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Design: Alive and Well, and Living in the Midwest

Tan Le urged me: be nice. Perhaps he had heard about one of my past experiences judging a design competition, wherein the debate I had with one of my fellow jurors nearly resulted in fisticuffs. Or perhaps not, and he just knows how I can get. As my ex-husband once told our friends as we argued about what year Eric Clapton had been inducted into the Rock ´┐Żn’ Roll Hall of Fame: Debbie is always persuasive, but she is not always right.

I planned on taking Tan’s advice, and was absolutely prepared to be as open-minded as possible in judging the first annual AIGA Origination Design competition. This particular competition had an interesting angle: it was for work only created by designers practicing in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. My main concern with judging any type of design competition is just that—it is a “design” competition. In my (humble) opinion, design can not or should not be evaluated purely on aesthetics, as for the most part, graphic design is not fine art. As I have written in this forum before, I believe that (good) graphic design needs to be a sound combination of cultural anthropology, psychology, marketing and creativity. Therefore, the effectiveness of the design needs to be evaluated in tandem with its performance in the marketplace as well as its level of ingenuity and technique. Which makes for difficulties when talking to designers who are what I call “design purists:” those (mostly) passionate designers that don’t want to consider that assessing the results of the design you are analyzing is a big part of measuring it’s power. I would hope that work worthy of an award should have a positive impact on culture, both aesthetically and commercially. But that’s just me. If you disagree, please see the last line of the first paragraph in this critique.

So it was with a bit of trepidation, curiosity and excitement that I flew off to Cincinnati, Ohio. Then I read Jason’s post on regional design, and I thought: “Cool!”—if nothing more I would get a sense of whether or not there is a regional distinction to the work in the greater Cincinnati area. Oh, and I would be able to visit the new Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art which was redesigned by the phenomenal Zaha Hadid Architects.

Well I needn’t have worried. I have never been part of a competition that was so easy to judge. What was even more surprising and inspiring was that all three of the jurors were nearly on the same page (literally and figuratively) about the quality and worthiness of the work. Now, a word about the other judges: I was working with the lovely, classy, funny, wonderfully talented Sam Shelton (who had already impressed me when I met him over the summer at the AIGA Harvard program); and one of the coolest dudes in the universe: Marc English, who I hadn’t seen since 1998. He wore both his blue turban and his skunk hat over the course of the day and charmed everyone in his path, including the timid, somewhat shocked elderly woman manning the entrance of the museum as she checked us all in.

Okay, back to the work. Jason, to answer your question: yes, there seems to be an apparent regional distinction to the work I saw coming out of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Or at least the work that was submitted to this competition. I have been thinking about this a lot since the judging, and I think there may be a couple of reasons for this. First, all the work submitted had to answer the question (on the entry form): “What resulted after the design of this work was completed?” I have not often seen that on application forms for design competitions (unless you are in the UK—check this out). That was nice. So most of the entries had an articulated reason for being and an apparent measured effectiveness. This contributed to understanding how and why specific design choices were made, why the piece was created and for whom. Second, much of the work had a sort of elegant thoughtfulness—it was either minimal or purposefully deliberate yet still quietly right. Some of the stand-outs (without giving too much of the competition results away before they become public): Brian Hock’s gorgeous work publicizing the competition; a beautiful, nearly all white, progressive poster created by four designers for the Cincinnati Art Directors Club; Integrate and Keith Noviki’s work for Limited Brand’s annual report, and Brainstorm’s whimsical work for a financial institution.

Now, the biggest surprise of the experience, for me: seeing the student work. Poppy Evans, a professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and the co-education chair of the AIGA Cincinatti Chapter, is doing something right. The work coming out of this area of the country contains some of the best student work I have ever seen. Ever. If there was a “best of show” award for this competition (there wasn’t), I am pretty sure that we all would have given it to a student. Of particular mention is Deidre Evans from Bowling Green State University, who we choose to win the student scholarship. So not only is there a regional distinction to the work in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, but I predict that the next wave of designers to hit the streets there are going to take the world by storm. If you are looking for new, knees-weak kind of talent, check out the graduating classes of the School of Advertising Art, Ohio State University, University of Dayton, University of Cincinnati, Columbus College of Art & Design, Miami University, as well as the AAC and Bowling Green. You won’t be disappointed.

