• PrintMag

Introduction to the 2007 European Design Annual

By: Emily Gordon | June 17, 2009

A Scotsman, a German, and a Swede walk into a design magazine office—you know how this one goes, don’t you? They judge an invitational competition that includes work from all over Europe, from countries and firms big and small, and shake it down till only the best are left standing. It’s a riot! Our 2007 judges—Julia Hasting (originally from Germany), Toby Southgate (a recent arrival from Scotland), and Jakob Trollbäck (the Swede recently showcased in the Cooper-Hewitt museum’s Design Triennial)—made it a focused but friendly event. Trollbäck, in particular, is a pun-mad cutup prone to statements like “We saw Turkey and we got Hungary.”

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

Aside from different languages, there was little indication of where the pieces had originated, with a few exceptions—perhaps due to the influence of the 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 massive distinctions.” In any case, good design speaks for itself, and the judges reached consensus quickly in almost every case. “Work that was selected tended to appeal across the board, which you would expect,” Southgate said. “Removing the subjective element, principles of design and layout will always apply and will always appeal.”

Some firms were especial standouts. “Norway surprised 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 judges expressed disappointment that firms from traditionally strong players like Germany, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and France hadn’t elected to submit work up to their usual standards. As for the work that wasn’t selected, as Southgate observed, “There were some pieces that were almost too well produced; they were very corporate.” One entry was embarrassingly Escher-derivative; another just had too much type; in one case, the judges elected not to reward the designer, as Trollbäck put it, “just because he learned how to use the blur in Photoshop.” Southgate summed up the remainders: “We wanted to be challenged, and nothing really stopped us in our tracks and made us say ‘Wow.’” For the ones that did, check out the May/June issue of Print.