was out voted quite a number of times on projects that I felt were quite exceptional, but were not of a certain strain of typographic minimalism, or put another way, many of my fellow jurors were abhorred by what may be described as an ornamented modernism.
     
    For good or bad, the catalogue to the competition will serve as the document of the event and the time it was produced. And my interests will simply be a minor history that was simply forgotten (or now, perhaps not). In my opinion, while the catalogue will not be a fully representative reflection of the diversity of submissions, it will still be reflective of excellent work. But without such records—flawed or not—a very significant portion of the discipline is stripped from our collective vocabulary. And when we don’t have the power of language, we lack the ability to express ourselves. Jonathan Hoefler’s story was a perfect example of the positive aspect of recognizing the accomplishments of our peers beyond simply a functionalist baseline. His example shows us what culture can do.
     
    (Oh, and props to Lorraine Wild who had already written on the AIGA website in 2001 about the value of catalogues:  “One thing I wanted to say about this year’s annual and those of the future: I think it is in the duty of the AIGA to its profession to acknowledge that in publishing the annual it is creating a public record of what was valued by the community of designers in any given year. That is the record that will last after we are all dead and gone. I know from experience, from doing design historical research, that the annuals are an important guide. Individual pieces of design (especially things that are not archived permanently, like books in libraries) are incredibly hard to track down, and sometime their appearance in annuals is the only record of a thing existing.” Lorraine Wild, 365: What’s next? online discussion, July 9, 2001. (The URL is no longer functional.)

  25. Debbie Millman

    As an FYI, and at the risk of being called a sycophant, I don’t think that Paula is in any way suggesting that AIGA is irrelevant. If she were, I hardly think she’d sign-off her original post in the way she did, or write this piece in the first place. 
     
    I have had many, many conversations with Paula about AIGA, before, during and after my AIGA presidency. Some of the posters in this thread have been a part of the conversations as well. I truly believe her post comes with deep affection for an organization she clearly credits with helping shape her career. Without seeming overly corny, or putting words in Paula’s mouth, perhaps it more like something my grandmother used to say when she got mad at me: “I will always love you, but right now I don’t like you very much.”
     
    In any case, Paula has always been about making it better–that “it” being pretty much anything and everything she is involved in. 
     
    Robb Smigielski said: One of the main counter arguments I’ve heard is that great design is not quantifiable and that we can only trust intuition as our guidepost. Really?
     
    Robb, I am not sure about that. I wrote about the topic earlier in this thread, but will add this, to augment:
     
    I believe that intuition is simply successful pattern recognition. As practicioners, when we assess something, we instantly take into account everything we have ever done or experienced and we apply that to our decision making.  We often attribute this to intuition. But it is actually a (often subconscious), telegraphic measurement of our previous decision-making in regard to future outcomes. That is why, when Paula talks about creating her CItibank logo, she says that it took “a few seconds…and thirty-five years.” (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea).
     
    Eric Graves said: I have not felt any such similar inspiration from the AIGA in a couple of years now. I hope the heat from this throw-down, lasts.
     
    Eric: I have a strong feeling it will.
    (Pun intended)

  26. Tan Le

    F*ck your reasonable request and shifting, Robb. I’m right.Just kidding. Yes, thanks for clarifying about Seth’s and your comment. I agree that a lot of people complain but never once lift a finger to do anything about it. And as a chapter president, I’m sure it’s frustrating to hear criticisms from those who’ve never participated or offer constructive solutions. It sure pissed me off when I was president. My rants on that subject on Speak Up were a lot harsher and profane, if I recall.It’s not about disrespect and yadda, yadda either. I don’t care about that. I simply meant to say that these are the voices and opinions from people who care deeply about the design community, and have worked hard for AIGA. So it’s worth listening to. But you can still disrespect them if you want to — I don’t care.

  27. Robb Smigielski

    Tan, I just want to clarify. I don’t believe Seth and I mean disrespect to those in this debate that are veterans of aiga service and leadership. Personally I think its amazing that this debate has sparked such discussion and am inspired at the variety and experience of the voices in the room. But they are not the only ones here or the only voices that matter. Particularly I am wrangled by others who are quick to call AiGA irrelevant without the experience of giving back. They always come out in these debates and it simply ruffles my feathers.

    The questions coming from the debate are huge and they are not easily answered. Does the traditional competition system really award the best work? Is it really able to look beyond the “solemn” work? Is it able to recognize quality in multichannel integrated work? (The number of websites awarded in 365 is dismally low.) Do results have a role to play in the evaluation of a projects success?

    One of the main counter arguments I’ve heard is that great design is not quantifiable and that we can only trust intuition as our guidepost. Really?

    I think maybe the point of the big change is indeed that great posters and book covers are no longer pinnacles of the practice and that competitions are too prone to recognizing the simple and visceral over the complex and integrated. And that SOMETHING has to be done about it. Maintaining the status quo is not our future. We’ll probably fail massively as we figure it out.

    I look forward to what the voices in this room are able to come up with. So let’s shift this away from who’s right and whose wrong and start offering ideas. Design the damn thing.

  28. Robb Smigielski

    This debate has been inspiring to read through. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such an impassioned discussion. Its the Emigre rant issue!

    Many valid points throughout. Personally, I find myself most aligned with Mr. Fitzgerald. In that the status quo competition system is broken and by no means a measure of design success. The whole “good design is unquantifiable and i know when i see it” argument is not personally convincing. But that’s how we do it. We get reknpened designers to tell us (by their intuition) what is good and what is not. While that has value, there’s probably a better way.

    I’ve seen many a show judged. A whole lot of work gets judged much too fast. Good and complicated work is often overlooked in favor of visceral, simple stuff. Too many one trick pony posters are fawned over. Too many mutlichannel integrated campaigns looked over. And I’ve seen this done by jurors I consider to be top critical minds in the profession. Its not them. Its the system of values and how we act on them. So in the end, whether it’s successful or not, AIGAs journey to figure something new out is admirable and necessary.

    The 50 covers book show had to end. Not because of the rise of the ebook. But because it was no longer justifiable that this practice of design required its own special stage.

    And Seth is right. AIGA is not “they”. It is “we.”

    Anyone vehemently commenting about how messed up it all is and how irrelevant AiGA has become, needs to shut up and volunteer. Be the change you seek. AIGA more than most organizations is willing to give you the chance.

    I hope some change comes of all this passion.

  29. Rob Henning

    I wonder about the assertion that Armin Hofmann’s work would not win the Justified competiion. Really? Seems to me that, if designers are judging the competition, they are bound to recognize outstanding work and choose it–just as we today recognize the outstanding qualities of Mr. Hofmann’s work. Work like Hofmann’s stands on its own without needing any justifications or explanations. Isn’t that what we strive for–to make work that does NOT need to be explained or justified? And, if someone achieves that, as did Armin Hofmann, then aren’t we bound to recognize it?More to the point, I wonder if, faced with competiion requirements of writing an essay to justify his work, and to secure client quotes extolling his merits, etc., Mr. Hofmann (or others of his caliber) might simply not be bothered to even enter. Entry sure seems like too much trouble to me! And I wonder if AIGA will see a decline in entries because it just becomes too much work.

  30. Tan Le

    also, Seth Johnson (and others) – first, I admire your call to participate in AIGA rather than just complain on this blog. It’s a great message and intention. But I don’t know if you realize, but there are about 6-7 former national AIGA presidents, not to mention about a dozen or more former and current chapter presidents and/or longtime board members who have posted here, myself included (P–Seattle). In other words, a lot of decorated brass is in the room.
    .
    BUT hold on…hold on…before I get crucified for being an elitist or sycophant by CJ, I only bring that up as proof that these are the people who have put their heart and soul, not to mention time, energy, and commitment to AIGA and the welfare of the design community through the years. So many of these passionate, informed, well-reasoned viewpoints have definitely been earned, imo. It’s more than just cheap talk..
    Debbie’s right, this is a “moment-defining conversation.” I’ve never seen this many AIGA veterans voice their (mostly) unified opinions on AIGA, civil or otherwise. AIGA should listen closely.

  31. Tan Le

    Eric — your post is the most honest, non-bullshit response on here. I think a lot of designers feel as you do, and think of work and inspiration the way you do. I do. Very well said.

  32. Eric Graves

    It’s been a rough few years for a great many of us. I’ve been, frankly, hanging on and burnt out. I’ve even thought about doing something else. Unlike the many heroes of mine that have been weighing in on this brawl, my absence or presence, would go unnoticed. But when I read Paula’s description about solemn work: credible, capable, solemn work being essentially mediocre. I realized that, somehow I’ve stopped reaching beyond that solemn work. I’ve just been doing what’s expected. It’s not that I don’t work at it. I do. I work hard. The grind of justifying all that work just wears you down after a while.
     
    But to me, Paula’s plea that we should be encouraging each other to exceed the expected, to break new ground. That reminder was to me, inspirational. I love the boldness of that kind of thinking. I want to be able to think like that myself, and work, to the degree that I can, to that standard. 

    I have not felt any such similar inspiration from the AIGA in a couple of years now. I hope the heat from this throw-down, lasts.

  33. paula scher

    Chapter Presidents et. al
    I have a lot of ideas about what we can do.
    It is a long post and I will compose it, hopefully, tomorrow night when and if I have some time.
    The first thing is to acknowledge what the goals of AIGA are, which is to elevate the expectation of what design can be to both the design community and the general public.
    The goals of the organization are not to prove “design’s value” to the business community. For one thing, that’s impossible.  There is no way to quantify the value of an identity, not ROI, or anything else.  It is perceprtual and it really is so connected to other factors over which a designer has no control. Even packaging which is fairly measurable is still connected to a given product that may fail for other reasons not demonstrated in the design quantification.
    Hopefully, when the design community collectively raises the expectation of what the design can be, businesses will see it and begin to understand it.  No one did more for our community in this regard than Steve Jobs. The Apple example helps me every day.
    AIGA can build community, supply support, give a designer exposure, and most importantly, inspire us all to our best work.  But it cannot make our clients value the design, or the designer.  It ridiculous for the organization to even try to promise this, no matter what the research on AIGA membership told you.
    The best way to gain client respect is to build a strong reputation in a give area with a group of clients and let that reputation grow expedentially.  These are the kinds of discussions that should happen both on the chapter level and at the Gain Conference.  I am always happy to have that discussion with any one. Those of you who have heard me speak know that.
    I also think there can be new viable competitions that matter, though this viewpoint is more controversial.  I will elaborate later.
     
     

  34. Seth Johnson

    “I know this takes us off topic, Mr. Lehrer, and I’m sorry about that, but, Jim, I really need 30 seconds to respond.”
    .
    With all due respect, Mr. Bierut, I think you took my ending “talk is cheap” comment out of context and perhaps even loaded it with meaning that wasn’t there. Please allow me to clarify: I was using that particular idiom to argue that, at some point — for anything to improve — the conversation needs to evolve into action. Many people are obviously passionate enough about this particular topic to write (talk) about it. And thank god they are. I was merely making a plea for folks to take the next logical step and to do something about it. Is that so bad?
    .
    As for the first part of my post: simply proclaiming that I, myself, don’t care about something that has been expressed is not equal to me proclaiming that someone must earn the right to express it in the first place. Not once did I say or imply that Ms. Scher’s post shouldn’t have been written, nor that she was unqualified to comment or criticize, nor that she nor anyone else were or are not “entitled” to start or participate in any debate. 
    .
    Although I may occasionally bristle at its tone, I do think this particular debate, as others have already pointed out, is healthy to have. I hope you agree with that. I hope you’ll also agree that, for it to truly make any sort of difference, it will eventually need to turn into something actionable, else we’ll all just be back at square one when next year’s competition rolls around. I hope it’s not held against me that I am attempting to persuade people to take their involvement to the next level. 
    .
    I love when people talk about things. But it’s quite often easier to say than to do — so I love even more when people come together to act upon their opinions.

  35. Michael Bierut

    Seth Johnson’s comment “talk is cheap” implies that Paula Scher needs to earn the right to criticize AIGA. Paula has served on the AIGA National Board, as president of the New York Chapter, co-chaired one biennial conference, served on the jury for countless competitions, visited dozens of local chapters, and publicly credits her own personal success to AIGA. Is that enough for you?

    Fine, says Seth, imploring Paula to reveal “what she intends to do about it.” Paula took the time to write an essay — heartfelt and passionate, but far from “biased and inflammatory” in my opinion — that at this point has generated nearly 150 comments, setting off a conversation within our profession the likes of which I haven’t witnessed for years. I think she’s done her part to start the debate, and she is fully entitled to do so on whatever terms she chooses. As are we all, the last time I checked.

    (In case it’s necessary for the sake of full disclosure: I am one of Paula’s business partners, and for over 20 years have been the firsthand witness to her ongoing dedication to AIGA.)

  36. Chris English

    This conversation goes to the heart of that beautiful contradiction and tension inherent in our profession, of designers as commercial artists. Regardless of what we call ourselves or our practiced medium, we attempt to earn our bread through an aesthetic or artistic expression for specific intent supplied by an external client. As artists, we’re conflicted by over a hundred years of artistic heritage and thought moving counter to commercialism, hence our love/hate relationship with clients. I think the idea of “Justified” as a contest intriguing, personally. While I heartily agree with Ms. Scher’s definition of ‘Better work’ as the “elevation of the expectation of what the design could be”, it seems a bit hasty to dismiss the results of this competition to be necessarily “mediocre” because these pieces may have been successful for the client. Ms. Bantjes’ post of the judging process, and looking at the panel of judges selected, that they will take their charge seriously, and that success may not be measured in terms of dollars or widgets sold, but children vaccinated, voters registered, or a protest movement was able to gain a wider awareness. Ms. Scher may find inspiration and delight in their selections.

    As to what this being the only National competition means in terms of the charter of AIGA, as Mr. Heller points out, is a more interesting question. I question the necessity of the AIGA holding national competitions at all. The truth is that the few initial juried competitions at the national level have spawned dozens of competions at the chapter level, and inspred a wealth of ‘privatized’ competitions, not to mention the role of the Internet and social media to have more than compensated for the loss of these few venerable sources of inspiration. Rather, I mourn with Mr. Heller the loss of the Design Journal as a vehicle for design critque, discourse and commentary on our constantly evolving craft.

    Yes, Ms. Scher, I’ll miss my copies of 365, but I miss my Design Journal more.

  37. Jack Curry

    Seth & Aaron: excellent points, both of you guys. As someone who is also involved with my local chapter (Los Angeles), I agree that volunteering (voting with your time, as it were) has been an eye-opener in terms of how much work goes into producing events and in seeing how many dedicated people it takes to run the ship. 

    However, I feel that it would be a knee jerk reaction to immediately discount Ms Scher’s piece and the subsequent comments as rants of people that don’t know any better. Like I said in my post above, the current discourse is what graphic designers are usually the best at giving: constructive criticism. As you say Seth, talk is cheap, but I think it is because of discussions exactly like the ones we are seeing here that we are able to evolve and grow as an organization; talking is the first step in growing.

  38. Aaron Shurts

    Let’s all try to keep in mind that AIGA is here to serve one another. I first applaud all of the members of the national board as well as the individual chapter boards accross the country. Acting as the current Vice President and future President of AIGA Seattle, I have seen a first hand account of AIGA’s impact in my life and the lives of our nearly 800 members locally. This impact is not because of what national does or doesn’t do, it is because of what the local chapters do. AIGA National allows us to operate independantly and gives us the freedom as chapters to create our own competitions, events, initiatives, etc. 

    Like Seth mentioned above, we are only as strong as those that give their time. If you feel so strongly about this issue then I encourage you to take action and to speak directly to the parties involved. 

    Personally, I do not think a competition is going to change the positive work that the AIGA chapters do all across the U.S. and beyond every day. What we do is not for competition, it is for engagement.

    If you need evidence of this just take a few minutes to look through all of the personal statements on http://becauseofaiga.com and you will see none of them mention competions.

    Perhaps we should look at the larger picture here and decide if the time we are spending fighting a cause (that is in place because of the willingness of others to volunteer and create something great) is really the right thing to be spending our time and effort on.

  39. Andrew Twigg

    I attempted to post this originally on April 3. That comment is still being held for moderation, but I wanted to add my voice to this discussion.
     
    As the outgoing president of the Pittsburgh chapter of AIGA, our regional competition was re-tooled years ago along these lines. Initially renamed “CONTEXT”, the competition asked designers to define the objectives, audience and challenges in creating submitted pieces. We still use these criteria today, even as the competition evolves.
     
    The idea was that the show had grown stagnant, with judges selecting the same kind of work year after year, often seeing the sames firms and clients represented. These works were beautifully designed, of course. Many of them served the purpose the clients requested innovatively and creatively. But there is more to design than beauty. There is also effectiveness. Our chapter’s competition today seeks to recognize work that is “effective, meaningful, and beautiful” because we are convicted that good design can be more than just beautiful.
     
    AIGA, like the design profession, is going through some major changes; as an organization, AIGA is trying many new things in response to feedback we receive from members and non-members alike. I do not speak for AIGA in any official capacity. But I can tell you that from the chapter level up to the national staff and board of directors, the organzation is asking a lot of questions about the future of design and what it means to be a graphic designer in the 21st century. This means trying new things. Sometimes it means letting old things go. But I personally believe that AIGA represents our best opportunity as designers for advocacy and visibility outside of our profession, and that the leadership of AIGA is working hard to ensure the position of our industry well into the future.
     
    Paula, I think the points you raise here are valid and worth discussion; but I also believe AIGA is still committed to showcasing “beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration” in design via Design Envy and through other channels. And I think the comment that “The AIGA membership never believes that their clients respect them” is unfair because many of us – myself included – experience respect, appreciation and admiration every day from our clients. I think the comment is editorially powerful, but if you really believe that, I can point you to throngs of AIGA members I know personally who would disagree. I also take issue with the idea that we, as designers, can learn nothing from the results of this competition. It seems premature to call the contest before we’ve seen its outcome, and I imagine that we’ll be surprised with the number of beautiful, innovative and creative solutions that are selected as part of this show.
     
    The call for AIGA to recognize beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration is critical, and it will continue to be. This shift does not mean a departure from these things, it means that AIGA is looking to show us something different and new, in response to feedback from people like you and others in our community of design. I think it’s fair to say that someone in your position of leadership within design should speak out when they feel that our preeminent professional association is making a mistake; I’m glad that you have and I hope that this esay can be a starting place for dialogue on this matter. I believe that good design takes many forms. And I believe that the history of AIGA competitions was not an exhaustive survey of the state of design, just as this competition will not be. But I also believe that the changes the organization is making come from the right place with an eye on the right future.

  40. Seth Johnson

    The moment anyone makes an unfounded, misplaced, and public personal attack is the exact same moment I stop caring about their argument. I have no doubt that Ms. Scher, whom I respect deeply, had insightful and relevant things to say about “Justified,” but that she chose to communicate them through such a biased and inflammatory prism was unfortunate and ultimately unproductive. It leaves me asking — imploring — “Fine. What do you want to do about it?”
    .
    As president of AIGA Minnesota, one of the nation’s largest and most active AIGA chapters, I know first-hand how difficult and challenging it is to move the rudder on such a large ship in such turbulent waters. Doing so requires a significant number of committed and aligned volunteers, whose recruitment and organization is a monumental undertaking in and of itself. Let us not forget that this is a volunteer-run, member-based organization. AIGA isn’t “they.” It’s “we.”
    .
    So I hope that all of those who have been so critical of AIGA’s decisions will be equally passionate about contacting the national office or their local chapter to ask what they can do, specifically, to help. If this particular issue is really of great import, I suggest the first question asked in such a conversation to be, “I’d like to volunteer on the committee to create a better AIGA competition. When’s the first meeting? I’ll be there, ready to collaborate, ready to work, and ready to serve.”
    .
    Talk is cheap. Volunteering to actually make a change is where the real work begins, and I, for one, welcome anyone who wishes to do so. If you’re in Minnesota, we’re happy to have you join us; you can find me at http://www.aigaminnesota.org/about/board-of-directors.