Next year the Origination competition moves to Indiana. I am anxious to see what develops from that region next year; could it be a new movement taking form?

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.10.2004 BY debbie millman
Armin’s comment is:

When I moved to Chicago from Atlanta we put all of our stuff in a U-haul and hauled (sorry for the lame pun) ourselves from the Southeast to the Midwest. We drove past Kentucy first, then Indiana… really fast. I don't think there is any reason why I would go there out of my own free will, no disrespect intended, but there ain't much goin' on.

Anyway, when Debbie told me about this thing I went to the site and see what it was all about. My first thought was Sheesh, exciting (with a tone of irony of course). Evidently, this proves my ignorance as to the going ons of that region, but let's face it, in the past decades we've heard nothing from there. I visited the three web-sites Debbie linked to and I was very impressed with the work of Integrate and Brainstorm. It too, has that Chicago aesthetic. Very midwestern.

> could it be a new movement taking form?

Highly doubtful in my opinion. The work is strong and well-developed but not different enough as to warrant a mention of distinct regionalism lilke Minneapolis or Tennessee.

On Feb.11.2004 at 09:35 AM
marian’s comment is:

I just had my first judging experience, here in Vancouver. It was very strange because it was the exact opposite of everything I've ever heard about design competitions. The difference, I guess, was that it was for the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC/BC). We were judging international entries for the Gold Quill Awards in the Publication Design category.

There were 5 designers as judges, and 10 members of IABC (who were mostly marketing people in local corporations). There were 15 entries. We were divided into groups of 3 (2 IABC to one designer), separated into rooms and each judged 3 entries. We spent over an hour on each one.

Each entry had a large written component, worth 40% of the mark. The entrants had to explain in detail: their target market, their goals (measurable), their budgets and challenges, and how they overcame challenges and used their budgets to acheive their goals and reach their target market. It was preferable if they included research that supported all claims. After reading and judging their written entry, we looked at 3 samples (in this case all were company magazines--some from very large corporations). The samples were judged first against their goals and the claims they'd made in the written portion. Only 2 questions out of 6 for that section were based on actual design.

I'm not positive, but my understandng was that this was the first time professional designers had been involved in the judging process. Thank god for that, or believe me, some really hideous, unprofessional work would have got some fairly high marks.

However, it was interesting (and gratifying) to be able to convince my fellow judges that a plain, 2-colour 16-page newsletter was actually a much better product than a couple of ful-colour (but ugly), hefty counterparts.

None of the entries I helped judge garnered enough points to make it to the next level (thankfully), and the one entry out of 15 that did make it looked pretty good to me, so something must have been working.

In all it was a weird experience, and I can't say I'd do it again. Where every other design awards I've heard of have been criticized for being superficial, this was too ... I'm not sure what. Intense? Corporately analytical?

Oh, BTW, all entrants get their stuff back with their scores and comments from the judges!

On Feb.11.2004 at 11:01 AM
JonSel’s comment is:

Of those of you who have been judges, do you enjoy the process? Is it all so overwhelming? Are you swept up in the fun and excitement of looking at lots of great design? Are you just crushed by the amount of horrible design?

I really like that the show you judged, Marian, took the actual business objectives into account. Perhaps it went a little overboard, but I'd love CA to put a little of that perspective into their show.

I was supposed to be a judge for a show in Atlanta a few years ago but I cancelled out. It was only a week after 9/11 and I was a bit freaked about flying out of Newark. I'm still sorry that I didn't get to have the experience.

On Feb.11.2004 at 11:24 AM
Sam’s comment is:

there ain't much goin' on.

Three words, Armin: B-B-Q.

The national champion is Mike Mills out of Murphysboro IL, just over the border from KY. (That's tomato-based, btw, Brady).

Now back to design. Er, designing.

On Feb.11.2004 at 11:28 AM
marian’s comment is:

Of those of you who have been judges, do you enjoy the process?

