The AIGA recently announced that books and covers/jackets would be considered as categories in a larger competition instead of being treated as the separate 50/50 competition. In the face of the uncertainty over the book’s future with the rise of pads, pods, Nooks and Kindles, this could be seen as an ominous sign or might be read as a realistic decision.
Nonetheless, book designers Christopher Sergio and Catherine Casalino mounted a strongly worded protest, issuing a “Save the 50/50” petition to the design community citing the importance of the physical book in this age of digitization. It reads “If you are a fan of design in any medium, or of reading in any format we ask you to help us take a stand for the combination of both forms of expression.”
Today, AIGA announced on its website that the decision was reversed. AIGA will continue to promote 50 Books 50 Covers as a discrete competition.
I asked Ric Grefé, AIGA Director, to comment on the decision.
What influenced the proposed plan to curtail the 50/50 competition?
The top line is that AIGA is as committed to celebrating great book and cover design as ever. There was no intent to reduce the scale, the importance or the recognition of the competition among well designed books and covers.
Our approach to organizing and naming competitions has changed many times over the past ninety years. For instance, “50 Books 50 Covers,” in its current form and name, date only to 1996. We felt it was time to place books and covers, in the context of broader sweep of communications design that is represented in our “365” competition, which includes all the other practices of design.
Given the role of AIGA as a documentation body, wouldn’t the decision have limited the ability to document books and jackets?
We would hope not. There would still be a juried competition of books and of covers and all selections would be documented in the AIGA Design Archives, which we still believe is the true benefit of the entering an AIGA competition, and the physical archives at Columbia’s Butler Library and at the Denver Art Museum.
What was the reason AIGA felt it was necessary to change the characterization of the competition at all, at this time?
The issue was one of the evolution of the design profession and AIGA’s position in it. By organizing our competitions so that there was one for books and covers and just one for all other disciplines and practices combined resulted in AIGA being characterized as fundamentally a print focused community. Although our members are involved in a much broader range of media and forms of communication design, it appeared that we did not give those practices the same respect and emphasis that we gave to book and cover design.
When we published the results of our competitions, for instance, there would often be fifty books and fifty covers (by definition) and fewer than ten examples of designs in other media. This was having an adverse impact in the number of entries we were receiving for the other competitions and the positioning of those competitions and it was also creating a misimpression of AIGA’s range of interests for students and young designers.
And so we decided to continue to honor, celebrate and archive great book and cover design, but place it in the broader range of design practices that are encompassed by 365.
There was a pretty rigorous petition campaign to “save 50 Books.” How did you respond?
We saw and heard the passionate support of many designers to see AIGA continue its commitment to book and cover design and we always welcome that kind of deep emotional support for what we do. Clearly, having a discrete competition is seen as very important to many, so, of course, we listened and responded by reinstating the competition, as of today, although we have to work out the registration and submission logistics.
The petition also offers us a chance to engage with a community of designers who value this role for AIGA, yet many of whom are not AIGA members. Ultimately, their interests and the profession’s interests are served most effectively in a professional association when they are members and we want their involvement to sustain this interest in book design and cover design.
The heartiest and most valuable outcome of the petition is to engage a broader community on how to design and execute a competition in this era that attracts involvement, attracts an increasing number of entries, and ultimately is effective in communicating the value of book and cover design to a broader audience. The entry fees fall far short of the costs of the competition and exhibition process, considering staff time, processing, registration, design, exhibit fabrication, promotion, archivng and publication, so just as we have to be reviewing these aspects with our other competitions, we now have a self-selected group of concerned designers with whom to discuss how the competition can meet these needs in the future, too.
Does this mean that the competition is still at risk?
The public cry has been to continue 50 Books/50 Covers as it was. I will seek to raise a larger question with our members and the book community, which is whether that is a bold enough step. What really is their objective? Is it to have a competition that is separate from other competitions, regardless of how much attention that might get outside the design community, or is it really to find an even more effective and focused way to raise awareness of the value of great and effective book and cover design? if the latter, are we doing enough?