  41. Julie

    Ms. Scher, you beautifully articulated this subject, which I heartily agree with. It seems “the bar” has been lowered across many disciplines and educational institutions. Thank you for your insightful comments.

  42. Jack Curry

    I haven’t yet had the opportunity to look over the newer comments from the past couple days, but I’ve certainly been mulling over some of what had been said earlier on in the week.
    I’ve been having this conversation more and more with friends and colleagues about the importance of an tent under which designers can gather, but even more importantly, that such a tent be a source of pride and prestige for them.

    Unfortunately—among younger designers, anyway—I’m not sure if the AIGA is really of that level. In some of the conversations I’ve had over the past few months, inevitably the AIA comes up and the point is made that “See!? Architects have a professional organization that they’re all a part of and keeps them all performing to a certain standard!” Of course, the AIA is a different beast from the AIGA, but the one thing that I have noticed is that every other architect I’ve met has proudly displayed the association, i.e. “John Smith, AIA”. Perhaps a bit pompous—yes—but such a move signals to his peers and clients that “I have moved on from being someone that is merely a dilettante to being a professional. One that is ready and able to create, contribute, and be part of a larger community that is ready to do the same.” When was the last time you saw a graphic designer’s card read “John Smith, AIGA”? I never have. I feel as if this is a larger trend of a lack of passion about the AIGA.

    By way of example—and perhaps this is a Los Angeles design student phenomenon (and please let me know if it is)—many of my fellow classmates never saw the intrinsic value in joining AIGA. You could say “Well, they weren’t serious enough / motivated enough / etc. to join” and perhaps that’s true. But I see this lack of interest as a sign that what the AIGA is doing is no longer exciting and relevant to student designers. Now granted, some people I know have taken the initiative and joined the AIGA, but for a good chunk of their college careers, the organization itself wasn’t even on their radar. You have no idea how unfortunate I found this to be (and no idea how much I pestered them to become members and get involved).

    Paula, Jonathan, and others here have said how much the AIGA affected them at the early stages of their careers; that it was a source of inspiration, and an incisive look into the world of great design. I’m not sure that the organization today is reaching the designers of tomorrow in the way that it did Ms Scher or Mr Hoefler. With the explosion of content aggregators (let’s please not call them “curation sites”) such as Behance, ffffound, dribbble (what’s up with all of the design-y sites with multiple consonants, by the way?), the world of design has no shortage of people getting their work visible and out into the world. The key for our organization is to figure out:

    A) How to differentiate the work published in our annuals from the rest of the morass strewn about the interwebs, and B) How to make this work no only rise above the rest, but to truly communicate to the young (and future) designers of today that this is what design is—and should be—about.

    Now the argument could definitely be made that “Justified” fulfills Point A, but really, when was the last time that you opened up an annual and got excited about ROI, or market saturation, or “target audience”? Moreover, with this being the sole publication for the AIGA this year, do we really want younger designers thinking that “this is what design is—and should be—about”? As others have said, I think that the goals and intent of “Justified” are needed in our field; but to make it the sole competition doesn’t seem sensible.

    You’ll notice that I’ve referred to the AIGA as “our” organization. And that’s because it is. I truly hope that the board is reading all of these comments and really takes them to heart. This isn’t a bunch of designers wantonly tearing down one of the largest and most respected design associations in the world (or at least I hope it isn’t). This is a group of some of the best creative people that the industry has to offer, doing that thing that designers do best: offering constructive criticism. I hope something can come of it.

  43. David Barringer

    The desire to reward work on its instrumental, rather than aesthetic, value is a business desire. Business wants to pay only for art that pays.

    There are many wonderful issues here, one of which is measurement. How do you measure the market effects of a particular work of design? How many copies of a novel are sold because of the title, the cover, the author’s name recognition, the story, Oprah’s approval, or some combination? Of the butts in the theatre seats, how many are put there by the poster, the actors, the director, or the story? How many veggie patties are sold because of packaging design, brand recognition, or taste of the patty?

    Unlike general consumers, designers, sure, may reject books, movies, and veggie patties because they judge the covers, posters, and packages to be aesthetically poor. (What designer has not walked by a restaurant whose menu was set in Papyrus?) But the force behind a customer’s in-the-moment binary choice (to buy or not to buy?) is a maddening mystery. (Was it the font or the food, the color or the coupon, the brand or the rush to grab something quickly before Mad Men started?) And products are collaborative. Design is collaborative. Who is responsible for making what decision, exactly? What percentage of what responsibility can be awarded each participant in the project? Trying to measure design effectiveness at any stage, from concept to consumption, is a difficult task. That’s why marketing departments exist–and why they squirm and twist and writhe as they struggle to make sense of the ineffable and predict the unpredictable.

    Marketing departments try to measure this stuff with an ever-evolving variety of soft and hard indexes: focus-group testing and best-practices benchmarking, sales figures and consumer surveys, site visitors and cookie trackers, ticket sales and JD Power awards (which are based on customer surveys). In contrast, note how “Justified” does not judge entrants on instrumental value alone, because that would beg the fundamental question: what exactly is being measured, and how?

    As if measuring effectiveness is not tall order enough, consider the consequences to the contest itself. If what’s being measured is, in general, the design’s effectiveness in boosting X’s market performance, then shouldn’t the judges be clients and customers and not designers? For that matter, isn’t the contest itself redundant, for aren’t all designs and all products esteemed first and last by the market itself? The Market does not need “Justified” design, thank you very much. 

    Not having the heart to leap into the abyss of instrumental value (market-performance indexes), “Justifed” scoots back from the cliff of The Adjusted Profitability Index and clings to the thick trunk of aesthetic value. (“Entrants will be judged on their design attributes.”) Whew! That was close. So judges don’t really need to track units moved and profits pocketed. Judges can forget cold cash and remember warm hearts. Thus, designers can be judges, and all is well.

    Feel free to go to Google Books, check out “Looking Closer 5,” and type in “Efficiency Outside the Design.” I wrote about this in Emigre 68 (nostalgic fist-bump to K-Fitz).

  44. Samantha

    Whenever I think about the AIGA, I think of prestige. Like what an honor it is to receive an AIGA award. I really feel like they pick the best and it really works well in creating design envy. Which other group can we really say that about? So I think Justified is an interesting way of allowing designers to show how smart and business saavy they are. Good design is good for business right? But also, maybe Paula Scher should go renegade and start her own Unjustified awards.

  45. David Cabianca

    [Forgive me but the previous posting took out all the returns and messed up the URLs, so I am going to try to repost.]
    __
    Wow. Arrvied late to the party, and only crashed it because I was looking up some archived columns in the Print magazine archive. I do understand the need for change, specifically, for the AIGA to evaluate where the profession is going. So I understand (but don’t agree with) the parameters of Justified. I would rather see a “both/and” attitude rather than “either/or.” The profession is (still) sufficiently diverse that a competition that celebrates making has merit. It is interesting to note that while the AIGA sees no reason for a 50 Books competition, such appreciation for the printed book is alive and well in Switzerland, Germany, France, Sweden, Belgium and now South Korea. See http://bit.ly/HnUVWq . We all have anecdotes, so please indulge me. I recently participated as a jury member for a student competition. It was an interesting experience, and in many ways exactly as Marian Bantjes described. All the jury members did their best to engage the work and if at any moment one of us needed additional information we pursued it. I was out voted quite a number of times on projects that I felt were quite exceptional, but were not of a certain strain of typographic minimalism, or put another way, many of my fellow jurors were abhorred by what may be described as an ornamented modernism. For good or bad, the catalogue to the competition will serve as the document of the event and the time it was produced. And my interests will simply be a minor history that was simply forgotten (or now, perhaps not). In my opinion, while the catalogue will not be a fully representative reflection of the diversity of submissions, it will still be reflective of excellent work. But without such records—flawed or not—a very significant portion of the discipline is stripped from our collective vocabulary. And when we don’t have the power of language, we lack the ability to express ourselves. Jonathan Hoefler’s story was a perfect example of the positive aspect of recognizing the accomplishments of our peers beyond simply a functionalist baseline. His example shows us what culture can do. (Oh, and props to Lorraine Wild who had already written on the AIGA website in 2001 about the value of catalogues:  “One thing I wanted to say about this year’s annual and those of the future: I think it is in the duty of the AIGA to its profession to acknowledge that in publishing the annual it is creating a public record of what was valued by the community of designers in any given year. That is the record that will last after we are all dead and gone. I know from experience, from doing design historical research, that the annuals are an important guide. Individual pieces of design (especially things that are not archived permanently, like books in libraries) are incredibly hard to track down, and sometime their appearance in annuals is the only record of a thing existing.” Lorraine Wild, 365: What’s next? online discussion, July 9, 2001 http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm?contentalias=365discussiondisplaynew.)
     

  46. Ced Lapa

    For what particpation is worth, I’d like to add that culture and commerce merged a long time ago. The art market was born of the free market. The whole art vs. money thing is so boring. People who worry that AIGA is descending into market metrics only need to look around. Culture was born of commerce. Government has merged with commerce. And if we could only keep an eye on campaign donors before we toot the horn of saviors who claim “change,” we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

  47. Debbie Millman

    RitaSue–As a former President of AIGA and ex-officio member of the board, I did respond above. What I can also add is that being President of AIGA was one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever held, but also hands down, the most difficult. Both the discipline of design and the practices of AIGA are in the midst of great change and I often found out (many times the hard way) that the very things some designers are begging for are the very same things that other designers are outraged over.
     
    Disbanding 50 Books/50 Covers as a fully owned AIGA competition was, as Paula notes, a long time coming and I am heartbroken over this. However, I still fully, 100% believe that AIGA is one of most vibrant, joyful, hard-working organizations in the world, and that is evidenced by the exciting work of the chapters and the student members. (As an fyi, there are 66 local chapters and over 200 student groups. Students make up about 40% of the membership of AIGA.)
     
    AIGA is nearly 100 years old. Paula is still a member, as are Sean Adams, Steven Heller and Michael Vanderbyl. I believe that Kenneth Fitzgerald and Armin Vit are too, along with Tan and Gunnar and Felix and Jonathan Hoefler and Jim Ales and Joe Marianek and Christopher Simmons and Marc English and many of the other commenters here.  I think this is a tremedously important, moment-defining conversation and I am hopeful that the organization can fully embrace the helpful critical commentary, and assess. The good news, as evidenced here, is that there are a lot of passionate people listening.

  48. Kenneth FitzGerald

    In regard to “uncivil discourse,” for what it’s worth, I take no umbrage with how Marian Bantjes, or anyone else characterizes me. That I’m nuts, or everything else I’m accused of, is well within the realm of possibility—and I hope it gets pointed out pointedly.

  49. Joe

    During communist times in Poland, there was only one client. The government. When a poster was needed, like for a new American movie or an opera in Warsaw, the government would contact a list of “approved” poster designers to have each design a poster. A panel of judges, also poster designers, would pick the best design (probably also with some censor oversight). That chosen designer had the honor of having their poster mass produced and seen in public. The winner and each remaining designer all got paid the same amount for the work.

    But the Polish designers also continued to make posters (and other things) that existed as stand alone designs. Not for the government. This was partly due to many designers preffering, at that time, to be fine artists but unable to do so because of restrictions against public art displays and restrictions.

    Some of those non client posters and designs are pretty incredible. Some of the client posters are pretty incredible. The design and branding work by designers helped lead to the collapse of the government.

    Solidarity logotype, Jerzy Janiszewski

    One could argue that a repressive communist regime is about as bad a client as one would want. But some amazing work was produced.

    I think it is nearly impossible to measure outcomes on single design works by any accurate measure. The broader work by a designer over time can have impact that is tangible, with or without winning competitions. There are probably more than a few terrific designers who do not enter competitions (many, because they oppose them) but who have had a significant impact on the craft, profession, and the societies they live in.

    *Polish designers who lived it or Andrea Marks: please amend my comment on that history as needed. It’s been a few years…

  50. Kenneth FitzGerald

    Marian,
    You’re wailing away at the Strawkenneth so fiercely, I wonder if you need to provide for livestock. As they say on the courtroom dramas, you’re arguing facts not in evidence with me. If I meant “conspiracy,” I would have used the word. If I wanted to discuss winner/losers past/present of design awards, I would have. 
     
    In regard to what I did write about and you do address, we’re looking at a glass half empty/full situation. I absolutely credit your experience in design and did so in my last comment. But you to refuse to acknowledge that someone else of talent could have a different one. I agree that few people champion ideas they don’t have an affinity for. Your number for those, however, seems much higher than mine.

  51. Michèle Champagne

    To KathyS:
     
    There is no Coupe Magazine competition proudly displayed under “Citations” on my website. You are wrong. Rather, under Citations there is a quote from Wendy Gold at OpenCity, Rick Poynor from Design Observer and Thierry Chancogle from Salut Public.
     
    That said, there is a list of awards my work has won and they are listed under “Michèle Champagne” and then under “Awards / Prix”. What do you mean by hypocrisy? Which one of my arguments lacks integrity?
     
    Discuss.

  52. Ced Lapa

    From Donovan Brien, the man who thinks I have a problem with ageism: “first of all, let me apologize for my “young designer” peers’ behavior (I assume they are also young designers, as anyone older should know better). The level of disrespect that is being shown to full blown design LEGENDS is unacceptable. All this snarky “ha ha it’s the internet, lets be sarcastic” nonsense contributes nothing to the conversation, the community or your own work / life. Turn off the computer. Read a book. Grow up.”
     
    The hypocrisy is rife: Paula Scher wants to get rid of a new status quo with her old status quo. Marian Bantjes thinks FitzGerald is churlish then accuses him of being “idiotic” and “nuts” (and then has the nerve to point out illogical things…). There are so many examples, I don’t even know where to start. And we wonder why design is not understood or valued in society.
     
    This uncivil discourse is not even worth participating in anymore.

  53. KathyS

    To: Michèle Champagne
    Given your comments abouve, please explain why you proudly dispaly under “Citations” on your website, recognition from competitions like the annual Coupe Magazine competition? It certainly makes you look like a hypocrite.

  54. steven heller

    This discussion reminds me of a time, not too long ago, when the same old issues were hashed and rehashed. Indeed many of them surrounding AIGA policies and whether or not the organization is elitist or not. Some things never die if there is at least one person to fire the flames.
     
    Paula Scher’s tough-minded and passionate article, which I encouraged her to post, addresses timeworn notions of what is design and who cares? The schism used to be between practitioners and educators, then consultancies versus boutiques, then big city versus little town designers. Wherever an irritant could be found it was exacerbated by someone.
     
    AIGA has attempted over the years to bridge these distinctions. Instituting a robust chapter network certainly went a long way to embrace all genres of design. Initiatives that include history, education, environment, etc., brought others into the fold of AIGA.
     
    But as I said in an earlier comment, AIGA has been inching towards a critical crossroads for a number of years, and JUSTIFIED is the tipping point. By eliminating all other competitions and exhibitions (invitationals, curated, etc.), ending the printed annual (which also included historically significant essays), and effectively reducing the AIGA Journal to the infrequent essay on the AIGA’s website, the direction of the AIGA is unclear — certainly to me, and perhaps to itself.
     
    Scher notes that had this argument arisen five or ten years ago there would have been space for it in the AIGA Journal. She’s right. As difficult as it is for dissent to accepted by the powers in charge, there would have been a free debate. Indeed one without attacks on the dissenter’s character.
     
    To say that anyone who praises Scher for this article is a sychophant misses the point. To argue that the elite are against this new policy and rest are for it is blind.
     
    AIGA may have different meanings for different members. It has managed, more or less, to balance the varied interests. As in any representative organization, the chapters have a lot to say about what impacts their respective communities. But what National presents as organizational policy has significant trickle-down effect.
     
    If as JUSTIFIED, now the only National exhibition makes clear, lobbying the business community is a primary focus of AIGA, then it is giving up a birthright – to make design as exciting an art as it is a bone fide profession.
     
    If board members are reading this, I hope they will look even more deeply at the consequences of this decision. No, don’t just change the name of the competition to something less defensive, but show members and the world that in this time of economic, technological and cultural flux, AIGA can REINVENT not just JUSTIFY its reason for being.

  55. Rob Dewey

    This debate echoes through the decades. At the Society of Typographic Arts, we concluded in the late 1980s that our 100 Show as it had been historically conducted was growing irrelevant. Time and again we saw the same work, by the same well-established firms, appear in every prestigious show, largely due to the juried nature of the selection process. Beginning in 1992, we reconceived the process as a curatorial one. This strategy led to the show and book being widely criticized as being too academic, too aesthetic and not grounded enough in the realities of graphic design practice. But our primary interest was in building the culture of design rather than merely supporting the profession, which is an inherently defensive and backward-looking posture. The debates and the resulting writing and ideas that accompanied the work in our competition books and exhibitions, organized by Katherine McCoy, Michael Bierut, Ellen Lupton and Rick Poyner among others during those years, drove our discourse forward and provided a stong counterbalance to the weight of institutions like AIGA. Interestingly, STA was founded by a group from Chicago that split from AIGA over similar conflicts in 1927.

  56. SM

    Yea I have to disagree with this move. Thing is clients already know what we do. Some know what they want and don’t need our opinions while others may need a little guidance because they don’t know exactly what they want. I mean yea there’s the few that will actually listen to their designer but even then there are parameters and guidelines. But the client will always go with what they like because they are paying for it.
     
    Design doesn’t always have to have be associated with sales/businesss and this move only sends the message that “Design SHOULD be business oriented.” Also even though I’ve never participated in any of the competitions of theirs I enjoyed looking at all the work. I find it to be a bad move because even though paper seems like it’s becoming obsolete in this age. Ebooks as they are called still have covers…and print will be around for a good long while because not everyone can afford or want or can use (don’t think they made a kindle with braille and gotta take deaf people into account too) a kindle fire and there are those who prefer the feel of paper over an electronic machine. If anything I think they should of just created a new competition based on eBook design. Which could get rid of the misconception that Flash is a dying program.

    By creating and animated eBooks. I’ve seen marvel do some pretty interesting stuff with image and text pop outs and small animations. You could even turn comic books into slow moving movies which once again Marvel has done before. You could even animate text to a certain part of a book to create hierarchy or call out a high or low point of a book.

  57. seamus

    I can’t think of anything stupider than a “design competition”. This is pretty much tempest in a tea pot stuff. If you design to win a contest you’re in the wrong field.