I can't honestly say I enjoyed the process, as described above. It was interesting, and I'm glad I did, it, but it lacked discussion with fellow designers (I missed my design compatriots off in their other rooms!), and spending 3+ hours on 3 pieces of average-to-crummy work was not particularly rewarding for me. (Though I think the entrants got good value for their $170 entrance fee.)

But I think there's a balance in there somewhere that could be reached.

On Feb.11.2004 at 11:57 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Of those of you who have been judges, do you enjoy the process? Is it all so overwhelming?

Yes, no and sometimes. I have judged a number of competitions and each one has been radically different from the others. The most tactical: the Effies for the American Marketing Association. I did that one for about 4 or 5 years. Get this: no visuals. This is a contest that is all about marketing and the strategy to get to market. It was tough and yes, overwhelming, in that I had to (like Marian's experience) read through literally hundreds of applications. It was exhausting. The most overwhelming, however, was for Graphic Design USA--wherein I received huge boxes of materials from the magazine to go through. Each box contained hundreds of design entries. Hundreds. It was like going to Filene's Basement or Century 21 and having to find the gem amongst the rejects. But I also liked seeing the complete range of work submitted. It was a daunting experience. I also missed conversing (and debating) with other judges about the quality of the work. Doing it alone made it feel very isolating...especially when I was not sure if my impressions were correct. ; )

The most intense experience was for AIGA. I was asked to judge 365 a few years ago and was a juror in the package design category. I found it really, really difficult to judge the merits of package design with very blurred lines about what package design is. In other words, it was hard to evaluate a shopping bag for a boutique store in Soho next to a Pepsi can. So it was, how shall I say it?...a memorable experience. The three jurors only managed to agree to pick 7 winners from the several hundred that were submitted.

Are you swept up in the fun and excitement of looking at lots of great design?

Yes, if is it good design. It is also invigorating to talk to the other jurors about how they define good design and determine what is worthy (in our humble opinions) of an award.

Are you just crushed by the amount of horrible design?


Also--this needs to be said: I think there is something a little bit elitist about the whole process of competitions and judging and so forth. Yes, I have been a part of it, and if I am lucky enough, would be asked to do this again...but it's kind of like I feel watching the Oscars...what about the rest of the world? What about the designers that don't give a shit about entering award competitions? And lastly, how do you really really really assess greatness?

On Feb.11.2004 at 12:18 PM
marian’s comment is:

Are you swept up in the fun and excitement of looking at lots of great design?

I was fortunate to be able to peruse at my leisure the winning entries from our own recent Graphex Awards. My former co-workers were volunteering to work on the catalogue and we received several boxes of work--all the winning entries. It was totally, totally fun and exciting looking at them all--and very humbling.

Different from looking at the pre-judged ones, I know, but having the real things to hold in your hands and pulling them out of boxes at random ... v. fun.

On Feb.11.2004 at 12:37 PM
Scott d’s comment is:

Debbie, it's always nice to hear some kind remarks about the design work coming out of the midwest, and especially the talent emerging from the colleges. I recently graduated from Xavier University (located in Cincinnati) and in my experience I have been fortunate to work with many talented designers that this region has produced. However, currently being a resident of Cincinnati, I wonder if what you suggest is possible. Can our designers take the world by storm while remaining in this area? Or will the excellent designers that begin their careers here stay in this area or move away? There's an article that discusses the creatives from this area and their decisions to relocate.

On Feb.11.2004 at 01:07 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> And lastly, how do you really really really assess greatness?

You just know what really great, great work is when you see it — if it is great, when you hold it in your hands you know. Sadly, this is based on a subjective opinion and everybody seems quick to dismiss it. Makes me irate.

On Feb.11.2004 at 01:09 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Sadly, this is based on a subjective opinion and everybody seems quick to dismiss it. Makes me irate.

Armin: The reason I am cautious (I would hestiate to use the word dismissive) is that subjective opinion is just that. Subjective. It is not objective. I think it is cool if someone is totally in love with their own opinion and wants to shout it from the rooftops, but what makes it right? What makes it "the final word"?

