The continuing wave of consolidation in media, technology, communications, pharmaceutical, and retail shows no sign of slowing. For our Business Graphics 2006, we were curious to see how this has affected designers. More to the point, how much growth can designers bring to this mania? What makes a good client? Is most good design work done for small companies who are willing to take risks? Or is design excellence found just as often in projects for big businesses with equally gigantic marketing programs and budgets? Do consolidation, acquisitions, mergers, and growth necessarily signal new opportunity, or will these simply lead to mediocrity—the homogenization that worries so many design critics?
What we found is that, not surprisingly, a strong relationship that that client is willing to establish with a designer can be just what confers some clarity in a climate of consolidation and mergers, when hierarchies multiply and corporate cultures clash. That clarity—along with simplicity, strong pacing, understatement, a few good surprises, and the restraint it takes not to overproduce—is what jurors looked for in these year’s submissions, and what they found in the best of them. FIRST PLACEThe Walker Without Walls Identity SystemThe Walker Without Walls identity system and campaign underscores the freshness and vitality that can come into play when a program addresses a temporary venue. In this case, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis was closed for about 15 months for renovation and expansion, while its assorted programs were transplanted to other venues throughout the city. Community interaction has always been part of the Walker, but this was an opportunity to allow the art center to focus on that quality in specific, literal, and whimsical terms.
Starting with a sense of transparency and lightness that was consistent with the spirit of the temporary program, the designers created a program based on overlaying information on existing materials such as letterhead, a calendar, and postcards. They also looked to street signs, mapping, and board games for a system that allowed flexibility and a sense of playfulness that did not sacrifice efficiency. The kit of parts—curves, arrowheads, bubbles—can be adapted in infinite configurations.
Jurors Abbot, Palmer, Callister, and Millman found that the scope of the Walker program put it into an entirely different category from so many other submissions: The system can be applied to everything from event schedules, billboards, and bus stop shelters to ice cream trucks, T-shirts, print ads, postcards, websites, and even sidewalk spray stencils.
All four jurors found the program thoroughly well-executed in every detail. You can’t find anything wrong with it,” said Palmer. “There is a real consistency throughout,” said Callister, “from the signage to the publications. It’s all really strong.” Millman pointed out that it had an iconographic feel to it: “It has a really branded feel—but in a good way,” she quickly qualified.
It was the purpose of SEE, Herman Miller Inc.’s new magazine, to “open your eyes to new potentialities for space, people, and human activity.” Jurors agreed that its design promoted exactly that with its sense of lively visual rhythm, created by its combination of photo essays, evocative hand-drawn illustrations, and crisp typography. Designer Todd Richards remembers, “We had wanted to work with Herman Miller for a long time, and when we got their brief, we couldn’t believe it. It contained a list of envisioning descriptors that rarely make their way to the designer’s desk—unpredictable, inconsistent, eclectic, disruptive, a spontaneous creation, a personal expression. We saw the potential right away.”
So much potential, in fact, that Cahan & Associates came up with six complete proposals, from an oversized format accompanied by an Eames-inspired plywood easel, to a collection of posters for each article, to the selected design, in which the underlying grid was perforated through the entire magazine. “The perforations didn’t fly,” Richards notes, “but we were able to combine innovative images, graphic treatments, and substantial copy in coherent but unpredictable ways. The approach is very cinematic, where the visuals build as the stories unfold. SEE is meant to feature ideas, not products. A thought catalyst for seeing space and human activity in new ways, it explores ideas and research concerning the built environment through bees, sponges, paintings found on the street, egg cartons, and bombs.”
Abbot said, “I wouldn’t change anything. The type, the photography, the color: It all feels good.” Millman’s take: “It made me want to jump into the Herman Miller world.” Callister added, “I felt surprised as I leafed through it. There is really good pacing throughout.” That pacing applies to both the conceptual and the visual aspects of SEE. Indeed, an issue that includes a profile of Brisbane, a contemplation of biophilia (the love of nature), and fanciful illustrations of design jargon may well encourage us to see things differently.