  58. Marian Bantjes

    Let’s get back to the basics. Paula wrote an impassioned article to express her displeasure in the new direction of the AIGA, particularly as evidenced by the dissolution of all of their previous design competitions to be replaced by one that focusses on design that can be justified by business objectives attained. She disagrees with this direction and makes a case that there are other more important qualities that make design worthwhile, and even great.
    .
    Somehow from this we get to Paula as the leader of a group of elite designers who are determined to keep their seats on their thrones, and refuse to admit that they are obsolete and unwilling to recognize the talents of others. 
    .
    What leap of illogic is this? Nowhere, in anything Paula has said does she show any unwillingness whatsoever to find and recognize new designers and new forms of work. She only says there are are better ways than focussing on the so-called market effectiveness of design. In fact, it is partly her concern for finding and recognizing new talent that causes her to object.
    .
    Then some people say “We tried those [old] ways and all we get are more pretty pictures from the same old people.” Really. Seriously? So you’re telling me that no new young people are being recognized in awards, and if they are, all they make are robot posters? Look again. In the awards I’ve judged, the vast majority of awards went to people I’ve never heard of for a huge variety of work in both aesthetics and implementation.
    .
    Kenneth seems to cite the fact that Paula et. al. were winning design awards in the 90s and still are today as “evidence” of a design conspiracy. So, it seems what people are saying is that once you’ve “made it” you should stop making it. Or at least stop showing it … or wait, perhaps have the humility to get worse over time, not better.
    .
    The true irony is that firms like Pentagram could clean up at a show like “Justified.” The big branding agencies would benefit as well. Do you honestly think they’re weeping because they won’t be able to compete in that arena? I laugh!! Unlike smaller, local clients, the corporations these firms deal with do keep records, and are able to supply statistics of all sorts that may support the “justification” of a design. But while Pentagram partners may be proud of their “bread and butter” work, I doubt they’re interested in showcasing it as their best. 
    .
    Kenneth Fitzgerald and I have sharp disagreements over the purity of renowned designers’ motives. I regard them as far more generous and less self-interested than he does. And I am the living example to prove it. 8 years ago I was completely unknown, and worse, Canadian. If it had not been for the American design community, including this so-called elite—in fact specifically the big-name designers who have been mentioned here—I would have given up long ago and remained in obscurity. Surely there are those who wish I had, but these people who you accuse of being so protective of their position took an interest in me and my work, welcomed me, pushed me forward, and hired me. As you say, “Paula Scher is a strong supporter of emerging new talent that she has an affinity for.” Yes. I would also add that her tastes are broad—as are most designers, including myself. Additionally I would think it’s fair to say that few people are strong supporters of things they don’t have an affinity for.
    .
    Paula Scher has said “Fine, have your “Justified” awards if you think it’s so relevant, but retain the other awards shows as well so that some really interesting new work is not lost due to this bottom-line objective, or design will lose something really important and the AIGA should know that.” That is hardly a sentiment worthy of character assassination.

  59. Michèle Champagne

    For James Puckett,
     
    I’d have to agree with Ced Lapa on this one: ageism is a terrible thing. Despite your personal experience, there are young designer like myself that do see a difference between original and ripoff, new and old, masterpiece and disasterpiece. However, in my young world, there is no black and whitish, there are shades of grey. In my young world, there are young and old designers who sample and ripoff and appropriate who also take their work above and beyond the places they steal from. There are also young and old designers who do the same but do not translate their spoils into anywhere “new”. That said, I’ve also known young and old designers and teachers ill-equipped to recognize references at play, unable to appreciate those who go further and unable to discipline those who don’t go far enough.
     
    Do Imprint readers recognize the scenario of The Designer Après-Garde?
     
    Discuss.

  60. Michèle Champagne

    For Roland Millington,
     
    On using fashion design and catwalks as analogous to Scher-style awards, from Yves Sain Laurent’s creative director Stefano Pilati: “The other problem is that fashion, as a system, is very insular and introverted. We constantly recycle the same concepts and express them through the same modes of representation. The moment you start making videos or move off the catwalk, most journalists will have no fucking clue what you’re doing because they don’t have the time, willingness, or culture to really understand something new. You’ll be misunderstood, and you’ll have no choice but to return to doing the things that follow the language everyone understands.”
     
    Sound familiar?
     
    Wait. There’s more: “When people enter our store they imagine cashmeres, silk cravats, shirts in crepe de chine, crocodile shoes. Obviously, we make them, but it’s like hitting myself in the balls.”
     
    Discuss.

  61. Howard Schneider

    As a design professional, I’ve become increasingly aware of a trend in recent years towards graphic design assuming less the role of an art form serving business/society and more of a business/social form adopting aesthetics. A sampling of this trend can be seen in much of the 2012 Communication Arts Interactive Annual. By no coincidence there is a growing sensibility in design education which speaks more from an effectiveness position instead of the inspiring potential of visual dynamics.For decades, one mantra that ran throughout the graphic design industry was “client education” or imbuing the business community with the rational assertion that design was a powerful and effective business and societal tool. We finally got our wish, so to speak, but with a notable irony. The “aesthetic Philistines” of the MBA class, the former scourge of the design community, have finally come to terms with design by the market-driven attrition and transition of a richly vibrant design community into a more quantifiable utility. A neutered dog will at least generate a bark.  That transition, combined with the “democratization” of the design community (a transition from great design produced by a handful — the Few, the Exceptional, the Iconic — to great design spread out among a broader professional base), brought with it, in my view, the seeds of our quantification. Fewer are the number of booming, resonate creative voices that have the attention of the design community’s ear, heart  and soul. Paula Scherr is one of those few remaining individuals.It could be that AIGA is beginning to show its wear by championing “sensible shoes”. Perhaps a top-down organizational model in a democratized global community is anachronistic at it’s graying roots. Perhaps it’s time for the design community to pose the question: If you were to redesign the AIGA from the ground up, how would it be?

  62. Beth Koch

    I still find it incredible that environmental (and green) concerns still take precendence over the human effects of our designs. All that seems to matter is the economic effects. What about the emotional effects, the intellectual effects of design? Does our work make life better, encourage and inspire people to strive for greatness–or does it tear down our language and depress the masses because they cannot achieve nor afford the idealic life we spread before them.

  63. LF

    As a career in-house corporate creative director and member of the AIGA for 16 years, I fully understand the value of design. It’s my marketing colleagues’ and my group’s leadership that do not. Ask them if they know what the AIGA is and they haven’t got a clue–probably wouldn’t care to know, either. That’s okay because I don’t care to know the professional organizations that inspire and excite them! These individuals could greatly benefit from the results of a competition like “Justified” if only to make them think more and dare to understand the power of design even if some of the winning designs prove to be ho-hum. BUT, these individuals will never find their way to the AIGA to read about these “justifications” for design, nor would it even be enough to turn the needle to respect design and creativity in a corporation that clearly lacks this value in its culture. So, if “Justified” is an attempt to promote and express the value of design to other designers and its members, I say no need to bother. I’d much prefer to be inspired by simply great design that’s deemed great by a panel of my design-industry peers–great examples of design that push me to create better work and work that I can justify to myself or to other designers as being great based on the tenets of what constitutes great design. Paula Scher is one of those amazing designers who has helped to shape these tenets whether she set out to do that or not, and one who has inspired me to grow in my profession. She’s exactly right and continues to garner my respect.

  64. Kenneth FitzGerald

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    My apologies to Andrea S. and Paula Scher for misattributing that quote. Accuracy is important to me and I was sloppy (didn’t scroll as far up as I thought I did). That said, Andrea was writing approvingly of Scher’s stance, I’d say I made an error of the letter, not of the spirit of Scher’s comments. Still, they weren’t hers. I leave it to the audience to decide the level of distortion I’ve introduced to either’s philosophy.

    There are two phenomena that regularly occur in responses to my writing and are on prominent display here. The first is that I repeatedly find myself requesting that critics please (re)read what I wrote and respond to that, rather than to the straw man (or straw arguments) they’ve chosen to thrash. I think it’s primarily due to what I clumsily call the “either/or fallacy.” If I declare that I disagree with A, people assume I believe B—when, actually, I’m at C. Simply put, I have enough questionable opinions of my own to defend, I don’t need to be hung with someone else’s. 

    Then there’s the more enjoyable instances where in the process of supposedly refuting me, people end up providing my proof. Andrea S. does this, when after professing a respect for clients, she then commences to trash them at length for their “ignorance.” I suppose she could claim she was simply using the literal definition. I invite her, or any designer, at a point of contention in a job, to tell the client, “that’s okay, you’re just ignorant.” Then report back to me how well it was received. Client-contempt is so ingrained and accepted in the profession that designers don’t see it and consider it natural. As evidence, I refer everyone to the title of Paula Scher’s monograph. 

    Marian Bantjes and I have sharp disagreements over the purity of renowned designers’ motives. I regard them as far more complicated and self-interested than she does—while respecting and admiring their talents. Debating the charity of the individuals she names—or the hiring practices of famed design firms—is topic for Gunnar Swanson’s speculative dinner party. To again focus on the author of the article in question, Marian should read “Back to Show and Tell” in Looking Closer 1 (if she doesn’t have a copy, I could loan her mine, which, in a demonstration of my disdain for all things Pentagram, I had Michael Bierut sign). I don’t read “nurture” in that essay, I read “indoctrination.” I will go this far: Paula Scher is a strong supporter of emerging new talent that she has an affinity for.  

    The divergence of opinion between Marian and I can be attributed to our different experiences with the design establishment. I came to design in the early 1990s via a magazine that was, shall we say, less than embraced by the leading lights of the field. Those same figures still dominate the landscape and I’ve heard few explicit retractions or adjustments/expansions of the attitudes and ideals expressed then. From my viewpoint, all that’s really changed is that Emigre is gone. (I am biased here: I know that if Emigre hadn’t existed, I wouldn’t have my current career. It’s debatable if that’s a good thing for design—that I have a career, that is.)
     
    Design is arguably more open and accepting than it was then. But it ain’t anywhere as open as Marian thinks it is, or should be.

  65. Elizabeth Resnick

    Thank you Paula for having the courage to unapologetically and unflinchingly state your case. In doing so, you have fostered a dialogue long over due, but for me it is not just about design competitions (I have my own issues with design competitions in general), it is really about exposing the leadership of AIGA National as simply not being in sync with the needs of membership at large, now and in the past. I knew the AIGA before the invention of chapters, and I know the role of the chapters as I was a participant in the formation of one of the largest chapters, and a long serving board (and advisory board) member. The larger conversation should revolve around the organization and how it serves its membership in large and small cities, not how it serves itself.

  66. Kerry Gonzales

    Yesterday, I accompanied my students to the AIGA Student Portfolio Review. It was the first year we participated with our own student chapter. And we were very honored. Coming from a 2-year community college, I was happy to say our students met or surpassed the quality of work from the larger 4-year schools. It hasn’t been easy. We don’t receive as much money from the Legislature and we have open enrollment. So to begin with our students are on very different levels of committment, talent and passion. However, having worked in the field as a designer and art director 25 years before my last 15 years of teaching, I can say I have tried to teach my students the exciting experience of creating great conceptual design while also discussing the importance of successful return for the client. What we as a 2-year college lack is time to do everything. We try. And the passionate students that continue on have in most part been successful in their careers. The field most definitely has and will ever continue to change. But I would encourage everyone to understand it is best not to divide “old world” and “new world” of the design field. It can and should include both. If anything there should be more specialized competitions or at least more specialized areas in one. The book is not dying, it is changing. Print is still the second largest industry in the USA. Largely invisible, many write it off. But why are magazine subscriptions rising among 20 somethings? Letterpress has been making a comeback as had the interest in typography. And anything you buy comes in a package. The book industry may become smaller but the demand is still there. The future seems to be more collectible (yea for illustrators and cover artists) as well as the always increasing children’s book area. Yes, young parents prefer “real” books over e-books! Maybe a small group but I see many designers, students, and the public at large wanting more than technology. They want to touch and feel paper. I would encourage everyone to read the #13 Balance booklet from New Page’s Ed Series about sustainability. In fact read them all. So…. after all this, we teach the “old school” as well as all the new technology (which wil always change) and try to squeeze in the importance of client needs. Our field doesn’t need to be an either – or –. Didn’t we go through that Mac vs PC waste of time years ago? We teach both so our students wll be prepared for whatever may be. But please AIGA don’t sacrifice design competition over success rates competition. They both have a place. In a perfect world, they would be one.

  67. Kerry Jenkins

    I will have to agree with Miss Scher’s assessment. I spent twelve-and-a-half-years with my own design studio with my time divided between design, illustration, photography, writing, and educating my clients. A close guess would put the latter at about 20% of my time. Many times, this effort would result in me looking for new clients.

    On some occasions, I would prove myself with this education. But, mostly I would prove my worth and the value of my work through the results to my clients. The revolutionary work that stood out from the tried-and-true status quo was the work that I created without so many client demands … the ones that stood out from what the client’s competitors were having produced. This was why a textile industry client promoted a new chemical successfully with a humorous dalmatian illustration rather than a clinical, clean photo of beakers. It’s also why an automobile retailer grabbed the area’s attention and received a district ADDY … because the general manager had trust in me and said, “Do whatever you want.”

    The clients won’t typically know how to best promote their product or service to their targets. That’s why they hire us. The best business relationships come from a mutual understanding and respect from and for both businesses.

    It’s my guess the “Justified” winners will include a lot of photos of beakers.

  68. Peter

    I often think designers create beautiful things for themselves and call it design. To me (an artist turned designer) it’s art if you are working for yourself and design if you are working for somebody else — even if  you use a design vocabulary to create it. Weren’t dada collages art? They sure look like design and they were making a statement, but they were art. Now, if a dada artist made a collage for a cover of a publication, then that’s design. There’s a plague of designers creating posters with what’s meant to be a pithy comment on them. These can be meaningful to some people, but I would not classify them as design, or at least not the kind of design that the industry should champion. This is all tangential, I apologize.

    The only problem with this paragraph is the very last line. Far from being ‘tangential’, this paragraph strikes at the very heart of the argument. In my relatively short number of years spent working as a designer I’ve come to realise that there are designers, and then threre are artists-working-as-designers. The two are different, as are art and design.

    Design without context is tantamount to eye-candy, pretty pictures on a page/screen. Is Justified the answer, will it establish that context and assign to it the importance it should have in any design contest? The sentiment is there but I’m not so sure about its mechanics.

    In keeping with the multitude of ‘bravos’ in previous responses, here’s my own: bravo cj!

  69. Marian Bantjes

    There appears to be some misconception about how awards are judged.
    .
    First a jury is picked from a large number of designers, some of whom are more well known than others. Competitions like to have at least one or two “stars” on their jury; a really big name that will draw attention because people are more inclined to enter if they think a famous designer will see their work. Then they find people of different backgrounds with different approaches to design. They choose designers who are more corporate, more artsy, who have experience with different types of design (editorial, interactive, etc.). And finally they try to represent different parts of the country, male and female, different ethnicity if possible, etc. Then they see who is available and willing.
    .
    OK, the jury of usually 5–7 then faces off against hundreds or thousands of pieces of work. Depending on how many, they’ll spend 1–3 days (of their own time, unpaid) walking through rooms of work carefully laid out by volunteers. Often, the name of the designer or studio is not revealed. There’s usually some kind of bean-counting process whereby if something interests you you put a bean or chip in a cup that is somehow obscured so that the other jurors won’t be influenced by who voted for it already.
    .
    So who decides what is “good” or “pretty” or “intriguing” or “inspiring” or “effective” or “ground-breaking”? 5–7 different designers, each with their own differing opinions and areas of expertise. And believe me, they often don’t agree.
    .
    How do they decide? Usually in any show I’ve judged it seems that 70% of it is good. It’s good, solid work. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. 10% is utterly awful. And the final 20% is extremely good to astonishing. When you first judge a show, that 70% is really hard, because you think “this is good! this really is good!” but then you see examples of that top 20% and you go OHHH, I get it. Still the process is long and serious. You pick things up and flip through them and find elements that either persuade or dissuade you to drop that bean in a cup. You peer closely at posters and stand back from them. You navigate through websites. etc. When you don’t understand something, you read descriptions, and say “Oh, I get it; this is a local reference to the Dallas Cowboys—now I see it’s quite clever.”
    .
    Finally the beans get counted by the volunteers and you’re presented the work again. Usually work that got votes from all jurors is in, no discussion. And work that gets fewer than 50% is out. But the work that is in or potentially in is viewed again, and that’s where it gets interesting. Jurors with different opinions on work ask questions, argue, persuade. Pieces get voted in, pieces get voted out. Things get reevaluated. Sometimes a juror will ask a piece that didn’t make the final cut to be brought up to make their case for it. Once, Brian Collins started collecting pieces for a made-up “Crimes against the Environment Award” (we pushed for it, but the organization wasn’t up for it). The process is partly subjective, but mostly based on the experience of the jurors. Sometimes deals are made “You can have that thing In, that I/we disagree with, if I/we can have this thing In, that you disagree with.” It’s fascinating, it’s fun and its highly educational. I’ve learned a lot on juries from designers with different perspectives than my own; i’ve had my eyes opened. And I’ve always wished that entrants could be privy to these discussions—how much they’d learn! 
    .
    So it is not Paula or myself or Sagmeister or Bierut or anyone else going around annointing things according to our taste. We all take a lot of time to choose things according to our own widely varied criteria, and then bring that together. And of course it’s a joy to see the pieces that everyone votes for: that have made young and old, from different backgrounds and with different ideas of what makes great design take special notice.
    .
    p.s.
    fwiw, I don’t enter design awards. I’m too lazy.
     

  70. Happy

    James… hittin’ the thesaurus. 
     
    You know, part of the reason society sometimes thinks design is bullshit is because we talk a lot of bullshit — especially the “shock jocks” of the industry (you know who you are). 

  71. James Puckett

    I am following up on Jonathan Hoelfer’s comment about the value of design contests to young designers. Some people clearly see contests like AIGA 365 and 50 books as a tool used by the equites to keep themselves on top. In the era of Behance and Cargo Collective the continuation of such contests is easily cast as arrogation, but we should really see them as having even more value than they did when they caught the attention of a young Jonathan Hoefler.
     
    The signal to noise ratio of design on the internet has overwhelmingly tipped in favor of noise. Most young designers  toot their own horns on at least half a dozen portfolio and networking sites. To the young designer there is no separation between original and ripoff, new and old, masterpiece and disasterpiece. I see this in the results of every research assignment I give my students, who more often than not return to class with printouts of student work that was captioned well enough on Flickr to dominate Google results. The web has become a pernicious morass from which the neophyte can gains little insight, and worse, convinces him that he has. Design annuals curated for the sake of design can serve as maps to guide the neophyte around or out of that morass. 

  72. Gunnar Swanson

    I’m lucky enough to count many of the participants in this conversation as friends. If I could afford to fly people in from wherever they are for a dinner party, a bunch of my guest list would be right here in this discussion. (Sorry, Kenneth. It’s probably faster if you just drive from Norfolk.)

    A couple of people have dismissed the value of design competitions but I think they misinterpret. I see design competitions as a conversation, albeit a less articulate one than we’d experience at my fantasy party. Like talk at dinner, it isn’t linear and it’s not always directly responsive or syllogistic in structure. Not everything important always gets heard, not everything that gets heard is of real or lasting importance, and the most vigorous arguments range from life-changing to silly. It is probably only the aggregate of many such conversations that is important.

    I see Doug’s move (sorry, Doug; I know “Justified” wasn’t yours alone but there’s only so much space in my dining room) as an attempt to ask what the conversation is about. We’ve probably all wanted to interrupt a political discussion by declaring that everyone is missing the “real” point. Sometimes such questions focus the conversation. Sometimes they just derail it. 

    We’d all like to think that our work is so patently wonderful that it requires no explanation but, if you’re like me, some of your most important thoughts require someone to listen longer and more carefully than a dinner party ever allows and some of the clever things you say are merely clever. That may be an argument for writing blogs or books rather than for disrupting the party but I hope one of the planes is coming from Minneapolis.