Here's an example: Let's say you think something is great. Ridiculously, mind-blowingly great. Let's say it is by Carson. You and I both know that other people may have a completely different opinion. (Please notice that I did not use Sagmeister in this example). That opinion might also be from a seasoned, educated, well-regarded mind. Who is right? Where's the truth?

(I am ducking, so you can fire away...)

On Feb.11.2004 at 01:38 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Debbie, first I want to get Carson out of the picture, it's not the greatest example for this discussion. I think it would be more appropriate if we went off another, less stylistic example. So, for this, I nominate VSA's annual report for IBM:

Here is a perfect example of great design in my opinion. Now, some people might not like it: they might think it's too boring, too stark, too sans-images, whatever. But no matter what anyone says or thinks, regardless of my opinion, yours or Carson's, this is an amazing piece of design. The typography is excellent, the message is clearly defined and on a more ethereal level it set the bar for what an annual report can be. Now, hypothetically Bruce Mau, a seasoned, educated, well-regarded mind, says: This is bad design, I don't like it. Does his opinion discredit the greatness of the IBM annual report? If the answer is yes, we are in very deep shit.

There is great design, and visually the only way to judge it is subjectively (I won't disagree with that). What bothers me is that some designers are unwilling to accept a judgement because it is subjective, but within the subjectiveness of graphic design there are things that are great and things that are complete and utter crap. There is such a thing as bad graphic design: bad use of color, poor typographic execution, wrong choice of imagery, etc. And there is no two ways about it, it's bad, and this is again, when designers get up in arms and defend their work on the basis of my opinion being subjective*. That is bull shit. But I digress.

> Who is right? Where's the truth?

Sadly, nobody and nowhere. Until graphic designers don't start taking criticism seriously* instead of disregarding it as sonbbish commentary we will never be able to establish a common notion of what great graphic design is. But this is only my subjective opinion ; )

* See VH1 and UPS discussions.

On Feb.11.2004 at 02:56 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Armin: I think that the VSA annual is beautiful. Truly. Elegant type, good messaging, overall lovely vibe.

But...to me...it looks a little McSweeney-ish and therefore, given that it seems a bit derivative of another style (to me), I personally couldn't consider it great. Great as in Great. That doesn't mean that I don't think it is beautiful. I think great and beautiful are often very different things.

And while I understand what you are trying to say about a more objective belief system for overall design techniques (typography, use of color, choice of imagery, I also can't let go of the idea that a lot of really revolutionary stuff in the world (whether it be design, music, art, etc) was first considered crap. It was only over time that opinions may have changed and what was once seen as utter garbage was eventually viewed as truly breakthrough.

Now please note that I am not talking about "everything" being something that could be subjectively great to someone (though I guess philosophically that is possible, but I ain't going there). I am merely talking about determining a criteria for objectivity. Is there one? Should there be one? Who determines what it is? Should it ever change?

I guess all I am trying to say is that it is possible, given the sort of bizarre and unusual and awkward appearance the VH1 logo has, it is possible that someday we might think it is great. And actually, some people already do. But we already have over 200 responses to that discussion, so we needn't go there again.

on a more ethereal level it set the bar for what an annual report can be.

Here is where I beg to differ bigtime. Maybe other VSA annuals have done that, but this one doesn't raise the bar for me. It might reach it, but doesn't raise it. I see a lot of annuals and the one that truly killed me, and got me to drop to my knees when I first saw it, was Frankfurt Balkind's annual for Time Warner in 1989, simply titled "Why." Didn't just raise the bar, it changed the design world.

At least everyone thought so back then.

On Feb.11.2004 at 03:55 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I think that the VSA annual is beautiful. Truly. Elegant type, good messaging, overall lovely vibe. But…

[Bold by me]

See? That is exactly what I'm talking about! And I won't even argue whether I am right or you are right about the VSA annual. It seems simply impossible to establish an objective standard of measuring the greatness in design of anything. And that sucks. Somebody should come up with some sort of machine where you can "load" a logo, annual report or package, it churns some information and then spews out some sort of report grading the piece… it could be like meat: IBM's Annual Report is Grade AA as approved by the National Design Administration.

