“I think we’re in a holding pattern in design, waiting for some explosion to happen,” says Pentagram partner Paula Scher. Her assessment applies to the design scene in New York City and the rest of the country as well. “I see an educated level of design and really, really terrific graphics,” she observes, “but I don’t see outrageous accidents or bad behavior, which I would find much more interesting.” Several developments are responsible for this pervasiveness of polished mediocrity, she thinks: Design software has become ever more powerful, and designers are now extremely proficient with digital tools, so they can implement complex projects with minimal tribulation. That’s a definite shift from the past. “It used to be very difficult to master craft, historically—just to learn it,” Scher says, noting that typesetting mistakes, for example, could mar a finished piece. “Now you don’t have to make those mistakes, because if you don’t do it right the first time, you fix it on the computer.”
Still, there are numerous projects in this year’s Regional selections from New York City that clearly transcend the run-of-the-mill. And despite all the possibilities enabled by new technology and the modern-day aesthetic smorgasbord, sometimes the simplest designs are the most captivating. HarperCollins designer Milan Bozic demonstrates that perfectly in his cover for the novel The Average American Male, as does Trollbäck + Company in packaging for the firm’s DVD reel. Both pieces feature Helvetica titles set against single-color backgrounds—an assemblage one could easily have made in the era of paste-up and mechanicals.
Bozic’s series of exquisite, lyrical compositions for Ecco 7, a HarperCollins imprint that publishes English translations of foreign novels, look as though they were silk-screened (they weren’t). Bozic created the ingenious images through a labor-intensive combination of Photoshop manipulation, collage, and multiple Xerox distortions. “It was all built by hand, and I took into consideration exactly what the silk-screening process does as far as registration, transparency, and whatnot,” he explains.
Rob Hewitt was art director at Premiere until the magazine folded for financial reasons after its April 2007 issue. Hewitt is now freelancing on magazine design projects. He’s been getting requests for layouts that are “modern,” and that also function well for service-oriented sections that need to convey maximum information and imagery in a minimal area. While he admits that there is some ambiguity about what “modern” can mean, he says, “I think white space seems to be a good motif for ‘modern.’ In almost every publication now, pages do a lot more work than they used to do. So if you can incorporate something that the reader can navigate easily, especially in terms of letting the eye rest—perhaps that’s modern.”
Regional stalwarts like Mucca Design and MTV continue to demonstrate their savvy design sensibility in this year’s entries. So does Bloomberg (the news and financial-services company, that is), which, for several years now, has established an aesthetic cachet more often associated with a fashionable clientele than with finance. The sharply crafted promotions created by the company’s in-house design team—including an invitation to a Halloween Ball and a series of multicolored notebooks—showcase Bloomberg’s brand identity. “We’re trying to make sure that what our clients see is something that’s very different and very creative,” says Allison Jeffery, team leader for Bloomberg’s designers.
Bloomberg is also one of the companies whose submissions speak to the ever-increasing focus on the global environment and the effort to design more sustainably; its designers use and investigate ecologically responsible inks, papers, and materials. This initiative has required a great deal of research and education. “There are a lot of things we did not know,” admits Raquel Tudela, manager of the design department. “We’re learning about the materials that come from recycled pieces, their textures, how we can print on them—or if we can print on them—and if they can be recycled after being printed. We’re trying to push in that direction.”
Paula Scher reveals that the sustainability ethos is similarly evident in a forthcoming, top-secret packaging project for Coca-Cola that will use “every means available to make sure the materials do not contribute to the carbon footprint.” She concludes: “I think that anything that’s mass-produced, in a really profound way, has to be green.” If local design leaders like Pentagram are making the environment central to their creative process, perhaps the next great leap forward will be the true mainstreaming of eco-design.