  73. Donovan Brien

    Ced – to be honest, it sounds like you have some ageism issues. Assuming is always bad? Sort of like you assumed I was a “bitter old man who disliked coomputers [sic]” when I hypothesized as to the root of someone else’s disrespect? Uh oh…

    Again – I do not have a problem with dissent. It is the way it is presented. “You just got your words mixed up” is condescending, especially when considering the overall context.

    That’s the last I will post on this matter. We are detracting from the discussion.

    Jonathan Hoefler nailed it: we aren’t talking against effectiveness here. It is MEASURED EFFECT that we are taking issue with. If measured effect were indicative of real value, National Treasure would be in the criterion collection and Nickelback would be considered good. It just isn’t an accurate measure of something’s value.

  74. cj

    Mr Hoefler, you’re exactly right that the metrics put forth are an inadequate way to measure design’s effectiveness.
     
    While we all say that we believe design has to be effective to be good, many of the awards I see given are to fluff pieces. As a matter of fact, a piece I worked on was just awarded a prize from a reputable organization — I’m pretty sure because it was letterpressed. We entered better pieces that didn’t get recognized. There’s probably a happy medium between the status quo and what AIGA is proposing.

  75. Roland Millington

    And in addition, this from Milton Glaser, as found at TheAtlantic.com.
    “It seems to me that so much of the design practice is overwhelmingly about marketing and sales. While undoubtedly professionally significant, these are the least interesting aspects of professional life.”

  76. Roland Millington

    I have to throw the BS flag at David. Keeping it at a “high level” should first require you to read with comprehension. I agree with Paula. It’s great to have those competitions to which Justified is appealing. For those of us whose scope of work is specific to the solemn and not serious more often than not, it’s an important acknowledgment in today’s results-oriented world. But it does not create a cutting edge.
    In fact, it mirrors the exact thing Eric Gill railed against in his Essay on Typography when he said, “Industrialism has released the artist from creating anything useful.”
    We’ve effectively lowered the bar to get in the door, all for the sake of being more inclusive. For those of us who don’t have the opportunity to get in the door with our work for other clients, AIGA has had a history of being a wellspring of discovery for those creative talents to enter through the portals to which Paula pointed, that no longer exist.
    Fashion shows in Paris often look bizarre to the people who shop in more pedestrian locales, but those fashions continue to push the creative sensibilities to their limits. To eliminate those designs would dramatically dull the cutting edge and retard the growth of design in that industry. And it’s the same here, I’m afraid. We already have a slew of designers whose creativity extends to mimicing the next big trend, and not to trying to create afresh based off of it. That is a sad thing in itself. Contributing to that is even worse, and should be avoided at all costs where possible.

  77. Jonathan Hoefler

    Thanks, CJ. Much of what you’re saying in your first paragraph is that for design to be meaningful, it has to be effective — I agree, and I think most people probably do.
     
    What concers me is measuring “effectiveness” against the yardsticks set out by this competition: “metrics” and “client quotes,” “ROI, increased sales or even money saved.” I think this attempts to make design a quantitative rather than a qualitative business, and it defies any meaningful definition of “good.” Some of the world’s best known and most successful brands have achieved commercial greatness without even a thought for design: do you think their marketing communications deserve a place in an AIGA annual? 

  78. cj

    I would not define the two the same. Most clients write useless briefs and they often don’t properly understand their own problem. That said, I believe that it’s not meaningful design if you are not solving a client’s problem — whether it’s one they identified or you did. (The definition of client is wide: most of humanity is the client for you. For me, the client is most often a marginalized population that has no use for things that tend to win awards.) If a designer is solving their own problem of wanting a pretty piece for their portfolio while ignoring the audience, it’s not good or meaningful design. It might be fun to see a baby announcement some firm did for their principal, but that’s not the kind of work I want to see win awards. That’s the kind of work you want to see on ffffound.
     
    I often think designers create beautiful things for themselves and call it design. To me (an artist turned designer) it’s art if you are working for yourself and design if you are working for somebody else — even if  you use a design vocabulary to create it. Weren’t dada collages art? They sure look like design and they were making a statement, but they were art. Now, if a dada artist made a collage for a cover of a publication, then that’s design. There’s a plague of designers creating posters with what’s meant to be a pithy comment on them. These can be meaningful to some people, but I would not classify them as design, or at least not the kind of design that the industry should champion. This is all tangential, I apologize.
     
    I suppose my whole point is that I have no interest in seeing what people do for themselves in design awards shows and I don’t think it’s good for the industry when we reward that kind of design. There is no shortage of beautiful and meaningful design, we just need to get better at recognizing it.

  79. Jonathan Hoefler

    CJ, just so I understand: do you think that “design that means something,” as you put it, is the same as “design that satisfies the client’s brief,” as the AIGA puts it? If so, I disagree, but I want to make sure I follow.
     

  80. cj

    Can we all agree that neither the same old fluffy design-for-designers awards nor the new marketing-oriented award are the answer?
     
    I’m not surprised at the amount of people that agree with Ms Scher’s opinion, but I am certainly dismayed at the amount of people that think the same tired old awards are working. How many pieces from the same firms, doing the same things for decades (most of them made up clients) do you want to see? I don’t CARE if it’s pretty. I care if it’s pretty and it MEANS something and it was obviously difficult to come to that solution. If I see one more screenprinted robot band poster win an award I’m going to scream.

  81. Paula Scher

    Dear bratty, snot-nosed young designers, and tired old boring, passe war-horse designers, like me. The goal of the young should rightly be to overthrow the old.  Competitions as we knew them are probably a thing of the past, and the AIGA has only one left.
    And this is a competition that, in it’s criteria, will make EVERYONE’s work look comfortably middle-aged.

  82. Ced Lapa

    Donovan, have you never seen a 60-year old art director talk down to his design team and have temper tantrums in front of clients? Have you never met a 50-year old who still thinks websites are “kind of nifty neat” then argues with you about information architecture, user-testing and network theory? Have you never met a 40-year old designer who makes nothing but smart ass remarks in the lunch room while stealing other people’s lunches? Just to be a jerk? Since when is “bad” behavior or sarcasm the terrain of young people only?  Also, making assumptions is always an error in my experience. “I think you mean art, not design. You just got your words mixed up” has argumentative value. There is a funky conversation in American design circles that does indeed mistake art for design. Some people don’t “like categories,” but I sure as hell want to know whether my doctor is a new age shaman or a trained medical surgeon. Wouldn’t you? They’re both more than welcome to “heal” but there’s only one I want cutting into my body. Let’s draw some lines.

  83. Kate Hagi

    I’m disturbed by the rather acrimonious chit chat found in Paula Scher’s blog post and, except for a few exceptions, in the comments following it. Introducing and enforcing the criteria of strategy and effectiveness in design awards is not more or less noble than reviving the beauty contest format that has plagued the design field. One reason this chit chat is so pungent is because the discussion, had it been approached in an intelligent way, was an important one to have and could have been much more interesting. The manipulation of design as a business solution is flawed. The manipulation of design as a visceral aesthetic experience is also flawed. Design is not purely business tool; nor is it some pretty thing we decorate our pages with to our heart’s desire.
    r
    Both flawed approaches permit and bolster (even if unintentionally) an extremely destructive and toxic worldview, one which Scher’s piece so vividly expressed: Designers have nothing better to do than to mourn the fall of their putrid ways in an attack of other putrid ways. And so even the American design community’s most esteemed members leave the swamp as damp, heavy and stinky as they found it.
    r
    ROI, increased sales and money saved are interesting factors to consider and wrangle in a design project, but are sad criteria for design recognition. One could also argue how impossible it actually is to measure design. Analytics experts will attempt to sell their clients expensive services for measuring brand value or these sorts of vile things. Know these analytics experts flick and fiddle numbers at random and never reveal their methodology or metrics for fear of competitive exposure. I speak from experience working at a global branding firm, when I tell you brand valuation is total bullshit, where the value of a brand swung from $4 million to $142 million, as if a silly numerical fumble had innocently occurred and had nothing to do with the agency seeking out the brand as a new potential client. Monocle will admit their city living listings are based on vague categories and subjective opinions. At least they’re honest and do not veil their results on false promises of empirical measurement; they’re simply trying to cater to high-net-worth gentlemen and their poor taste in all things overly-minimal and over-priced. But I digress… Qualitative design measures are one thing; Quantitative design measures are impossible. Totally and utterly impossible.
    r
    Likewise, beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation and inspiration are interesting phenomena that designers consider and wrangle in design projects, but are also sad criteria for design recognition. What is beauty? What is ugly? And perhaps more importantly, who decides? For all their willingness to engage clients and the public with design, designers and design organizations, time and time again, put up a monumental wall of mysterious and undefined “pretty factors” where no possible conversation between different parties can be conceived. Even younger and emerging designers are disillusioned by beauty as understood by an older, more so-called experienced and veteran generation. Do they mean as in modernist beauty and perfect communication? Do they mean crystal goblets? Objects of desire? Objects of contemplation? Designer fonts? Classical typography? Ornamentation? Asymetrical experiments? Letterpress? Strength in concept? Ease of use? Modularity? What are they talking about? Nobody knows. Except for Scher & Co., of course, who have magical gut powers that can weed out the good from the bad. We all know Kenneth FitzGerald is right and will always be lambasted for speaking the truth: there are power relations in all this meritocracy beauty hoo-ha coming from the Pentagram-Design Observer mafia.
    r
    Creativity is equally mysterious and ill-defined, as are surprise, innovation and inspiration. I myself have encountered celebrated pieces of recent graphic design which are unsurprising and utterly déja-vu, whether in terms of concept, thematics, aesthetics or interaction design. Design today is mimetic, and I’m not arguing for some old notion of originality, but I am saying the vast, vast majority of design gestures are tired and cliché. To me and my peers, they are dull; to juries of esteemed members they are innovative and inspiring. How can this be? It’s not about where you take something from—steal and sample at will—it’s about where you take it to. And from the looks of annuals and awards, design doesn’t go anywhere. And its going nowhere fast.
    r
    There’s more at stake here than some flat discussion about beauty as a universal value or in the eye of the beholder. That line of thinking is like a rubber band without any elastic left in it, yet it continually haunts our design discussions to the detriment of us all. Why is that? Why is it that Paul Scher is given full throttle access to Imprint while countless designers have been gossiping about her opinion for years without any platform to voice it on? And then, when Scher’s ideas finally do make it on-stage, they’re too dull, too late and so easily dismissed?
    r
    What’s at stake is the design field as represented by its design discussion. And by the looks of the discussion—like a damp, heavy and stinky wrestling match—the field is in serious danger, indeed. In the future, one should come to expect the design discussion to be more like Collision, a passionate film which followed a passionate, intelligent and rigorous exchange between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson on the nature or goodness, morals, religion and theology. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look. That’s what debate looks like, and not some sad excuse for wrestle mania fanatics to swing mud at each other in what Marian Bantjes gleefully called an “internet fight.”
    r
    Design is in serious, serious danger of falling into total irrelevance to not only clients, business and economics, but to all of society, culture and politic. Just look around. It’s everywhere and plain to see. Scher & Co. will argue otherwise, but everyone else knows those days are numbered.

  84. Donovan Brien

    And just to drive this point home – when I say “their comments” I mean ONLY the disrespectfully sarcastic comments, not all of the comments that support Justified. Didn’t think I had to make that clear, but apparently I have to.
    I think there have actually been some good points made in support of the competition. Not enough to change my mind, but I at least understand the argument a little bit better from AIGA’s standpoint.

  85. Donovan Brien

    Ced – First thing – when I said “fellow” young designers, I meant it. I’m a young designer. That doesn’t negate your accusation, but at the same time I think you will agree that it does seem a bit counterproductive for me to actively discriminate against my own age group.
    Secondly, the only reason I brought up youth is because it seems to be the most likely explanation for such blatant ignorance of such groundbreaking (and fairly recent) work. Their comments seem to stem from a lack of experience and education – something that is gained over time. Time = age. If we were talking about a (somewhat) more obscure designer like Takenobu Igarashi, I could see how my theory was unfair. But come on, Paula Scher? That is barely scratching the surface of the history of graphic design. How can youth not be to blame for that lack of awareness and disrespect?
    “I think you mean art, not design. You just got your words mixed up” — Have I made an incorrect assumption that he is being sarcastic?
    In my opinion, you are grasping at straws in order to strengthen your argument. Similar to how you gave the almost completely irrelevant critique of the work of someone who disagrees with you.
    If anyone else wants to discuss with me, email – db at donovanbrien.com. Otherwise, lets stay on topic please.

  86. Jonathan Hoefler

    Since Ric points out that one of the AIGA’s mandates is to speak beyond the profession, I’d like to highlight a particular constituency of non-designers who are especially important to the profession. We all used to be in this group. They’re called “future designers.”
     
    Do you remember a time before you knew what graphic design was? I do, clearly. I was a high school kid who liked to draw, and thought that the TRON logo was pretty cool. But “graphics” was a vague notion in my head, something to do with airbrushes and illustration board, and presenting drawings on an easel to a room full of executives from the auto industry. For someone never really liked studio art classes, it would never have crossed my mind that this was for me.
     
    And then one day, I noticed a design annual at an art supply store, and discovered DESIGN. An entire world of form-making that had nothing to do with these stereotypes, and everything to do with typography (there’s a name for it!) Lots of Paula’s work was in there — record covers that we had at home, award-winning graphic design in my house! And book covers by Louise Fili and Carin Goldberg, and logos by Kit Hinrichs, and lettering by Michael Doret and Danny Pelavin… It was utterly transformative: a profound watershed moment in my life, that exposed me — young, non-professional me — to what design could be about. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m a designer because of that experience.
     
    Would I be the designer I am if that annual hadn’t been full of the work of the profession’s exemplars, but instead a study of the commercial benefits of design as a service? I doubt it. The most optimistic scenario suggests that “Justified” might encourage some young enthusiast to become more sympathetic to designers in whatever non-design profession he or she pursued. Though if there are teenagers of this inclination — which I doubt to begin with — I suspect they’re not hanging out in art supply stores, or on aiga.org for that matter.
     
    That this is a time of “rapid change” means that we have both the opportunity and the obligation are greater to show the world everything that design can be. That today’s sixteen-year-old is trolling Facebook rather than Sam Flax really makes little difference: it seems as if it should be mandate of the national design organization to showcase the very best of what is possible, to give everyone — designers, non-designers, and future designers — something thrilling to which to aspire.

  87. Ced Lapa

    In response to Andrea S.: “Isn’t all genius somehow viscerally understood, without having to speak a word, or does someone have to tell you when something wonderful has been placed before you?” What is genius? What is trepid? What is beauty? What is ugly? And, who decides? There are power relations you completely ignore. For example, there are things that seem wonderful ans surprising to a panel of esteemed judges. Yet to me and my peers, they seem like yet another run of the mill cliché done a thousand times, with no special twist, without any unique context, nor for an intersting client. There are now entire websites devoted to showing how memes dominate graphic design today; not beauty or surprise. How is this so, if genius is simply viscerally understood? Beauty is not always obvious. Genius is not always just sitting there in our laps, without need of any explanation. Justified may be one terrible end of the stick, but pretending there are no power struggles within “just feeling it out” is the other end of the terrible stick.

  88. Ced Lapa

    Also, Donovan Brien should be ashamed of himself. Ageism is unattractive, no matter how you spin it. I’d like to see him spend the same amount of energy analyzing drone mechanics and civil rights policy design, as he does assuming that young people are being stupid and sarcastic in comment threads.

  89. Ced Lapa

    —  Pete Rypan’s comment was the first and only interesting one here worth noting: “Do we really still care about design competitions? Award shows are a thing of the past and a telltale sign of a phoenix industry that’s building its nest of twigs.” Fantastic metaphor. Yes, some designers still care about awards. But many don’t. Many designers are actually interested in interesting projects and interesting ideas—whether self-initiated or client-commissioned, whether print or digital, whether beautiful or ugly. False dualities don’t matter anymore. Nor do fickle accolades and false prophets.—  Agreement with Scher or Grefé—or consensus in the comment thread—does not represent the popular voice of designers. If anything, it represents this thing called the “likedy-like” phenomena, which I’ve come across in the tweets of That New Design Smell magazine and comment threads of Design Observer. It also represents a very particular American designer crowd that like to follow Imprint. When you consider all the people who actually design in the world, this crowd is actually really, really tiny. Even nano.—  Disagree with Pete Rypan that blogs have replaced awards—for they too “likedy-like”, if not more than traditional forms of back-pat-ism. The future of creativity lies in smart critique and heated debate, not in friendly brainstorms or in mud slinging between design superstars.—  Kenneth FitzGerald could stop calling everyone “elitist” but he does seem like the only one willing to ask interesting questions. And everyoen outside the United States knows he’s right: there’s an American status quo being upheld and its nose diving the profession for all of us. Just a few weeks ago, I met up with a 40-year industry veteran, and chair of a graphic design program at a prominent school, and he had no idea what I meant by “parametric” design. He was still stuck on this idea of brand consistency across pan-media design. That false division doesn’t even exist anymore; media have completely collapsed and become fluid. Have been for almost 20 years now. He also thought open source meant objects trouvés and that his design program was “cutting edge.”— Marian Bantjes could to stop self-promoting and peddling her uncontemporary crafty-ness. Manuscripts and calligraphy can be beautiful, but without bringing them into the 21st century, newly created works that simply copy old modes seem old and dated. No amount of gold foil will make them less boring than they actually are. Bantjes work is pretty to some, but no more prettier than the hundreds of thousands of calligraphers in Iran, for example. And at least they don’t peddle this “handmade” “tradition” marketing hoo-ha. I think Justin McGuirk from The Guardian called this phenomena “craft fetishism.”— Donovan Brian sounds like a bitter old man who dislikes coomputers and likes to insult young poeple because he assumes trite comments are made by young designers and not by, say, the older gentlemen who like to troll design blogs. He should be ashamed of himself. And to think, other commenters were suggesting that older designers actually want to fish out and celebrate young and emerging talent, as I’m sure some do. Sadly for all of us, people like Brian are around to remind us just how little-minded and judgmental the “esteemed” members of our community can be.— I’m 29 by the way. Does that make me “young”? I love to read printed books and I can’t live without the internet. Also, I appreciate my grandmother’s homemade pies. She lives in a home now. I visit her often but my parent’s never do. Also, I love hand-held potato mashers, microwave ovens and food processors. Not such a fan of facial recognition. I think the designers should talk more about drones and civil rights and less about beauty contests. I’ve got awards up the ying yang, a master’s degree and strong recommendations from all my previous employers. With five years of design experience under my belt, I’m still unemployed. Living off my savings and credit card so I don’t end up in my parent’s basement again. So much for working long hours and fighting for great creative in client’s interests. So much for meriting my own success. So much for awards and recognition.

  90. Donovan Brien

    Just for the record – I did not mean “these designers are legends, don’t disagree with them”, I was only suggesting that they be shown some respect for the meaningful impact that they’ve had on the industry. Some of the previous comments were sarcastic, disrespectful and counter productive. I wasn’t objecting to the dissent, but the way it was presented.

  91. Debbie Millman

    CJ: How does agreeing with Paula equate with being a sycophant?
    (FWIW, I always thought Kenneth Fitzgerald was part of the design elite club, sorry Kenneth)
     
    Christopher Simmons: Can you you type out the link you are referring to? I’d like to read it.