On Feb.11.2004 at 10:06 PM
graham’s comment is:

armin-'It seems simply impossible to establish an objective standard of measuring the greatness in design of anything. And that sucks.'

why does that 'suck'?

a greater part of the joy of design is (for me, at least) diversity.

and i adore the subjective nature of it-it makes things interesting, inspiring-seeing especially what one despises, what one doesn't want, doing the opposite, losing perspective and not knowing what you're looking at, losing judgement altogether and seeing change, function, growth . . . objective/subjective being inapplicable, maybe instead momentary/transcendent, but neither being for or against but rather a state of being.

and certainly never ever pastiche.

On Feb.12.2004 at 04:31 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> why does that 'suck'?

Graham, this is where your and my views from graphic design differ greatly and we have been over it in the past. I really enjoy your point of view, how you see graphic design and I really respect it, but perhaps you tend to look at graphic design as a more artistic, personal, expressionistic profession (please correct me if I'm wrong) that shouldn't be taken so seriously. Whereas I'm on the contrary, I see Graphic Design as a service-based profession first and personal-expression forum second.

But back to the question… and I don't intend to convince about my point of view. I think in order to separate great graphic design from mediocre (and by mediocre I don't mean crappy-looking but bad-working) graphic design there should be certain standards that we can measure work against. They wouldn't have to be definitive nor unchangeable but something that designers can strive for and also, what I think is important, for clients to know what they can expect from a graphic designer. Don't get me wrong, I love graphic design too in the way you see it and enjoy looking at kitschy or shitty work and thriving off of that but, like I said, to me graphic design is a client/service profession first and foremost.

On Feb.12.2004 at 11:04 AM
graham’s comment is:

armin-'to me graphic design is a client/service profession first and foremost.'

i wouldn't necessarily disagree-it's a question of how one serves the client.

i think personal expression serves the client-after all, if you don't tell them what you think (in a decent, human, honest way), then what are they paying you for? communication begins with the person-and then the next, and the next . . .

the last awards show i judged consisted entirely of personal work with very little explanation. ideal.

On Feb.12.2004 at 11:30 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

the last awards show i judged consisted entirely of personal work with very little explanation. ideal.

Really interesting point, Graham (as usual). When we were analyzing all the student work, a comment was made that it was easier to do the student work, because as a student, you basically have "free reign" to do whatever you want. That bothered me. I countered with the thought that the agencies that submitted self promotion or their own identities had "free reign" as well, and their work was not nearly as good...objectively speaking. (Sorry, Armin--I couldn't resist). I am not sure that a more open creative brief, or being your own decision maker in all creative decisions is really the "reason," so to speak, or even a guarantee, for better work.

On Feb.12.2004 at 02:16 PM
Aaron S.’s comment is:

Armin, why would you want all graphic design to be judged by one standard? That's why differences in styles exist in the first place. The people that judge graphic design need to think as diverse as the groups the designs are intended for and the designers who create them. Otherwise we would have this homogenous design and there would be little room for innovation or expression of the clients nature or the designers. How boring!

It really surprises me that you guys have focused mostly on firms doing corporate work. If you ask me, the ground breaking innovative work almost always comes from smaller agencies like Thirst , Wink, Modern Dog, etc, who aren’t afraid to take risks. The bigger firms like VSA just cop this stuff and water it down to a level that is acceptable in the corporate world. Sort of like punk rock in the 70s and 80s, when it was so raw and tactile. It’s been appropriate and watered down so it’s acceptable for mainstream audiences now. This happens in all forms of communication and art.

I think if you want to get to the heart of new innovative design, you need to look at some less obvious sources. Dig deeper. Maybe this is why Debbie saw so much excitement in the students’ work. I think individual designers will always be inspiring the trends for the rest of the design world. We just see the work from bigger agencies in all the annuals and think they are the innovators, when really they’re just getting the recognition because they have the name and everyone is watching them.