THIRD PLACEPositive Thoughts Annual Report“This is just a completely surprising annual report,” Abbot said. Millman agreed, noting that “it works simultaneously as a piece of art and the communication of a business mission.” The piece in question is “Positive Thoughts,” an annual report for the Adris Group, a Croatian tourism and tobacco concern. Without a doubt, the company’s mission statement, financial report, balance sheets, and cash-flow charts have all been presented with an unexpected poetic rhythm and texture.
Call it a lyrical approach to supergraphics. The palette: black, midnight blue, and a silver leaf used for a letter to shareholders. Often, text serves as a pictorial element. One finds elegant black sparrows perched on wire constructed of the repeated phrase “It’s easier to create the future than to predict it,” a briefcase with its handle spelling out the word “entrepreneurship,” and binoculars whose cord spells “future.” Throughout, the report has the splash and playfulness of a beautiful children’s book. You can even read it in two languages; flip over the English version, and you’ve got a whole other book (with all the same graphics) in Croatian.
As Callister observed, this is about as far from the vernacular of most annual reports as you can get. “I love that it’s two-color, and the letter to shareholders in the pretend envelope is just great,” she added. Abbot found the report gutsy, and Millman pointed out that this book “states that the company is going to be around for a while, and that’s a good message to send to shareholders.”
Jurors agreed that the report looked like a coffee-table book—in the right way. A piece of art, an annual report, a coffee-table book—yet another exercise in corporate extravagance? In fact, the jurors found that it had a clarity and directness absent elsewhere in the submissions; it’s simple without being simpleminded.
THE JUDGESRodney Abbot is a senior partner in design atLippincott Mercer, where he has developed identities for such brands asthe American Management Association, Deloitte
& Touche, IBM,Citigroup, Daewoo Motors, Holland & Knight, Dyneon (3M andHoechst), and Fluor. Most recently, he led the global launch of theInfiniti visual identity and the creation of the new Sprint identity.He has received numerous awards, his work has been featured inpublications and books including The Design of Dissent and Pacific Rim Design, and he produced Sense: The Art and Science of Creating Lasting Brands.A senior lecturer at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Abbotholds a B.F.A. in graphic design from the University of Canterbury, NewZealand, and an M.F.A. in design from Yale University.
Debbie Millman, managing partner and president of the designdivision at Sterling Brands, has worked there for 11 years with suchclients as Gillette, Unilever, Kraft, MTV, Star Wars, the NBA,Nestlé, and Pepsi. For 12 years, she also worked as the off-aircreative director for Emmis Broadcasting’s Hot 97. She is a nationalboard member of the AIGA and teaches at the School of Visual Arts inNew York. She is also an author on the design blog Speak Up. In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet; the program, Design Matters With Debbie Millman,is featured on the VoiceAmerica Business Network. She frequentlylectures and teaches about the virtues of brands and authenticity.
Mary Jane Callister has worked at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia since 2001, art directing and designing books and Martha Stewart Livingmagazine, where she is deputy design director. She received a B.F.A. ingraphic design at Brigham Young University and spent the next fiveyears in Salt Lake City working with Adrian Pulfer, one of herprofessors, on projects for the Napa Valley Wine Auction, the 2002 SaltLake Olympic Bid Committee, and Graphis Press. In 1995, she moved toNew York to work with Louise Fili as a senior designer. With Fili, shedesigned logos, packaging, books, and book jackets while developing herpassion for typography. She has received numerous awards for her workfrom the Society of Publication Design, The Art Directors Club, theType Directors Club, PRINT, and Communication Arts.
Enoch Palmer has been the executive creative director of theAveda Corporation for the past five years, leading its internalcreative team to develop sustainable-design solutions. After foundingand later selling Groundswell magazine, he completed a B.F.A.in graphic design at Brigham Young University. In New York, he hasworked for various studios and agencies, including The Moderns, Slover[AND] Company, and marchFIRST on projects including compacts forSephora, the Harley-Davidson website, and the design and launch of Real Simplemagazine. Last year, the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt museum recognizedAveda with its Corporate Achievement Award. Palmer’s work has beenfeatured in design annuals and publications such as AIGA, PRINT, HOW, I.D., and Wallpaper.