  92. Christina Weese

     >> the era of just “making it beautiful” must end.Then I hang up my design card and cast my lot with Paula, Debbie and Marian. 
    Elitist designer conspiracy theory, folks? Really? 
    The GDC in Canada is to my mind traveling a bit of a similar route with the path of forced certification for members. Something about trying to prove worth to businessmen – it can kill the soul. Meet great people, do great work, find hidden gems and share them. Go forth and make the world beautiful, in whatever way that means to you. 

  93. Christopher Simmons

    I thank Paula for prompting a very necessary debate. I see this controversy as a symptom of a much larger set of issues plaguing AIGA. Conversations like these are the first difficult step in resolving them.  
    Below is an excerpt of a much longer response to Paula’s editorial. For those who want the full text (with some clarifying commentary from Ms. Scher) it can be found here.
    In a time when design publications, organizations and independent design concerns increasingly turn to the veil of “competitions” to generate content, revenue and publicity, AIGA has remained an example of integrity in an otherwise turbid field. To me, AIGA has always stood for excellence in design — as seen and appreciated by designers. Some see that as insular and self-congratulatory, and to an extent it may be. But if the professional association for design can’t stand for great design, who will?

    Yes, design must serve a purpose, but often that purpose is subtler than benchmarks, click-through rates, conversions and ROI. Of all people, AIGA should know this. Of all people, AIGA should fight to make this understood. Metrics may be a measure of the business-effectiveness of design (though I would also argue that such measurements are often shallow and incomplete), but they make no account for the role of design as (to use AIGA’s words) a cultural force. They make no account for the reality that design is made by people, for people. Design is made by makers who are driven not only to satisfy the needs of their clients but to also contribute to our shared visual culture. Design is experienced by users/viewers/customers who are attracted to it not for its analytical merits, but who are drawn to it for its emotional and visceral rewards… 

  94. cj

    I’m with you Kenneth Fitzgerald, at least on most of your comments. Of course they’ll never admit it, but the people picking fights with you on here are part of that design elite club. I realized Ms Scher has a lot of friends, but the sheer number of sycophants coming out of the woodwork is surprising. I personally think we’re overdue for a look at the kind of design we’re championing. Design awards are for designers, they should be more objective than that. If AIGA’s new model reduces the number of screenprinted band posters, I’ll be overjoyed. I’m not sure they’re going about it the right way, but the era of just “making it beautiful” must end.

  95. Tan Le

    Late to the party, as always. Agree w/ Paula, Sean, Debbie, Marian, Heller, and most of the rants. I think Debbie hit it on the nose when she say that there’s no way to justify or quantify success. God knows we try as a profession, and in the process, generate a plethora of TM and SM acronyms and made up phrases that are based on sound intent, but are nevertheless, contrived. Because at the end, a design works because it just does, and sometimes fails through no fault of its own. It’s the emperor’s clothes truth of our industry.Ric and company have always done an admirable job of promoting and providing us tools to promote the business of design, which they should continue. But by the comments above, it’s clearly being perceived as doing so at the expense of the magic, craft, and art of design. It’s a mistake — because those are the things that made us all become designers in the first place. It’s the part that we love and want to celebrate, not the TMs, SMs, and case rationales that we throw in front of clients to justify the magic.

  96. Ben Spear

    While I have nothing but the utmost respect for Paula Scher and her work (which is nothing short of amazing), all she does with this article is describe the world of graphic design that she created, shaped, and mastered. It’s time for design world superheroes like her to recognize that the world is different, the criteria have changed. Step aside please, and allow the next generation—who have different values, and a different way of evaluating design—to inheret the profession.

  97. Andrea S.

    Dear Kenneth FitzGerald,Quite normally, I don’t respond to fellow commenters directly, because I don’t like online drama and rudeness instigated by the anonimity of the internet. So, to be both polite but stern, I would say that at first glance, your comment appears to be well written, however it’s inaccuracy disturbs me.
    Not only has no one indicated contempt for clients – quite the opposite – for they are our bread and butter. They have earned their own MBAs and Small Business successes just as we have earned our own stripes. No one can or should ever, take that away from them.
    However, others, especially myself, have indicated that they have a lack of knowledge on the fundamentals of design. In a word, ignorance. If the opposite were true, then clients would not attempt to tackle themselves, what should be done by a professional. If you didn’t like the price of a root canal as quoted by all the dentists in the area, would you ask the dentist for freebie advice and then drill upon your own tooth? Likewise if you needed car repair? Yet, design is one area (like home improvement) where people seem to think that they are their own expert and D-I-Y is acceptable. Then they wonder why the logo and title of the store get snickers and laughs in person and on the internet. Don’t pretend you haven’t seen the examples of bad typography that appear to be cusswords and such. We’ve all seen it. These people are victims of their own ignorance. The dentist will educate you on why you shouldn’t perform your own root canal (if you can’t figure that out for yourself) why shouldn’t a designer educate the general public on the benefits of professional design services? Do you presume that everyone was born knowing everything, or do you really think that clients are all too frequently capable of creating their own work? Either is preposterous! 
    Furthermore, I’m disturbed by the fact that you attribute MY words to Paula Scher. It was MY comment that said, “undeniable, unquantifiable, need-no-introduction, genius.” If you go back and re-read what I wrote, you would notice that I am asking AIGA to re-introduce the printed version of the 365 and the competitions that were showcased within it, for the sake of it’s inspiration and muse. At no point did I, nor anyone else, say that we require the input of design legends and honorees to tell us what is good. (Though Chip Kidd might tell us Good is Dead!) In fact, it doesn’t matter who says what’s good or not, can’t you tell for yourself what works and what doesn’t? Don’t you appreciate having in front of you, a veritable catalog of muses to flip through and appreciate, regardless of who created it or what for? Isn’t all genius somehow viscerally understood, without having to speak a word, or does someone have to tell you when something wonderful has been placed before you?

  98. bonojerry

    Paula, I, too, mourn with you. I went to the AIGA site to make sure that the competition info date was not April 1. What is see here is Geo Bush’ No Child Left Behind as a meme and that scares the hell out of me. So, every entry has to include and essay about what I did on my summer vacation, and I understand that all of the entries are going to be printed out and presented to the world at the AIGA office on the doors of refrigerators….easy to do because each entry is going to be evaluated from 640p wide jpgs. So, now only the end justifies the means. This is the equivalent of the Tea Party taking over design.
    What’s next, Red AIGA and Blue AIGA? How about MORAIGA?
    Gotta go. I am going to get back to work on my illustrated book of penises and vaginas.
    Jerry Bono

  99. Marian Bantjes

    I need to address Kenneth Fitzgerald, point-by-point.
     
     
    >>I think that anything stirring up this kind of discomfort amongst the design elite has its heart in the right place.
     
     
    I don’t think the mandate of the AIGA is to stir up the design “elite”; why on earth would any organization promote and elevate great design work—and quite often, great designers—only to knock them down again?
     
     
    >>What must be acknowledged is that Paula Scher’s article is a full-throated, unapologetic declaration in support of the status quo. 
     
     
    I acknowledge no such thing. Far from it. Paula is a strong supporter of new emerging talent, and her article and sentiments are in continued support of finding and promoting up-and-coming designers with great work.
     
     
    >>That is, the current state of affairs and ideals responsible for placing the field in its contemporary position of (dis)regard in society. The outpouring of support for her stance demonstrates that the profession not only dismisses out of hand any thought of change, it’s eager to double down (more like centuple down by now) on its losing strategy.
     
     
    What complete nonsense! To say that designers who have created great work over the past 10 to 50 years are somehow responsible for placing the field in its current disregard in society is one of the most absurd statements I’ve ever heard! Are Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen responsible for the pre-masticated, approval-rated, hit-oriented music that is manufactured in the music industry? Are you nuts?
     
     
    >>Though its churlish of me, I’ll point out that as Scher resides at the pinnacle of professional renown, it’s evident why she would be averse to any alteration in design’s established value system. 
     
     
    Extremely churlish. You and some others seem to have this idea that there is a cabal of great designers who, having achieved their status not by divine intervention, but by producing great and inspiring work, are now committed to keeping others out of their palace. This is so far from the truth it is ridiculous. Almost every great designer I’ve ever met has been welcoming and genuinely excited to see new work in all forms, and to help and promote young designers.
     
     
    Even if all juries consisted only of Pentagram Partners, which they most certainly do not, the goal of design competitions is not to shut out anyone who is not already a peer, but to find the younger voices that shine out from the pack.
     
     
    Furthermore, there is the equally absurd assumption that designers who have “made it” no longer have to work hard, satisfy clients or briefs, or be concerned about any of the petty details that “in the trenches” designers do. No one has said “Shut up! They’re LEGENDS!” but I do say, don’t make idiotic statements about designers who have proved their worth over the course of many years—sometimes decades. These so-called legends are not gods, they’re people. They’re really nice people who do a lot of work not only for demanding clients, but also for students and young designers around the world. So please don’t give me that shit. 
     
     
    >>Paula Scher is succinct on this point: it’s “undeniable, unquantifiable, need-no-introduction genius.” In other words, it’s obvious. So obvious, in fact, that only panels of renown designers are qualified to apprehend it. Of the many ironies inherent in this discussion, and to which designers are oblivious, this ranks as the most profound.
     
     
    THIS is the most profound irony? That people who have proved their worth, their knowledge and their craft by creating work which thousands of people admire are the best qualified to judge the work of others in their profession? Really? Choose your words for what they mean, not how good they sound.
     
     
    >>So design preeminence is an insular club that you must be voted into, much like, say, Pentagram, writ (slightly) larger. 
     
     
    Nope, just like Pentagram, you earn your way into it. In the old words of Michael Bierut, you Do Great Work. You do work that shows your imagination and your intellect, and your ability to capture attention and surprise, delight or intrigue the viewer; work that communicates, that means something, that lasts in the minds and imagination of others. Not by doing mediocre work that determinedly fulfills a brief and performs to some hard-to-determine financial bottom line.
     
     
    >And the bulk of the field is okay with that, despite the fact that it will preclude a legion of designers any hope of similarly attaining such status. Here, I will explicitly say that my point isn’t that Paula Scher is neccessarily underserving of her status but that under design’s unarticulated, arbitrary rules, many other possibly deserving designers will be excluded.
     
     
    Given everything I’ve said above, I hope you can see that this is beyond idiotic. In fact quite the opposite is true. The model of awards as practiced in the past will preclude only that legion of designers who have not yet produced anything worth honouring. There is the possibility of exclusion in all judging systems, and in fact I would say that “Justified” is far more likely to exclude the deserving than any other model.
     
     
    >>This may be additionally self-congratulatory, but what truly differentiates design from art and architecture is that the latter disciplines have a range of commentators respected totally for the cogency and independence of their arguments. 
     
     
    True, but an entirely different topic.
     
     
    >>The other major irony is of designers educating the public on the value of design. Friends, the public already values design. It’s designers they lack respect for. 
     
     
    Really? Evidenced by what? Citation, please.
     
     
    >stop being sheep.
     
     
    Cute, but is it more sheepish to just shrug your shoulders over misguided change, or to speak up and say, “this is not right”? 
     

  100. Joe Marianek

    AIGA has traditionally been the keeper of many powerful rich assets which it now treats like dog toys. Like a rabid dog who slowly gnarls a plastic bone to shreds, the leadership has justifiably eroded the meat of what makes AIGA good, and meanwhile, sharpened its teeth looking for what’s no longer there. Various dog toys mentioned above include 365, 50/50, and ultimately the Design Archives. As a designer, educator, and AIGA chapter board member, I have come to be weary of the repressive and unrepentant tone of the AIGA leadership towards the popular needs of its members in this public forum and in others. Though AIGA claims to have been reactive to membership and scientifically projected current / future members needs vis-a-vis beautifully crafted venn diagrams, the proof is in the popular reaction here from the core-constituents in design community. Paula’s post justifiably represents a popular opinion.AIGA’s leadership has acknowledged the need of chapters to run programs like competitions on a “local” or regional level. While chapters like New York, Boston, or San Francisco may have the financial and logistical to run competitions, conferences or exhibitions, (and grow membership), it’s simply not possible for podunk chapters to replace national leadership and value. No designer has to be a member of AIGA, and I’m beginning to believe that most designers shouldn’t. In fact, I’m beginning that you should just dismantle this organization while you’re ahead. In the absence of AIGA, I could confidently direct my students and peers to a list of organizations, competitions, conferences, blogs, and other resources that young and old designers should devote their time and attention to for a major return. For instance, why not look at the positive examples that UnderConsideration or Print Magazine have set as profitable and powerful models that combine generous qualities of competitions, design leadership, education, inspiration, outreach, and editorial integrity? The Dallas Society of Visual Communications, Columbus Society of Communicating Arts and the Art Director’s Club all function as models of local or regional design organizations that hold competitions and serve their professions with competitions and return the value of membership.Count the comments here. In addition to being financially solvent, AIGA should responsible for being an adaptable and self-aware organization that listens to its members and the greater community. No one joins AIGA for its supposed lobbying power. Out of respect for past, current and future members and the profession at large, give the bone back.
    I’m no longer interested in watching old rabid dogs destroy things I love.

  101. Kenneth FitzGerald

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    As it’s decidedly less crowded to stand with them (though it’s not the lone virtue), I’ll express my respect and support for Ric Grefe and Doug Powell for what they’re trying to do with the loathed “Justified.” I say this having no particular interest in the amount or nature of AIGA’s design competitions. And I suspect if I cared to closely read the prospectus for Justified, I’d also find it problematic—though for reasons wholly different from those expressed here. But while it’s likely simplistic of me, I think that anything stirring up this kind of discomfort amongst the design elite has its heart in the right place.
    What must be acknowledged is that Paula Scher’s article is a full-throated, unapologetic declaration in support of the status quo. That is, the current state of affairs and ideals responsible for placing the field in its contemporary position of (dis)regard in society. The outpouring of support for her stance demonstrates that the profession not only dismisses out of hand any thought of change, it’s eager to double down (more like centuple down by now) on its losing strategy.
    Though its churlish of me, I’ll point out that as Scher resides at the pinnacle of professional renown, it’s evident why she would be averse to any alteration in design’s established value system. And that’s the essential issue at play here. Just what is design’s value system?
    The comments above provide an exhaustive list on what can’t be used to determine good design but is short on instruction on what rationale is acceptable. No, I take that back. Paula Scher is succinct on this point: it’s “undeniable, unquantifiable, need-no-introduction genius.” In other words, it’s obvious. So obvious, in fact, that only panels of renown designers are qualified to apprehend it. Of the many ironies inherent in this discussion, and to which designers are oblivious, this ranks as the most profound.
    Once again, it’s evident why Paula Scher is in support of good design being whatever a renowned designer tells you it is. And what criteria bring a designer to that elevated status? Designers have an answer for that too: Shut up! They’re LEGENDS!
    So design preeminence is an insular club that you must be voted into, much like, say, Pentagram, writ (slightly) larger. And the bulk of the field is okay with that, despite the fact that it will preclude a legion of designers any hope of similarly attaining such status. Here, I will explicitly say that my point isn’t that Paula Scher is neccessarily underserving of her status but that under design’s unarticulated, arbitrary rules, many other possibly deserving designers will be excluded.
    It may be my own arrogance that I reject the idea that I need Paula Scher or any other celebrated designer to tell me what good design is. As humble as my own reason may be, it’s all I have, and I choose to employ it. The difference is that I embrace the ability and obligation to articulate the reasons behind my evaluations, where most designers consider themselves above such frivolity. This may be additionally self-congratulatory, but what truly differentiates design from art and architecture is that the latter disciplines have a range of commentators respected totally for the cogency and independence of their arguments. This is in opposition to design, where if you’ve sold your wares to moneyed culture interests, your opinion is golden, no matter how objectively incoherent and self-serving it is. No amount of trendy TED talks delivered will change the reality that designers primarily offer resume not reason as justification for their opinions.
    The other major irony is of designers educating the public on the value of design. Friends, the public already values design. It’s designers they lack respect for. And reading the unalloyed contempt expressed for clients (creatures so twisted that they manage to be idiots even when they employ good design) here, why should they? Don’t fool yourselves designers, the public has your number. And, for good reason, it’s in the single digits—actually just one in the middle of the hand. The public is just returning your favor. People don’t need to read this specific discussion to comprehend that when it comes down to providing any rationale for their views, designers got nothin’. Unless, of course, you’re counting the bullshit approved of so carelessly above.
    As I said at the start, I have no idea if this new competition can do what it claims or attempts to do. But any action that pushes the field into offering more than sycophancy and the arbitrary is a positive. Designers, think—and for yourself. To quote myself from long, long ago: stop being sheep.

  102. Steven Heller

    Paula’s post and the resulting comments prove that AIGA, like graphic design, is at a turning point. Like most people I resist and embrace change. Yin and Yang. But I mourn the loss of what was rich and nurturing.
     
    AIGA’s exhibition/competition program, the pinacle of documentation, validation and education, is gone. Whatever the reasons (and economic is certainly a good one), the no-nonsense underpinning of JUSTIFIED as AIGA’s ONLY competitive outreach is wrong. To jetison Mental Picture, Info Graphics, Just Type and all the one-off competitions, not to mention 360 may make shrewd (or even necessary and inevitable) business sense but it devalues the role and purpose of this historic institution.
     
    Without sounding like an old geezer moaning for what was, it is important to sound remorse for what is. Paula and others are right to want to maintain not just the quirkiness of our profession, but the essential virtue of it too. AIGA is not just a lobby for the value of design to business and non-profits or an advocate for sustainability – each important – but it serves as a testament, and even a fan, to the ART of design that comes from experimentation and risk. From FAILURE.
     
    Herb Lubalin once organized the NO SHOW, an exhibition of great things that didn’t make the cut. It was as instructive and illuminating as any of the Communication Graphics shows. What doesn’t work is part of the process. The client is NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. Maybe a show that teaches designers how to get through the mine fields would be a good compliment to JUSTIFIED.
     
    AIGA has for years attempted to REDEFINE itself and JUSTIFY itself in the process. That is a tough job, and respect to those who are in the trenches (as I was for many years as editor of the AIGA Journal). But attempts at JUSTIFICATION can appear DEFENSIVE. My sense is that AIGA is in TRIAGE. Eliminating important outlets for design and designers to JUSTIFY and insure its EXISTENCE.
     
    If the JUSTIFICATION for existence is flawed, then existence is based in sand. Graphic design has changed radically in the past 10 years, but it must not be defined by the verb JUSTIFY.
     

  103. Helbronn

    Lately, increasingly more online businesses have expanded product promotion using wireless and TV spots. But, still repeating the name, visual and auditory, it leads to adding extra zeros to the original price. etreppenlift.com

  104. tberno

    First of all, AIGA (of which I’m also a member) should be concerned not only at the impressive list of participants but also of the equally meaningful discourse that is happening here—and not at aiga.org.
    Second, as an educator, I’m as concerned as anyone with the rapid state of change in our industry. AIGA’s stated objectives aren’t necessarily wrong, but their vision of how to fulfill them is wholly disconnected from the very value that designers do bring to the table—and that AIGA desires to expand upon.
    Designers will benefit when we convince clients that the linear thinking and data analysis, along with the predictable outcomes they produce, are of little value when trying to differentiate a company, product or service via design. Designers can and do start with the finished vision, and work backwards to discover the best means of reaching that vision. Business managers aren’t comfortable with this level of visualization, especially when there is not a predictable, repeatable process for reaching it. Additionally, many of these same managers cannot achieve the level of visualization that designers bring to the table to evaluate design in the first place.
    As for effectiveness, great design in my mind is the solution that fulfills the client’s purpose, yet does so in a manner that appears both unimagineably different and at the same time, as if no other solution would have been possible.