On Feb.12.2004 at 02:55 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Armin, why would you want all graphic design to be judged by one standard?

What I meant to say, and maybe it didn't come across well, is a set of standards that do allow for the diversity in styles and approaches you mention Aaron. I know I am going to contradict myself by saying that I don't like homogeneity either… but I think there can be a happy medium. And also by standards I don't meant use Mrs. Eaves at 12 point and use black, red and white only. I'm talking about standards of a) quality in its varios guises (i.e. VSA vs. Modern Dog) both visual and communicational, b) effectiveness in the way it achieves the need of the client and yes even c) appearance. This is how competitions are judged anyway so why not take that and make it into a benchmark of what great graphic design should be?

One of these days, when I can devote a lot of shitload of time to it I'll shut up and actually put up by doing something tangible, realistic and hopefully motivational. Until then ya'll are gonna have to keep hearing me yap about it.

> I think if you want to get to the heart of new innovative design, you need to look at some less obvious sources. Dig deeper.

Aaron I don't mean to dismiss the smaller groups at all, I'm equally drawn to their work but for the sake of this discussion I chose to focus on VSA, why? Who knows.

On Feb.12.2004 at 03:12 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, first of all, I'm still alive.

Man, have I missed you guys. I feel like it's been years since I've posted.

I'm currently in the final stages of changing jobs. It's a big change -- and though I'm not quite ready to disclose where, I'll entertain guesses. Just for fun.

(Armin, you and Deb are disqualified.)


Anyway, back to the thread -- I totally agree Armin. The work VSA has done for IBM for the last 3 years has been nothing short of miraculous. It's not just the design beauty of the work, but the intelligence and craft behind the writing and concept. To me, Debbie, it has raised the bar as much as FGB's "Why?" AR for TimeWarner did.

It may not be gimmicky like a Cahan AR can be, but for a traditional company like IBM, it breaks new grounds in corporate communications, lending an honest tone and design style that inspires an entire business sector. In comparison, it absolutely shames the pathetic 10-K wraps that Apple and Microsoft continues to generate. I would go so far to say that VSA's IBM annual is single-handedly upholding the genre of traditional annual report design in the US -- a genre that many feel is dying.

>the ground breaking innovative work almost always comes from smaller agencies like Thirst, Wink, Modern Dog, etc, who aren’t afraid to take risks.

Aaron -- truly innovative work isn't always apparent. Take it from someone who ran a small, progressive shop -- the alternative, edgy work you see from small boutique studios aren't nearly as challenging to execute as the progressive, corporate work from large agencies. It's easy to be wildly creative for an art poster or a CD -- but it takes a fucking design genius to do what VSA did for IBM. You have no idea how much "risk" and courage is involved with a gorilla of that magnitude.

And just for the record, I'm good chums w/ Robynne Raye from MD. She's supercool, but also supersmart -- she appreciates and admires good corporate work from Landor, Cahan, and VSA just as much as the stuff from smaller shops like theirs. She's done enough of it to know what it takes.

Sorry, don't mean to pick on you Aaron, but it's wrong to generalize and dismiss corporate work when you don't quite understand what's involved in the accomplishment.

On Feb.14.2004 at 12:13 AM
graham’s comment is:

'It's not just the design beauty of the work, but the intelligence and craft behind the writing and concept.'

'It may not be gimmicky . . . '

'I would go so far to say that VSA's IBM annual is single-handedly upholding the genre of traditional annual report design in the US . . . '

are you serious? (i mean this).

' . . . but it's wrong to generalize and dismiss corporate work when you don't quite understand what's involved in the accomplishment.'

when the accomplishment is a ropey pastiche of 18th/19th century book design? what accomplishment? the thing is ghastly conceptually and aesthetically-just a stylistic lift that may as well have been a cover of raygun as a 60's record sleeve as a scientific diagram from the late 1800's.

no wonder you all think paul rand is a god if this is what you think is 'design beauty'.

