Introduction to the 2007 European Design Annual

Posted inDesign Resources

By: Emily Gordon | June 17, 2009

A Scotsman, a German, and a Swede walk into a design magazineoffice—you know how this one goes, don’t you? They judge aninvitational competition that includes work from all over Europe, fromcountries and firms big and small, and shake it down till only the bestare left standing. It’s a riot! Our 2007 judges—JuliaHasting (originally from Germany), Toby Southgate (a recent arrival fromScotland), and Jakob Trollbäck (the Swede recently showcased in theCooper-Hewitt museum’s Design Triennial)—made it a focusedbut friendly event. Trollbäck, in particular, is a pun-mad cutupprone to statements like “We saw Turkey and we got Hungary.”

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

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

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