  105. Andrea S.

    Upon reading Paula’s article and Ric’s response, and as an AIGA member myself I feel that it must be said, that both have valid points, and yet neither completely addresses the whole. 
     
    Paula brings up the points that lie close to my heart – when I first joined the AIGA I was completely delighted, inspired, awed and I felt my own work was enhanced by the very exposure to the quality and level of artwork that was published in the 365. Each year I lusted for the smell of the paper and ink, for the surprise of the new cover art and the intellect of successful work that needs no explanation. Not only was this a source of muse for me, but an escape from the hum-drum of the all-too-common mediocre plastered on billboards and spread throughout magazines. I needed this! 
     
    So it might go without saying, that when the 365 was no longer going to be issued in print, I was devastated and seriously contemplated ending my membership with the organization – but the inspirational material was not my only reason for membership. There was a time when being a card-carrying member of the AIGA meant something. It meant that designer took their art, craft, skill, talent and career resources seriously. It spoke volumes to anyone who knew, that this person is or wants to be playing on a higher level. Back when AIGA had hosted it’s own jobs board online, giving employers exclusive access to membership, I had been offered interviews for positions that I hadn’t even applied for, based solely upon my portfolio listed on AIGA’s site. That’s just one example of how much AIGA membership meant, internally and externally. Ever since AIGA outsourced it’s member portfolio site to be meshed and intwined with the works of a million other artists and designers, AIGA members or otherwise, I haven’t been contacted by employers looking for designers, unless I contact them first. 
     
    Maybe that’s more a reflection of my own work? Perhaps it’s a sign of the economic times. Maybe both. Who’s to say? I can say, that since I felt the value of posting a portfolio with AIGA (now Behance) is declined, I’ve removed myself from it, substantially. It’s just as much work, maybe less, to create my own portfolio on my own website, where I don’t have to get lost in the internet shuffle, where I can use what moderate amount of SEO knowledge I have to improve my visibility, and where my chances of being found by a potential client or employer are just as good, if not better, than the new AIGA membership portfolio display. It makes more economic sense in that way, because I get better ROI of my time and funds. A greater value, you might say. Which brings me to the concept of value and our current economics. 
     
    I grew up with one of those ‘MBA’ suits that were mentioned in so many of the above posts. Over the years, she drilled into my head, “the value of something is only what someone else is willing to pay for it.” (Because artists need some business sense, too, I suppose.) It’s also true that the value has many factors: the person who you sell to, the place where you sell it, and the time in which the transaction is to take place. It’s like selling an old baseball with a faded signature: to the person who knows best, it will have the highest value. To someone who knows nothing, give it to the dog to play with. While it seems like we should just seek out the most knowledgeable clients who have proven to have the most money and are near enough to work with us, we have only so much control over these factors. As designers – purveyors of unique vision, unique skill and -dare I say it? a unique commodity, we cannot produce a design in advance of securing a client and hope to sell it when the value is high. We cannot create something, and then sell to the highest bidder. We are at the mercy of demand and economy, our own negotiation skills, how we value ourselves and ethics. In short, our commerce is not created in a vacuum. 
     
    So it is with heavy heart that I write this increasingly cliched line, that because of our economy and the stagflation it is experiencing, the MBAs, the Presidents, the CEOs and Small Business Owners who would normally seek out design – are increasingly reserved about their decision to do so. They see the stagflation in their own numbers. They seek the higher profits, the benefits, the solutions and the desires that great design can create, yet they hesitate or fail to take any action at all. 
     
    As a freelance designer I’ve seen this happen time and time again. The owner of a small business calls or emails me, because he likes my work, heard great things about me or found me online. He knows he needs something, something I can provide, but he’s not sure what it is. After I spend hours on the phone with this person, teasing out the details of their business, it’s history, it’s dreams and goals, learning what the potential client really needs, versus what they think they need, I agree to come out and meet in person. I come equipped with some ‘freebie’ ideas, an outline of the creative brief from our conversation, and an understanding that this person may know everything or nothing about design. I spend hours assembling the proposal, making sure that it is just right, both in writing and design, itself. Before the meeting can even begin, the client speaks first and it’s always the same: “What’s this going to cost me?” The very idea of their own clients’ experience escapes them and the designer is little more than a button pusher or typist. Somewhere along the line, these employers (let’s call them, for condensation of all the terms for those who hire designers) have changed their perspective. The value of design and designers has decreased for them. Like the baseball with the faded signature, it seems like the time, place and people for the transation are all wrong. Have employers forgotten what design can do? 
     
    Design has become too much of a commodity. To some, it feels more like plunking down $2.50 for an unnecessary candy bar than the necessity of a gallon of milk or (a whiff of) gasoline. Too many clients see design as something to see, read, hold and eventually throw away. He doesn’t see it as a necessity, and if the price is higher than he expected, he writes down all my little freebie ideas and attempts to use them himself. He thinks he can update his own website or create his own brochure by using a template. He either forgets or doesn’t care that what I can do and what he can do are worlds apart. We designers, especially the freelancers, aren’t just up against the World Wide Web, crowdsourcing and globalization as our competition. In fact, they aren’t really competition at all. We’re really up against the ignorance of our own potential clients.
     
    Oh sure, I’ve seen the arguments in comment threads and forums, that a client who doesn’t want to pay ethical prices, a client who undervalues design and the profession, isn’t a client that we should be working with. It’s been said a million times before, that if we don’t undercut ourselves, if we stick to ethical pricing guidelines, if we refuse to work for less than we should, then we retain some of the value of design. All very valid points, and I agree with them whole heartedly. I refuse to prostitute my skills, my education, my time and my talents at some cut-rate just to make a fast buck, because I know that in the end, that quick dollar actually cost me money. However, it should be noted, that the clients who are willing to pay for design are rare and should be on the endangered species list. Unless you were one of the lucky freelancers who escaped the meat grinder with plenty of paying clients, freelancing used to be something that one did on the side, to entertain the muse within. Now, freelancing is the norm. According to FreelancersUnion.org, there are 42 million independent workers. (Though this number includes more than designers, it is still a staggering number.) This is likely because the number of regular-paying jobs is decreasing. Designers are finding regular employment increasingly replaced with contract positions indicating a term when employment will end, as well as eliminating the designer from full-time employee status, while working full-time hours, while negating any potential health or vacation benefits that other employees enjoy. Yet, we still have to put food on the table. We still have to pay for a place to live. We still get sick, have families, and wish to take time off. Our costs of living are just like that of anyone else – from the CEO to the janitor to the secretary – yet our positions and healthcare are the first to get cut. We’re seen as dispensable, we have become commodities ourselves.
     
    By all this information listed above, I believe that I support Ric in his statement: that we are in an era of rapid and far reaching change. A change in the design climate that has moved from reverence to lack of respect. What the Justified competition means to me, is another short-term tactic in the long-term strategy. I imagine the conversation may have been, “How can we educate clients, promote great designers while enhancing great design?” It’s AIGA trying something new. While there is inherent danger in structuring AIGA’s goals around focus-based research (because yes, we do need to be asking the right questions) I think there is just as much danger in not reading the writing on the wall. if 75%  of membership is seeking a way to educate clients, then it should be clear that our industry has a serious issue staring straight at us. 
     
    Maybe this competition will stick around, maybe it won’t. Maybe the submissions will be mind-blowing, or maybe the designers will be overworked by trying to think and write. But I don’t want to write this all off just yet – I’d like to see what comes of this, first. I would like to think that the jury who examines the entries will be intelligent in their choices, they will have a selection criteria, which involves examining designs first and the writing later. I also think it would be beneficial if both the designer and the client are involved in the award process. Perhaps we need to start rewarding the employer/clients who still know a thing or two about the value of design. Perhaps through the resulting exposure they will breed more of their own kind. While I don’t agree with every move and decision AIGA has made, I refuse to give up hope. I sincerely hope that the organization will decide to back-track and take both paths: the one where we sit in awe and admire the undeniable, unquantifiable, need-no-introduction genius, and the one where we spend some time inviting the outsiders in, those who aren’t designers, and show them just what makes those designs (and others like it) so damn good. 

  106. Pingback: » AIGA Reaps What it Sews Andy Logic

  107. John

    Hey, remember when that guy Matt said “I think I can clear all this up. You’re thinking of art, not design. Design accomplishes a measurable goal. Don’t feel bad. You just got your words mixed up.”
    Yeah… that was dumb.

  108. John Consoli

    Paula
    Your comments are right on. What we need is less bullshit, and more creative, inspirational design. Thank you for writing your letter and explaining what we are all giving up by AIGA moving in this direction. Great design does not and should not need an * with any additional explanation.

  109. Danny W.

    Found it! I remembered reading about last year’s AIGA “Making the Case” competition (which apparently garnered “almost 60″ entries), and which seems to have been re-booted as “Justified”:
    http://www.aiga.org/news-20111114/
    This discussion brings to mind a short piece from the eminently quotable Michael Bierut (a Design Observer article called You’re So Intelligent):
    “…Finally, I found myself at a design conference listening to still another demand that clients give us designers that coveted place at that legendary table where all the big decisions are made. Sitting next to me was one of my favorite clients, someone I treasure for her levelheadedness and good humor. “I’ve spent hours at that table,” she whispered to me. “It’s not that great, you know.”
     

  110. mike williams

     
     

    Hi Paula,
     
    From your reaction to my comment, I’m not sure I was as clear as I had hoped. I am not saying designers need data or research to do effective design. I am literally talking about effectiveness. Basically I feel delivering on the brief should be a mandatory that is too often overlooked when we celebrate our successes. 
     
    You’re Apple analogy is a perfect example of how this can happen in an ideal state. Steve Jobs prioritized the end user experience and did so with beauty and craftsmanship. But at the end of the day – effectiveness always came first. Phones and computers have to work. Jobs had the creative visions. Apple designers needed to prioritize how to effectively deliver those visions. 
     
    My response is colored by my experience: I’ve met and worked with too many designers that have been taught creativity trumps all, are enchanted with doing something amazing and get impatient about having to be accountable to effectiveness. If designers don’t worry about effectiveness, someone else will – and in my experience (more often than not – though there are plenty of exceptions) those are the people the client wants at the table. By no means am I saying we stop at effectiveness – but I do believe we have to start there.

     
     

  111. Jan vH

    As an outsider, only beginning to learn about web design, all of this griping about how undervalued design is to clients seems rather silly. Everybody knows when good design works: it is obvious; just mention Apple. Everybody for years has noticed good advertising when it’s good: more people view the Super Bowl–a sport, a national pastime–for the ads. Clients “undervalue” the work because they don’t like having to pay for it and many, many companies are willing to make do with less. Always will be the case. 

  112. Doug Powell

    Several people have asked me to copy my blog post into this thread, so here it is. You can also find it at:
    http://mergedesignblog.com/
    Thoughts on design, leadership and civil discourse
    In the nine months since I became AIGA national president I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of visiting more than a dozen AIGA chapters and student groups in design communities as rich and wide-ranging as San Francisco, Oklahoma City, Washington DC, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. On these visits I’ve spoken to hundreds of designers about what they are seeing and experiencing in the profession, and what they are looking for in a professional association. As you can imagine, these conversations are as diverse, passionate and nuanced as the AIGA membership itself, yet most of the questions I’ve heard can be grouped into three general categories: “How can I make the case for the value of design to my clients and potential clients in the midst of a challenging economy?” “How can I continue to build my skills to remain relevant in a shifting and fiercely competitive job market?” and, from many designers at the beginning of their career, “How can I build my career by doing work that I am passionate about, and that makes the world around me a better place?”
    For me, these three questions symbolize the complexity of our profession during this dynamic time of change, and as a working designer with an independent practice, these are questions I find myself asking as well.
    So how does a membership organization with a rich 100-year history and scarce resources respond to the changing needs of its constituency? This is the central question I’ve been asked to help answer during my term as president. In 2009, the AIGA leadership—led by a previous president and board—took a bold step in addressing this question by developing and launching a strategic vision for AIGA that reflected the current realities of the profession and world based on direct input from our members. In collaboration with our remarkably talented and dedicated 15-member board and staff, I’ve been working to respond to this call for change and implement this vision—a responsibility I take very seriously and am deeply humbled by.
    A recent opinion piece on a design blog by AIGA medalist Paula Scher was highly critical of this “new AIGA,” specifically using the AIGA Justified design competition as evidence that the organization has lost its way and abandoned all interest in celebrating design excellence. In her piece, Paula connects the failings of AIGA to me personally in a baffling rant that includes claims about cutting down trees and endangered species (design Darwin-ism?). I have been an admirer of Paula Scher’s design work for many years, and I have an appreciation for the broad point of view she is expressing in this blog post. I believe strongly that we must find a balance between striving for our ambitious vision of change and honoring our cherished history. However, to single me out by name in this article and suggest that I have “mowed down” a valued AIGA program is profoundly inaccurate, insensitive, and inflammatory. The courtesy of a phone call before publishing such a statement would surely have resulted in a better understanding of my point of view and a more balanced view of this important issue, but apparently that was not the intent. Instead the tone of this piece has reduced a valid debate to the level of a cable news talk show where fact is obscured by rhetoric.
    While I’m tempted to engage in a tit-for-tat response to Paula’s claim, frankly I’ve got work to do today so I’m going to keep this at a high level. I’ll refer readers to Ric Grefé’s thoughtful contribution to the comment stream of Paula’s post for a more detailed articulation of AIGA strategy. Suffice it to say that AIGA has taken many forms over our 100 year history, in fact Paul gives an overview of the many past AIGA design competitions in her post. What this tells me is that AIGA has always been willing to reinvent our competitions and other programming to match the evolving context of the time. I’m not sure if we have fully succeeded with Justified, but I believe it is a valid reflection of the complex time in which our members are living and working, and a strong response to the feedback we have received.
    I look forward to continuing the vigorous and respectful discussion of design, professional, and cultural issues I’ve had with so many AIGA members during the rest of my term as AIGA president and beyond.
    I hope you will join me later this month as AIGA will celebrate excellence in design by honoring the 2012 class of medalists: Ralph Caplan, Elaine Lustig Cohen, Armin Hofmann, and Bob Vogele at our annual gala: Bright Lights. As we approach the centennial of AIGA in 2014, we must continue to reflect on the richness of our shared past while tapping the immense creativity of our nearly 22,000 members to envision design in the next hundred years.

  113. Mike Calkins

    Thank you Paula for making my week. I’ve never had a problem with sound strategy but it is suspicious that so much of the work resulting from it continues to be so conspicuously weak. I see a gradual shift in priority and I think it’s obvious which direction it’s moving towards.

  114. Daren

    I don’t mind the new award show and requirements for entry, but not at the categorical expense of 365, 50/50 or other shows that may or may not need the “justification”.

  115. Brian Maloney

    Kudos for taking such a clear stance Paula. In one of Ken Robinson’s TED talks he said something to the effect of Creativity is having original ideas that have value. I try to impart that on my students all the time. This change in format and justification seems to fly in the face of that notion and discourage what design really is – putting the pieces together in new and exciting way. I don’t know Doug, but I’ve been on enough boards to imagine the bullshit rationale behind the proposed changes. What I do know is that removing creativity and design from any competition of this kind, for even one year, will be a death knell and destroy all of it’s relevance. Even if they decide to change it back after it fails, no self respecting designer would jump to participate unless it became something else entirely, which finalizes it’s demise and turns to a new route (which takes time to establish).
    Thank you for speaking out so frankly and let’s hope it’s in time to stop it from destroying the past.

  116. sarah coffman

    paula.
    sean.
    marc.
    marian.
    millman. 
     
    ditto.
     
    p.s. i applaud you guys mostly for having it in you to stay in aiga and fight to make things better. i couldn’t stomach it for more than a year. 

  117. Donovan Brien

    Thank you Paula, this is excellent and I completely agree.
    As for my response: first of all, let me apologize for my “young designer” peers’ behavior (I assume they are also young designers, as anyone older should know better). The level of disrespect that is being shown to full blown design LEGENDS is unacceptable. All this snarky “ha ha it’s the internet, lets be sarcastic” nonsense contributes nothing to the conversation, the community or your own work / life. Turn off the computer. Read a book. Grow up.
    Secondly, the problem I see with the competition is this: a 1000 word essay about why a design is effective goes against the very notion of graphic design. Sure, you can argue that, for certain projects, there is an amount of backstory that you need to “get” the design. But how is a 100-250 word description not enough? When you first saw the IBM or Nike or UPS (original) logo, did you need a 1000 word description about why it worked? Or was it intuitive?
    You know which logos needed long winded descriptions? The pepsi logo. The JCPenney logo. And I bet that failed gap logo needed it too. Obviously, those wouldn’t win this competition, but I just can’t see how a long-winded description will do anything but distract from whether or not the design is good.
    Thirdly, in the words of James Victore – “the worst thing you can do for a client is answer the brief”. There are plenty of overjoyed clients who have had all of their demands met and wind up with terrible work. It is up to us as designers to make something that reaches beyond the clients’ ideas and produce something that checks all the boxes – visually compelling, effective and strategic.
    Finally, I’d just like to say: Marion Bantjes you are obviously a badass. I died laughing when you called that guy out. But more importantly, thanks for sticking up for design.

  118. Pete Rypan

    Do we really still care about design competitions? Award shows are a thing of the past and a telltale sign of a phoenix industry that’s building its nest of twigs. They’ve been imposed on us by the great tradition of 20th century back-pat-ism. But there’s a new generation of designers (I use this term lightly here) who don’t answer to AIGA and don’t want – don’t need – award shows for the vaildation or justification of our work.
    Nay, for we have the blogs.

  119. Joe Bauldoff

    We find this struggle in any venue where art dovetails business; where the subjective overlaps the objective. As several alluded to above, grasping the true impact of art is futile, and graphic design is as umbilically linked to art as it is to business. We can see this debate in any other artistic field with a for-profit veneer, and it is just as vexed: music, fashion, industrial design, writing, film, and so on.
     
    So how should one define the absolute effectiveness of a design? We can say that design effectiveness relies strictly on the increased sales & traffic immediately following the implementation of the work. Certainly, there are countless business leaders, politicians, and the like, who rely solely on this kind of short-term thinking; who are, perhaps, more concerned with their potential raise/promotion/reelection chances than the long-term welfare of culture and the human condition. We mustn’t judge a client or individual for having ideals or goals alternative from ours, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that we, as the designers, should fully adopt theirs unconditionally, omitting our own. I do think there’s something incredibly healthy in looking beyond our cliquish tendency to navel-gaze —to see how our work thrives out there in the world, and how it affects our client’s next-quarter bottom line— but either extreme can be very a crippling mindset, when conducted exclusively.
     
    We humans love to categorize things in neat little boxes, and I believe that this issue (like so many out there) sweep far beyond our restrictive penchant for absolutism. This AIGA competition wishes to judge design based completely on the client’s objectives. If graphic design is strictly business, then this competition is sound and logical. If graphic design is strictly art, then we should surely ignore the client’s goals completely, and instead judge our work based on how effectively it expresses our personal interpretation of things, and how it is ultimately nutritious for society. The true state of affairs, however, could be that this inescapable overlap of art and business encompasses so many broad strands & pockets of humanity, that we may need to wait until the next epoch before we are preceptive enough to truly understand and articulate it.