On Feb.14.2004 at 07:06 AM
Michael B.’s comment is:

For those of you who care about this sort of thing, I can tell you that the annual reports that VSA has designed for IBM are the most beautifully written ones I've ever come across. They are civilized, engaging, witty and candid. The best part of the design is that it supports the text beautifully. (The cover doesn't really suggest the variety of the page treatments inside.)

Of course, I assume there are a lot of graphic designers who didn't even know that it's possible to read an annual report. But, believe it or not, that's what "normal" people do with all those columns of type while you're trying to figure out whether the the small caps have been tweaked.

If you're looking for formal experimentation and personal expression, you'll have to look elsewhere. But as examples of devastatingly effective communication, pure and simple, the IBM annuals by VSA are as good as it gets.

On Feb.14.2004 at 07:29 AM
Tan’s comment is:

> are you serious? (i mean this).

graham -- everything is relative in design. Maybe I've done too many annuals or have seen too many bad ones -- but yes, the IBM annual is a design accomplishment to me.

Just pick up the latest annual from ExxonMobil, General Mills, Boeing, or any number of other Fortune 500 companies to see just how challenging corporate design can be, and make your judgement then as to whether or not VSA's work is just a stylistic lift.

I'm not blind to the style they used, but I think you're generalizing your judgement of it as a piece of design.

As Michael said, not everything can be experimental or pure expressionist statements of design.

On Feb.14.2004 at 07:54 AM
graham’s comment is:

first; slightly sheepish at the last line of my previous post. think of it as a pub conversation rather than the condescending rubbish it actually is. soz.

in terms of the experimental; well, if a thing is finished and published then it's no longer an experiment, so i don't look for that in design (unless i'm looking at sketchbooks). expression-well, it's all expression (as i suggested earlier) of one kind or another, isn't it?

i'd suggest there's no risk or courage (or indeed actual design or literary endeavour) in pastiche. the references are ready to be 'mood-boarded'-actual examples exist to determine paper stock, print technique. everything has basically already been done before the job starts.

i love tradition-the taking on of previous accomplishments and furthering (hopefully) those endeavours towards something else, perhaps new, perhaps odd, perhaps just a small step towards . . . but to lift wholesale from one thing to apply to another is, to me at least, design as wallpaper-appropriated style. it is the first lesson on the first day of art school. it is not enough. in a way pastiche is the most basic form of personal expression or experiment, because it does not grow out of the character, desires or needs of a client but is lifted from one era, another context and imposed upon them.

of course-i'm judging a book by it's cover, and for that i have to say that this is more to do with people's appreciation here of this kind of work rather than the exaple itself. although if the cover is anything to go by . . .

On Feb.14.2004 at 08:20 AM
Tan’s comment is:

sorry, one more thing to add.

About the "upholding" comment -- I'm also very serious. Corporate CEOs aren't really a courageous bunch in general. They tend to follow the norm in the industry, rather than stick their necks out for attention. In the AR business, 2 or 3 large corporations can dictate the design approach for an entire sector.

Take Microsoft. Three years ago, they decided to cut back drastically on their AR, removing any messaging of significance and produced a flimsy, banal document that's nothing more than a collection of numbers and stock photos. Basically saying "Fuck design. Investors are too stupid or too apathetic to read well-crafted messaging, so why should we bother?" As a result, hundreds of other corporations followed suit, adopting Microsoft's approach and abandoning their efforts to say more to their investors through design. They all used Microsoft as justification of corporate responsibility. That company's AR was single-handedly killing an entire annual report design market.

So when IBM's 2001 AR came out, it was like a direct counter to Microsoft's approach -- a beacon that designers could use to say "See, messaging and design still matters. It's still effective and relevant to large companies with vision like IBM." It was a testament to the public and the design industry.

It's a design accomplishment that's more than just the stylistic value of its cover.

On Feb.14.2004 at 08:35 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Sorry, I posted at the same time you did Graham.

I know what you're saying, and I'm glad you brought up your viewpoint in the first place. Nothing to be sheepish about.

Hey, it's all good in a discussion, right?

On Feb.14.2004 at 08:39 AM
saxophonejones’s comment is:

Is it Walmart? No wait, Target?

On Feb.18.2004 at 02:59 PM