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RDA 2008: Introduction










Image by Gluekit.

About the Author — Joyce Rutter Kaye was Print's Editor in Chief. Also in this Issue








Regional Design Annual


It’s 3:15 p.m., a much anticipated, joyous moment in the workday for those of us at PRINT, for it signals the arrival of silence. Since early June, when we began producing this year’s Regional Design Annual, we’ve suffered through seven hours of daily nonstop blasting and hammering—the preliminaries for a 19-story hotel to be built adjacent to our office building in lower midtown Manhattan. The vibration from the machinery permeates our workspaces and rattles our physical beings with an intensity that feels as though it could loosen the fillings from our molars.


When work is completed next spring, the Gansevoort Park will open its doors and begin booking luxury rooms that start at $500 a night. In a city where hotel occupancy is up 7 percent from last year and the average price of a Manhattan apartment recently hit $1.4 million, it may appear as though somebody missed that memo about the economic downturn. Those of us working in the trenches (or near them), however, know a reality that’s different from the one spun by the gossip girls and real housewives on TV. We have endless discussions about the rising costs of food, transportation, and other necessities, and about what will happen when a full-fledged recession hits, the construction stops, the euro drops, and all those empty hotel rooms are auctioned off on Priceline.


But still, we marvel at the unrelenting development that surrounds us, even as we fear what lurks around the corner (beyond the real danger of falling sheet glass and crane cabs). All the clanging and banging is annoyingly disruptive, but it’s also the sound of continued economic growth and steely optimism—the storm before the calm, if you will.

Many designers across the country experienced this same sort of dissonance during the past year, and they benefited for as long as they could. Quite a few of those we interviewed for this issue reported feeling relatively flush in their business, especially the creatives lucky enough to be located in thriving cities least affected by the slump the subprime mortgage crisis created, such as Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver; and Seattle. And designers working in Dallas, Houston, and other parts of Texas also received a boost from a strong local economy fueled by huge profits generated in the energy sector.

Those designers in markets hit harder by the downturn were still finding they were able to grow their businesses—albeit more slowly than in the recent past—by offering nimble, cost-conscious solutions to clients, thereby winning accounts away from their big-agency brethren. As the economy evolved, so did designers’ flexibility and range of skills, as they added branding, photography, illustration, production, and packaging to their menu of creative offerings. They were also positioning themselves more definitively as a strategic resource—a tactic that’s been discussed a lot in the past five years but is being put more solidly into action as times get tougher.


The latter strategy has become especially crucial as designers nationwide work even harder to push their clients toward the use of more sustainable materials and processes. Many designers report that their clients were gladly complying with—and even embracing—green design initiatives, but, disappointingly, some of those clients still view environmentally friendly design primarily in terms of its marketing benefits.

Even so, designers’ focus on sustainability, for their clients’ projects and in their own promotions, was widely apparent in this year’s Regional, not only through materials but also through an aesthetic that perpetuates the use of nature-based images and theple asures of handcrafted design. Overall, cleaner design still dominates— no doubt continuing the influence of design-driven retailers like Target and Apple—but, as several designers suggest, bolder, streamlined work translates to the web more easily. In this age, the ability to create solutions that work efficiently across a range of media is especially critical as budgets grow ever tighter.

It’s clear that the web has evolved from its supporting role into print’s equal partner as a communications tool. In publishing, especially, the rising costs of paper, postage, and shipping have forced magazines to cut pages and parlay lost content into an ever-expanding digital arena. While one doesn’t doubt the value of logging on to see daily updates on areas of interest or the undeniable fun of reading blog posts, only time will tell if people really will continue to migrate en masse to the web for the majority of their reading, or if this vision of the idyllic digital future is merely an excuse for cost cutting.


For now, however, the volume of entries into this year’s Regional Design Annual—a tribute to traditional media if there ever was one—attests to the value of print for delivering a tactile, portable, beautiful message that can be easily read, referenced, and archived. As the floodgates opened in April and the thousands of boxes arrived in our office so that we could sift through the tens of thousands of entries, eventually winnowing them down to this year’s final selections, we witnessed print in all its glory once again. For now, we’ll pause during the cacophony going on next door to toast this year’s 863 winners—and our cheers are still louder than the din


This article appears in the December 2008 issue of PRINT.

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