  120. Armin Vit

    Nearly three quarters (73 percent) tell us they want us to communicate the value of design through the design process rather than highlighting artifacts
    There is a big difference from an opinion on a survey to what designers will actually do. We run the Brand New Awards where we give entrants the option to nominate their project for a special “Design Effectiveness” Award that aims to champion much of the same stuff Justified is trying to do. Out of nearly 600 entries this year, we only received 2 nominations that attempted to justify/quantify their work. So when push comes to justifiable shove, designers don’t seem too eager — or perhaps too confident — to do so. The work itself, though, was fantastic. Would have been a shame to miss all of it were we enforcing something effectiveness. Next year we are probably getting rid of this special award, doesn’t seem to have any special appeal to our audience. (Graphic designers who implement really nice work for paying clients of all size).
    This is another manifestation of AIGA’s obsession with appealing to business, perhaps hoping to align itself more with the TEDs, GOODs, and Fast Companys of the world. Many here have already complained about the focus on this at the last national conference in Phoenix, for which I canceled our tickets that we bought at the very early bird price after seeing the speaker line-up, which featured a very small percentage of graphic designers.
    We kern type, we crop images, we select webfonts, we doodle on napkins, we juxtapose words and images within spaces, and we do it in a way that can’t be spread-sheeted. Embrace it. Don’t run away from it, AIGA.

  121. Debbie Millman


    Mike Williams said: But where is the reinforcement of valuing effectiveness? Who values effectiveness? The people in the office with an MBA. And as long as they are the ones valuing it more than designers – they’ll always be our bosses.
     
    Jonathan Miller said: Packaging design is pretty easy – simple sales data can make a credible case – but visual identity is less straightforward…
     
    Actually, it really isn’t. I believe that packaging is among the most difficult of the design disciplines. And ironically (or sadly) sales data and market research are the primary reasons. Apple is only Fortune 500 company (that I know of) that doesn’t qualitatively and/or quantitatively test package design with consumers before going to market. And who can blame the rest that don’t? These companies have billion dollar brands at stake, and in their defense, they want to provide consumers with what they believe they will like and buy, and these methodologies seem to provide the best possible way to gather that information. The unfortunate truth here is that for every successful market research endeavor, I can point to a corresponding failure. The fact of the matter is this: There is no way to justify, quantify or successfully predict success. Period, the end. Brilliant thinkers like Wally Olins will tell you it is because trying to “finding out what people feel about things that are happening today is extremely useful. Trying to get people to tell you what will work tomorrow is useless.” Tropicana and GAP did not conduct market research prior to launching new looks, and we all know how that turned out. Before New Coke was introduced, the Coca-Cola Company did substantial qual and quant indicating that consumers LOVED the new taste. Again, we all know how that worked out. And lucky for Absolut and Cabbage Patch Dolls—they launched DESPITE market research indicating that consumers hated the products and had no interest in buying them.
     
    Data. Gotta love it.
     
    When I first started writing the book Paula mentions above, Steff Geissbuhler warned me that there was no recipe for design or career success. I couldn’t agree more. What might be successful for one project is the very thing that can doom another. What I think designers and marketers are falling victim to is the gross misperception that it is possible to quantify the unquantifiable, and that there is some secret imbedded in successful projects that will easily translate to another. If justification of any outcome is what people are looking for in order to be inspired, I fear that they will be disappointed or worse—they will be mislead.
     
    Steve Jobs showed the world how design could make a difference without necessarily talking about Design (cap intended). There was a magic inherent in what he did that was joyous and inspiring. In addition to his genius, I also swooned over the CONFIDENCE he had in his vision. I recently attended a gigantic marketing/design “best practices” summit at one of the world’s leading company’s and, of course, everyone referenced Apple. One question that came up in the meeting was this: What would Steve Jobs have thought of the notion of a gigantic marketing/design best practices summit? A hush went over the auditorium and we all sheepishly looked at each other knowingly.
     
    In short: Confidence is not supplied by data. Justification is supplied by data. Data is like an insurance policy: it’s good to have it when things fuck up. Confidence, on the other hand, is fueled by vision and desire and insight and ambition and creativity, and sometimes it is justified and sometimes it is not. Ultimately, I believe that predictability is the opposite of creativity. That’s what makes it so elusive and exciting.
     
    I think the purpose of competitions is to celebrate the best of the best. If, in the process, we learn or are inspired by what we see and feel, hallelujah. But understanding results is only useful in hindsight. It does not fuel insight. Designers and creators have the ability to lead with insight and I hope we can figure out a way to do this without Steve Jobs or Paula Scher around to make a point without having to prove it first. 

     

  122. Joe Marianek

    AIGA’s loose criteria around Justified work is a cautionary tale that may lead the profession towards a dialog and process in the spirit of Joel Bauer, who designed a business card that generates results, guaranteed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YBxeDN4tbk
    Ric, What does your card do, guaranteed?
    Cheers to Paula and all others who value their craft and who are not afraid to speak up.
    Joe

  123. Roger Black

    Brava, Paula. The reason I haven’t entered AIGA or other design competitions for the last 30 years, is that they are impossible to judge. Even with these “justified” criteria, it is hard to for judges to put themselves in the places of the people the design is intended for. 
    The old 50 Books competition was an honest beauty contest. Any reader can judge the design of a book by its attractiveness, quality and readability. You don’t need to know the marketing story. Yes, you can judge a book by its cover. But a web site?
    To trust the AIGA to make the right awards by invoking a bunch of PC catch-phrases is about as wise as trusting the AIA to judge architecture by looking at pictures of buildings. 
    Design is not about the ROI for the designers, and maybe not for the clients. It’s about the satisfaction of doing something that really works and really looks great!
    Many publication designs that I was proud of were not great financial successes, and sometimes even the successful work was abandoned by clients all too soon. 
    So if the AIGA doesn’t want to do a 50 Books show, where an award was a welcome vote of confidence from your peers, then let’s do our own.

  124. Nick Spriggs @ncsfoo

    I find it immensly disappointing that it takes Paula Scher speaking up to bring forward this conversation. Nothing against Paula but I expressed my concerns about this and the future of AIGA competitions with the AIGA back in January. I even met witha group at the AIGA HQ and had a wonderfully positive conversation about ways to create a more relevant competition structure and indeed a more relevant AIGA. I suggested we open up the conversation and meet regularily and invite others. Hasn’t happened.
    Here’s my original tweet that sparked that conversation:https://twitter.com/#!/ncsfoo/status/161937077548756993 

  125. Matt

    I think I can clear all this up. You’re thinking of art, not design. Design accomplishes a measurable goal. Don’t feel bad. You just got your words mixed up.

  126. Paula Scher

    To Ric et al,
    I find the argument that somehow “rapid far-reaching change” has provoked the need for “Justified’ to be the only remaining AIGA competition really unconvincing.  There is nothing new here.  This kind of dialog about whether work is quantifiable to clients has been going on for the 40 years I have been a practicing designer and before.  It sounds like an 80′s argument not a contemporary position.  i wasn’t kidding about the Steve Jobs book.  It completely tells a client how and why innovative design matters in a way they can tottally understand.  Aline Wheeler has an excellent book on case studies which she is now updating for third or fourth time which is a very persuasive tool in helping clients understand the value of design. Debbie Millman’s book is also helpful.
    I am completely empathetic to designers like David Macintosh who has difficulty persuading his clients to listen to him and understand the value of his expertise.  i still have that problem, who doesn’t? That’s why the Gain conference was originally designed.  It was a great forum for this kind of discussion and a great addition to the AIGA.  But it’s been repurposed, and that’s a shame.
    I don’t know how much design competitions matter anymore.  But the AIGA’s goals matter.  I owe my career to the AIGA.  When i worked in a corporation where everything was about sales, i joined the AIGA and met a like-minded designers whose goal was to raise the expectation of what design could be. i learned that i could both work with clients in a proud professional manner and take on projects, whether they were pro-bono or professional jobs where no one care about them, and chalenge myself to do better work. I still try to do this. It built my reputation which ultimately made it easier to persuade clients to good design.  i hope everyone can do this, because this is a terrific profession and our culture deserves our best work.
    I am sure Ric’s focus test is correct based on the questions asked.  I would guess that most of the design community would want to prove there is value in their work.  That also demonstrates the danger in running organizations through focus testing. This doesn’t answer the question of what level of work would actually be “valued’.
    The original goals of AIGA were sound. Our goal is to raise the level and the expectation of the level of design in our society. Stay there.
     
     
     
     

  127. Marc

    Maybe what is being exposed here is the entire notion of design awards, which is not exclusively an AIGA problem. It’s clear that awards competitions are largely — if not soley — money makers for the organization that puts them on. For evidence, just look at the increasing pricetags for competition and the number of entries that are in your mailbox each week.
    What if we all stopped chasing awards and recognition and all those shiny things and just focused on our work and our clients. What’s the adage? Vote with your feet? If we all stop showing up for competitions, they will become much less important.
    I find it hard to believe that any design competition will serve to educate clients, no matter if its focus is “strategy based” or “creativity based” or “bullshit based.” Our clients don’t read this stuff, they certainly don’t follow the competitions. Hell, they still barely know who or what the AIGA is. We are not unique, howeer, we can’t be very different from any other professional award or group. I doubt any Engineer’s client care if an IEEE award is granted or if an Architect’s client knows anything about the AIA.
    I disagree with this article on the grounds that it pokes AIGA so deeply in the eye. Times change, we evolve, we move on. Yes there’s a rich history in AIGA. More importantly, there’s a rich future. We’re watching it being shaped right now. That’s why its so scary sounding to some folks. Kudos to AIGA for their on-going efforts to demonstrate design as a responsible resource for business. Will it work? We don’t know, but it’s important to try. Our best success comes out of failures.
    This question of awards and competitions, what their value is and who their audience and purpose is rests soley on each individual practicing designer. Why are we all such whores for external validation, attention and back patting? Let’s not be. Let’s just do great work. What ever that means to you.

  128. Ric Grefé

    Needless to say, there are few AIGA members who are NOT unbridled fans of beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation and inspiration. And we love Paula because she is an extraordinary designer whose work teaches us all and whose opinions are sharp, clear and provoke hearty discussion, which we also appreciate. The provocative question we are always asking and trying to answer is how AIGA can serve its members best in an era of rapid and far-reaching change. Two levels of conversation are under consideration here. Within the profession, designers want to talk about and be inspired by the best work of their peers. This conversation has been going on at least since 1914, when AIGA was founded, and we have tried to open AIGA up to encouraging many more of these conversations and sharing of inspiration through AIGA.org. The redesign of the site is an acknowledgement that there is a great need for this and far more voices in the community that warrant being heard than a single editor, curator or jury. The other conversation is beyond the profession, educating business and the public about the value of engaging professional designers. This exchange leads to more work with greater rewards for designers. In the past decade, members have repeatedly expressed their interest in having AIGA address the need for this second level of dialogue. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) tell us they want us to communicate the value of design through the design process rather than highlighting artifacts, while 12 percent prefer that we highlight the object. The publication—or even curation—of inspiring design does not wait for AIGA’s competitions any longer. All the reasons that Paula cites for the value of a competition are good, which is why there are probably so many of them. That is not necessarily an argument for AIGA to continue to focus on them in their traditional form, when one might also declare victory: the opportunity to see inspiring or emerging design is finally more pervasive, with books, periodicals, websites and blogs. Nor is AIGA defined by just a few national activities—”AIGA” is embodied by the hundreds of activities that are organized by 66 chapters, 200 student groups and 22,000 members. While competitions were once seen as a means of supporting design associations, for AIGA, competition fees have not been more than 3 percent of AIGA’s revenues over the past decade. “Justified” is simply a transformation of one activity, competitions, to create new stories about the value of design. It is not a change in the values of great design. We are trying to find new ways to facilitate the sharing of inspiring design, through channels like Design Envy, Design Archives, articles emerging from members and chapters, and galleries on AIGA.org. The balance may not be right yet, but an effort to change, we believe, is in the interest of the profession and AIGA. We fully expect the jury in “Justified” to consider beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation and inspiration as critical elements of effective design, even as we also ask them to consider other elements of the design process and its impacts. There will be different opinions. We welcome them. AIGA is nearly a hundred years old not because we have not changed, but because we have. Our activities may change in complexion and form, but at our core, we will always be about great design in all its dimensions and finding ways to support the designers in their quest for both design excellence and professional success.am i

  129. Jonathan Miller

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    Aligning criteria for both innovative and ‘solemn’ design work in a single competition does not work. AIGA either needs to run separate competitions or persuade another organisation to credibly do ‘justification’.
    In the UK we have competitions from D&AD to highlight ‘creativity’, and the Design Business Association (DBA) to promote ‘effectiveness’. Both approaches have undeniable value – if opposing qualities.
    As a former DBA Director I am very aware that effectiveness awards are ‘good for business’, but that the business of proving effectiveness/justification tends to exclude the innovative. The small and developing businesses that offer more opportunities for innovative design usually lack the resources to set up a convincing effectiveness/justification case (establishing clear project criteria, researching before/after effects; engaging a professional writer to present a persuasive case). Then there is the inconvenient truth that practically measuring effectiveness for different areas of graphic design has varying degrees of possibility. Packaging design is pretty easy – simple sales data can make a credible case – but visual identity is less straightforward…
    Although much (OK, maybe all) of my own work fits firmly in the ‘solemn’ category, I believe that every designer of any quality at least aspires to innovation and we need to reward the inspiring innovator rather more than the designer ‘doing a good job’ – but it makes no sense to mix the two.

  130. Greg H.

    Ryan McGovern — How thick-headed are you to say to anyone, let alone Paula Scher, “I thought your article was too long so record a video so we can watch it instead.” Ironically, your site you proudly link to is a collection of poorly presented hour+ long videos, most of which you’re just talking about/to yourself.You sir, are just as maligned as the new direction of the AIGA. There’s effort and beauty in long-form writing. So, I’m sorry that Paula’s argument, which I heartily agree with, is not in tweet-form for you. Since you seem to know a lot about what people think they want, please, enter Justified. You’re qualified for such a celebration of bullshit giving.

  131. marc english

    that there are so many here posting who have actively served in aiga, at both the local and national levels (scherr, vanderbyl, adams, kidd, morla, bucher, myself), and from across the country, up to canada (bantjes) and down to mexico, that support the point paula is advocating is telling. that they are leaders in the field – in the profession – is equally telling. 
    collectively those noted above have more than 100 years of professional practice AND critical involvement in exhibitions as jurors. probably closer to 200 years or more. i’ve no idea how many members of aiga there are today, but my number is 003149, i’ve been practicing more than 25 years and teaching for almost as long. 
    decades ago i learned the one true benchmark of a successful piece: would someone steal it? people will steal any kind of bread when they are hungry, but does that mean the greatest bread is that which is eaten most frequently? unlikely. that is about numbers, and hardly about health or living a life above subsistence.
    for every designer mentioned above, i’m certain they all share the same core values that encouraged them to enter the profession. not because it WAS a profession, but because they found inspiration in creating a certain kind of work. and that work, in turn, inspired. inspired clients to call them time and again, inspired colleagues and students to emulate them. too often people forget the root of the word inspiration, which is spirit.
    if a designer captures the spirit of a project, that spirit is lightning in a bottle, which, like dwiggins’ or hoffman’s work, continues to light a way long after the client has gone bankrupt, or ceased to exist.
     

  132. Marian Bantjes

    There is so much here I could write a book about it. It crosses several themes of my own over the past few years, but I’ll try to be succinct.
    First, there is the trend of denial of craft and aethestics (read “art”) in design that has been going on for about 15 years. I actually thought we might be outgrowing it until the last AIGA national conference, where the monster returned in full force. This originally came out of designers’ insecurity in the rise of desktop publishing and poorly trained “designers” threatening their livelihood. Instead of relying on their vision, skill and experience, they retreated behind articulated “strategy”, marketing and the designer-as-business-consultant. In doing so, and in downplaying the creative aspect of their work, they risk being replaced by the very people they fear (the uneducated or poorly educated “designers”) overseen by MBAs. i.e. the more you make yourselves like the clients you serve, the more likely you are to be dismissed and replaced.
    Second, as Paula said, if you look at most of the greatest work that we celebrate in design (she has some examples above, but you might as well include Saul Bass, any of Paul Rand’s advertising work, and anything like those glorious Olivetti posters from the past that had absolutely nothing to do with typewriters and everything to do with art); none of it would pass the criteria for “Justified.” If pining for those “good old days” is somehow undesirable; if the future really is a different game, then it’s a sad future indeed.
    Third, as I said in my TED talk in 2010, inspiration is cross-pollenating. Great visual work, cunning smart work, unusual perplexing work … anything that engages the public in a visceral way can spark ideas and inspiration in a wide variety of people. This CANNOT be measured. It can never be measured, but it’s the most valuable thing that we have to give. Way more valuable than whatever marketing effectiveness a piece may or may not have.
    Fourth, anyone who says (“James”), of PAULA SCHER, “Must be nice to have paying clients that don’t demand accountability.” is a f**ing idiot.
    Finally, and perhaps the saving grace of this whole thing, for a design competition which draws in as many entries as AIGA does, this model is completely unsustainable. These competitions are HUGE, and juries barely have enough time to get from room to room (or layer to layer) with a quick yes/no glance at most things, and a few minutes with the more intriguing ones. To read and absorb the written content of those entries on such a scale would be impossible. The GDC’s Graphex awards in Canada were based on this premise, and frankly we ended up choosing the best, most compelling and intriguing work without so much as glancing at the rationales. In our final cut, or during arguments, we would then read the rationales and perhaps eliminate from that perspective. I HAVE judged one awards show based strictly on “Justified’s” criteria: some kind of marketing publication show (all in-house magazines). The work was mediocre to terrible, but in teams of three (one designer, one marketer/client, and one editor) we took 1 hour to judge three pieces. THREE. We read the materials, we discussed, and chose the best of 3. We did that for 9 hours, judged 9 pieces, chose 3 runners-up, and finally 1 out of 9. 
    So while “Justified” looks gloomy now, it will never work the way they intend it to.

  133. James Puckett

    Sean Adams wrote:
    “I am mystified that designers cannot see their remarkable value, and continue to attempt to justify their existence with numbers and facts”
    This is a recurring theme in these comments, and I find it as disturbing as the new direction of the AIGA competition. There is nothing wrong with using numbers and facts to justify design. If anything too few people are justifying design by looking at the numbers. This is why in the USA good design is still referred to as “European Style” as if it is a luxury frivolously imported. AIGA absolutely should be making dollars and cents cases to present the value of graphic design to non-designers.
    But when the target is non-designers, using the AIGA competition to do so just does not make much sense. Justified would make sense as a second competition that tours chambers of commerce and business conferences and has a book in the business section. But as a replacement for both AIGA competitions Justified is just throwing the information it gathers right back at the people who contributed it to begin with.

  134. Sean Adams

    I understand that we, as designers, all want to be respected and relevant. This has been true since AIGA was founded in 1914. We attempt to quantify our work, break it into logical and rational steps, and approach the process as partners in business with our clients. And, yes, much of what we do can be listed on a proposal in an orderly process of phases and deliverables. But the problem with identifying design effectiveness is that creativity is messy and chaotic. We can spin any project as being wildly successful, but in the end there are too many other variables at play and our reasons are subjective. 
    Designers are rare and remarkable individuals. We can take complex and contradictory ideas and information and create clarity. We are extremely detail oriented and specific, but see the big picture and work in sweeping broad strokes. We can stand back and view the world from the outside. Each designer has a unique an individual vision that cannot be corralled by a committee. This is not easy, but because we do this, it is assumed that everyone else in the world can also. But, nope, they can’t. These are rare gifts.
    I am mystified that designers cannot see their remarkable value, and continue to attempt to justify their existence with numbers and facts. If this is only about effective communication, we should award stop signs as the highest achievement of modern design. Sometimes the most wonderful things have absolutely no rational value and no reason to be. 


     

  135. Sean Adams

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    I understand that we, as designers, all want to be respected and relevant. This has been true since AIGA was founded in 1914. We attempt to quantify our work, break it into logical and rational steps, and approach the process as partners in business with our clients. And, yes, much of what we do can be listed on a proposal in an orderly process of phases and deliverables. But the problem with identifying design effectiveness is that creativity is messy and chaotic. We can spin any project as being wildly successful, but in the end there are too many other variables at play and our reasons are subjective. 
    Designers are rare and remarkable individuals. We can take complex and contradictory ideas and information and create clarity. We are extremely detail oriented and specific, but see the big picture and work in sweeping broad strokes. We can stand back and view the world from the outside. Each designer has a unique an individual vision that cannot be corralled by a committee. This is not easy, but because we do this, it is assumed that everyone else in the world can also. But, nope, they can’t. These are rare gifts.
    I am mystified that designers cannot see their remarkable value, and continue to attempt to justify their existence with numbers and facts. If this is only about effective communication, we should award stop signs as the highest achievement of modern design. Sometimes the most wonderful things have absolutely no rational value and no reason to be. 

  136. mike williams

     
    20 years ago most designers spent the first 5 years of their career doing Pasteups. You learned your craft. Intuition was built from experience. Now designers are expected to contribute from their first days out of school, and often confuse opinions with intuition. They prioritize creating beautiful, innovative and conceptual work over effectiveness and get frustrated when it becomes apparent that they don’t know what they don’t know. 
    I get what you’re saying. I believe creativity and beauty are instrumental in creating amazing, innovative design. But effectiveness should be the tablestake, though it gets ignored by too many designers. Obviously the best design – worthy of winning contests – would be both. We can debate the criteria for judging all day, but our industry suffers from ignoring effectiveness as the basis (not the pinnacle) that gives our profession value.
    The idea that designers need to be creative and create beautiful artifacts is not novel. It is taught in schools, reinforced in every other contest, on online blogs and everywhere else. There is no lack of reinforcement of this idea.
    But where is the reinforcement of valuing effectiveness? Who values effectiveness? The people in the office with an MBA. And as long as they are the ones valuing it more than designers – they’ll always be our bosses.
    So I don’t have any issue supporting a contest that values effectiveness. First lets focus on the tablestakes, then lets worry about (yet another) opportunity to show how creativity, beauty and innovation can drive value.
     

  137. Gabe Ferreira

    Successfully meeting the demands of a brief has usually no relation to how good the design actually is. How many clients know what good design is? Not very many. The public perception of graphic design work is too biased and shaped by current trends. The fact that a design is marketable only shows that people feel comfortable around it.
    To the people commenting that this will harm the profitability of the design career, you should probably try to understand your own role as a designer. If it is to make money with average work pleasing clients who know nothing about art, then good, the AIGA is helping you out.

  138. hp

    the commenters who are of the opinion “it must be nice not to have to be accountable” are entirely missing the point about bullshit. go back and read it.
    this contest asks for a lot of largely-unquantifiable metrics, and asks the designers to submit an 1800-word piece convincing the judges that they were all met. it allows for a veneer of bullshit that so obfuscates the actual matter of visual design that it’s pointless as a design competition. why not more appropriately hold design customer service awards? moreover, what role to the judges play in fact-checking these essays? will they go interview the clients, request annual reports, signed statements? what is this competition doing to de-incentivize exaggeration and misrepresentation?
    it’s not to say that an award of this kind has no place in existence, but as the ONLY competition the AIGA will hold? it seems like a desperate measure to seem relevant on the client side, but will miss the mark with clients and designers alike.

  139. Stefan G. Bucher

    And another thing: If we create design that’s gorgeous, interesting, and robustly fascinating, clients will give respect where respect is due. They will seek to align themselves with our work. We’ll gain that much lusted after “seat at the table” not for disguising ourselves as MBAs, but for displaying our inimitable skills in the applied arts. If we try to present what we do merely in terms of a client’s business, we position ourselves as replaceable vendors. That’s a gig, too, sure… but not one I want to spend any time chasing.

  140. Stefan G. Bucher

    As a past judge of 365 I received an informal survey from AIGA a while back that laid out the ways in which 365 would change to become “Justified.” In response I sent back a long screed that said a lot of what you’re saying here with far less authority, but with many more curse words. Which is probably why it was barely acknowledged and substantially ignored. Thank you for saying it all so well and so publicly here. 
    One of the concerns I had is this: Even if you buy into the whole effectiveness-before-artistic-merit argument (which I really don’t), then who will fact-check all those entry forms? Half the time we can’t even figure out of a logo was really used or not. And now we’ll get long essays, all of which will elaborate how fantastically effective each design was? Who’ll call up the clients to check?
    What do you write, I asked, if the main objective of the job was to create something that caused the client personal delight? “Then you just write that, and that makes the piece effective!” To which I said, “OK. Then I’ll just copy/paste that for every single entry. ‘Achieved its stated objective of delighting the client.’” Done and done. It’s just as meaningless as the longer essay, but it saves hours of prep time.
    As to CJ’s comment that “it’s high time people stop giving meaningless awards to meaningless work. There are tons of opportunities out there for designers to pat themselves on the back for ‘beautiful’ work they created with only themselves in mind — which isn’t exactly a challenge — and AIGA doesn’t need to house one of those opportunities.” you already have the perfect response in your initial post:
    ”Pro-bono work, personal projects, professional promotion, and any work without marketplace concerns always allows for more risk taking. That’s why so many of us with serious commercial design practices engage in this kind of work whenever we can. It gives us an opportunity to experiment, to ask questions, even to fail, but to raise the expectation of what design can be.”
    This sums it all up for me: “If the work is terrific the bullshit is irrelevant. If the work isn’t terrific, but the jury is moved by the entrant’s arguments, it demonstrates the dangers of bullshit. Is this something we want to encourage?”
    Great post, Paula! Thank you.

  141. Anita C

    While I do understand AIGA National’s intentions with the shift, I think the Justified competition moves to another extreme, to something akin to a marketing award instead of a design award. There is a place for both functionality and aesthetics (just ask any Apple device user!), but more and more, people DO want to justify their investment in design. They want to see immediate results, short-term gains, which is not unfamiliar with those in sales and finance. Long-term effects are much more difficult to track, and I don’t believe that short-term marketing judgment should be the emphasis of an association priding itself in the graphic arts. It’s probably time for AIGA National to take stock and figure out how it wants to position itself.

  142. David McIntosh

    I admire Ms. Scher’s passionate article, and think she makes several valid points, but can say that there is a need for the “Justified” competition. As a current AIGA leader in my local community, members and design professionals are feeling the need to prove their worth, to their current clients and potential ones.
    Just last night, our chapter conducted a Member Roundtable (a small gathering to discuss professional issues, share views), one student and two professional designers brought up this exact point. If designers cannot prove or “justify” the results of their work (whether tangible or intangible), how can the value be seen in what they do? Showcasing such case studies will reinforce that good design is not only beautiful or interesting but effective and ‘worth it.’ If designers can’t explain and stand behind what we do, clients will continue to crowdsource logos and have websites built by their nephews. 
    While this should not be the only competition out there, AIGA has responsibility to listen to their membership base and address issues arising in the industry. 

  143. Jennifer Morla

    Thank you Paula of taking the time to voice our continued disappointment with how National seems to be shaping AIGA.  I bristle anytime a VP of Marketing claims that they want to quantify design so as to substantiate its value.  We, the AIGA, should be rewarding those that have the courage to create work that engage our intellect, surprise our senses, and challenge the status quo. It is the AIGA that should be celebrating these design solutions and be communicating the value of beauty, innovation, and craft. 

  144. Chris Behrendt

    I couldn’t agree more with Paula Scher. Great article! This competition strikes me as an unsuccessful way of telling non-designers that designers are better, smarter, and hotter than they think we are. Much like the losing party of a bad breakup, we are proverbially trying to justify to that lost love that we are better than they ever gave us credit for. Instead of getting on with our lives and doing what it is that makes us unique (design), we are giving in to their definitions of what is “good,” when maybe we are just trying to impress the wrong people.

  145. Michael Vanderbyl

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    Below is my direct response to Paula and I’ll share it here as well:
    Paula, 
    You always cut through to the point. Thank you for this concise article. 
    I have all but given up on the AIGA since the absurdity of the last national conference. I was insulted by the open disdain for the idea of “making” and the “artifact” in favor for what they called “strategy.”
    I have always used “strategy” in my design work for it is part of the process, and “making” is how that strategy is manifested. The result is always something that benefits my client … makes them more visible, reflects their ideals and, yes, makes them money. The fact that I have many clients that have worked with me for more than 15 years is proof that this process works. I know we both work in the same way as do many other of our colleagues.
    I think it is sad when many of the AIGA medalists are disheartened with the direction the organization has taken. There seems to be this attitude that somehow we are behind the times (odd to me since most of us are also teaching the next generation of designers). Firms with less credibility than ours and our peers are driving these changes as well as an agenda from Ric to reform the AIGA. This is unfortunate since the organization is approaching its 100th anniversary and it should be celebrating what it is and what it has accomplished. And looking to the future to extend these ideals. 
    I feel there can be a place for “strategy” firms in the AIGA, just like there are web and exhibit factions in the organization; it becomes one more discipline under the umbrella of the AIGA … not the only one. 
    Anyway, I could go on but maybe it would be better over a great glass of wine. Again, thank you Paula for always having the one clear voice in troubling times.  
    Warm regards, 
    Michael 

  146. Chip Kidd

    As having the dubious honor of being the very last chairman of the AIGA 50 Books/50 Jackets show (as we knew it, anyway), do I even have to say how strenuously I agree with Paula’s assessment? I have very much enjoyed over the years being invited to local AIGA chapters all over the country, and hope to continue to do so. But AIGA National has left me very disillusioned, for reasons Paula has so thoughtfully stated here.
    Chip K

  147. Ryan McGovern

    Paula, Bravo. I’m on board. This is a very moving piece that will stir some discussion. BUT…It’s an unfortunate truth that the length of this argument will deter most people from reading it, so it’s form must change. Please record video of you reading it and update this post. Or better yet, choose peers and other members of AIGA who feel similarly to record sections of it, then patch it all together. That would rock some boats.

  148. Joshua Buckwalter

    Just a thought–
    Do the methods with which we seek out and hold up work that is innovative, that inspires and challenges us, have to be the same as the ways in which we evaluate and adjuticate design? I don’t think so. Design Envy is an excellent example of AIGA trying to promote work that is inspiring and innovative.
    It also seems a little premature to judge the merits of a competition that has yet to release its results. Ms. Schers response sounds a little like someone afraid of change. Yes, the days of design competitions where the design community congratulates itself for making beautiful work are gone. Her comments don’t seem to be looking for away to move the community forward as much as they seem to reminiss for a time where competitions based on subjective criteria were still relevant to modern designers.
    There are many sites out there that curate examples of design – and I think AIGA could do more on this front. But I also agree with the direction they’re taking with Justified, and think that their attempts to further the relevance of design is extremely valuable.

  149. Aaron

    If strategic marketing justification is the path to groundbreaking design work, I say go all the way—justify according to the client’s clients. Crowdsource the wisdom of a random focus group to judge this thing.

  150. Kevin Landwehr

    Paula, I’m personally thankful that there’s a place for underachievers to play. I love that schools teach approach & technique instead of observation and growth — the creative equivalent of teaching the test — because it creates room for the more ambitious among us. If the AIGA wants to be a clubhouse for the status quo, let them do it. It makes the greater elements in work like yours easier to spot, and it makes my own journey for beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration a whole lot more fun. I enjoyed your article, thank you.
    PS: CALL ME

  151. Charles Hively

    The assumption that case studies will foster a new respect in the practice of design is admirable but flawed. 
     
    I have been fortunate to have won a national EFFIE award which is a marketing award for advertising agencies; case studies were the sole criteria for entering and winning in this show–the design and concept had little to do with winning. What was important to these judges who were members of the American Marketing Association was that the ads really worked and worked well.
     
    Determining if an ad works is a long objective process and as with anything there are considerable variables to be considered. But with advertising you can literally determine if a television spot or even a print ad impacts the bottom line–you judge by what happens the next day at the retail outlet or the phone bank. However, most advertising results are not immediate, they build over time depending on the media budget and the amount of impressions of a given message. But it is trackable; what you find is that a lot of what might be considered mediocre advertising actually works i.e. Mr Whipple-type advertising while a creative approach can be hit or miss, it all depends on what you’re after and who is seeing the message. Many multi-national advertising agencies face this issue when convincing advertisers to expend large sums of money to advertise a product or service–there are never any guarantees that an ad will work. 
     
    But again, let’s say it’s a successful ad, there are variables to consider, it may be the advertiser is simply jumping into a hot trend. There are measurable results particularly in the sales figures which will reflect a successful campaign–but in the case of a hot trend it has little to do with the creative, it really has to do with the message and the interest. 
     
    On the other hand, a logo, a book jacket, a poster, a magazine cover, a web site will be much harder to track (web sites are immediately trackable but they could be responding to some other influence which drives them to the site, ex: Groupon, a Barney’s sale, etc.). And as entrants in Justified there will be every chance that the results will be skewed by those entering their work–they’ll claim to have great results but how did they measure the results? It will be impossible to measure the results of a logo or poster or most any design project. 
     
    Take a book cover it may well be an excellent design, but it also may be a well-known, popular author who everyone is clamoring to read–why would we claim that the design worked well in this instance? And if we do then we’re really opening ourselves up to making false and misleading claims to an audience who will rightly interpret the true nature of the success not to the designer but to the author. However if we hold up this book cover as an example of outstanding design we are helping inform the business community that a product such as this deserves top-rate design and by showing it as a winner, AIGA is giving an endorsement to the use of good design.
     
    By dropping away from juried competitions by questioning “validated excellence” the organization has abdicated AIGA’s role as the prime leader in the design world. The assumption that case studies will foster a new respect in the practice of design is again admirable but flawed. Potential employers will be sober judges of what is presented as successful design case studies and as you know, they are skeptical at best about hiring designers so any fabrication of results will be detrimental to the very plan AIGA has put in place.

  152. Russel

    Great design should be innovative, creative, surprising, etc. and yet still provide strategy and effective results. … That’s what I think AIGA’s Justified competition is attempting to reward.
    To me this move is ballsy and bold, and is a challenge for designers to do more than just create visually innovative work, but also to create intelligent and strategically innovative work.

  153. Andrew Twigg

    As the outgoing president of the Pittsburgh chapter of AIGA, our regional competition was re-tooled years ago along these lines. Initially renamed “CONTEXT”, the competition asked designers to define the objectives, audience and challenges in creating submitted pieces. We still use these criteria today, even as the competition evolves.
    The idea was that the show had grown stagnant, with judges selecting the same kind of work year after year, often seeing the sames firms and clients represented. These works were beautifully designed, of course. Many of them served the purpose the clients requested innovatively and creatively. But there is more to design than beauty. There is also effectiveness. Our chapter’s competition today seeks to recognize work that is “effective, meaningful, and beautiful” because we are convicted that good design can be more than just beautiful.
    AIGA, like the design profession, is going through some major changes; as an organization, AIGA is trying many new things in response to feedback we receive from members and non-members alike. I do not speak for AIGA in any official capacity. But I can tell you that from the chapter level up to the national staff and board of directors, the organzation is asking a lot of questions about the future of design and what it means to be a graphic designer in the 21st century. This means trying new things. Sometimes it means letting old things go. But I personally believe that AIGA represents our best opportunity as designers for advocacy and visibility outside of our profession, and that the leadership of AIGA is working hard to ensure the position of our industry well into the future.
    Paula, I think the points you raise here are valid and worth discussion; but I also believe AIGA is still committed to showcasing “beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration” in design via Design Envy and through other channels. And I think the comment that “The AIGA membership never believes that their clients respect them” is unfair because many of us – myself included – experience respect, appreciation and admiration every day from our clients. I think the comment is editorially powerful, but if you really believe that, I can point you to throngs of AIGA members I know personally who would disagree. I also take issue with the idea that we, as designers, can learn nothing from the results of this competition. It seems premature to call the contest before we’ve seen its outcome, and I imagine that we’ll be surprised with the number of beautiful, innovative and creative solutions that are selected as part of this show.
    The call for AIGA to recognize beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration is critical, and it will continue to be. This shift does not mean a departure from these things, it means that AIGA is looking to show us something different and new, in response to feedback from people like you and others in our community of design. I think it’s fair to say that someone in your position of leadership within design should speak out when they feel that our preeminent professional association is making a mistake; I’m glad that you have and I hope that this esay can be a starting place for dialogue on this matter. I believe that good design takes many forms. And I believe that the history of AIGA competitions was not an exhaustive survey of the state of design, just as this competition will not be. But I also believe that the changes the organization is making come from the right place with an eye on the right future.

  154. Marco Lombardi

    What I know about AIGA is limited but by the same token while design should always express a designer’s intuitive interpretation of a brief it’s a brief for a reason. We’re tasked with balancing the emotional with the rational – and yes at times we may have to trade creative expression for commercial existence but it’s not just ourselves we’re accountable to it’s our clients and our staff that keep us coming back for more and if awards are the only self assurance of a job well done then maybe I’ve missed the brief after all.

  155. Elizabeth

    Bravo, Paula, for this forthright and un-afraid commentary. I have never fully supported the AIGA’s goals and this new direction seals the deal for me. 
    Paula W., surely these commercially-centric ‘justifications’ fall more into the category of a marketer’s job rather than designers’? I’ve never once written 1,800 words for a client on why my design works for them. They don’t want that — they want work that moves them, just like everyone else. 

  156. Anonymous AIGA Member

    As a concerned designer and educator, as a 10-year member of AIGA who has attended many conferences, and as a member of AIGA’s leadership who has been privy to the internal and external effects of AIGA’s weak leadership which has slowly eroded the power and values of an organization that I once had faith in, I am reconsidering my invovlement and support of the AIGA.

  157. cj

    I personally think it’s high time people stop giving meaningless awards to meaningless work. There are tons of opportunities out there for designers to pat themselves on the back for “beautiful” work they created with only themselves in mind — which isn’t exactly a challenge — and AIGA doesn’t need to house one of those opportunities. I’m sick of opening up Commarts or HOW and seeing only self-promos or baby announcements or band posters. This doesn’t help me or my fellow designers create more thoughtful and creative work. It helps us be walking cliches who only add to the misconception that designers aren’t communicators and we just “make it beautiful”.
    Designers are never going to stop making fluff for themselves and their community so I applaud AIGA’s effort. It would be nice if more of the industry focused on what they are hired to do instead of worrying about what “glory” piece they can make for the next award show.

  158. Paula W

    Whether or not it is appropriate as criteria for AIGA’s only online competition, the inabiality of a design firm to demonstrate that its work actually achieved client supplied objectives eventually will threaten the financial viability of the design professional.  Increasinglt people pay for proven results, not designs that inspire other designers.  Are they mutually exclusive?  Not necessarily,  But the author swings the pendulum too far to only one side of the reality in which we exist.

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