Paula Scher recently wrote a scathing review of AIGA’s newest design competition, Justified. It’s an important read for any designer who cares about this divide. In response to a discussion at work, I summed up the article.
- The AIGA has eliminated other, worthy design competitions and replaced them with Justified, a competition that introduces the idea of effectiveness.
- In the past, competitions like 50 Books/50 Covers surfaced valuable works of design, which inform our understanding of the profession. Furthermore, without these competitions, important works would have floundered in anonymity.
- Past competitions, like 50 Books/50 Covers, linked AIGA’s present with its past, and in many ways, kept that heritage alive.
- Although awards were often given to small projects, like professional promotions, these projects inspired young designers and the industry at large, encouraging innovation.
- Justified replaces these competitions and introduces “effectiveness” as an important criteria.
- Effectiveness is a bad criteria for the following reasons: effectiveness is hard to measure. (And, clients don’t care.); effective work doesn’t break new ground; it encourages replication, instead of innovation; by placing a stake in the ground, the AIGA is anti-innovation and anti-creative. For shame…
Paula goes on for a bit, and I am sure that I have missed something. However, these seemed like the salient points. If I was to engage her in a conversation, I might offer the following:
Graphic design, like every profession, is evolving. We want a seat at the table, like every profession. We want our creativity to be acknowledged, as well as our impact. Frankly, and I think everyone in the community agrees, we want to remain relevant and be paid for our work. Every profession is grappling with these issues. They aren’t germane to graphic design. Accountants are fighting for relevance. Marketeers are fighting for relevance. And, on and on.
We don’t need competitions to surface great work. We live in a digital age. Great work is emerging every day. This work comes from all over the world, and it is elevated by the global community. I don’t know if Justified, as a competition, will work. Personally, I’ve always been baffled by design competitions. In a digital age, they might be irrelevant. And, that’s fine.
The AIGA, to remain relevant, is trying to define new criteria for the profession. If we want to measure impact, we need to define the criteria. In order to represent its constituents, the AIGA is trying to lead this movement. Are the current criteria correct? Probably not. But, effort matters. Through this effort, the AIGA will learn and evolve. If they don’t define the criteria on our terms, someone else will, and the criteria will not be in our best interest.
In our search for relevance, we must always seek balance.We see it every day. A business loses sight of what matters, and it falls apart. The AIGA is no different. It must strive for balance. The AIGA needs to engage the heart and mind. And perhaps, that’s what I hear in Paula’s note. She is losing heart. If the AIGA ignores her, it does so at its own peril.
If the AIGA is smart, it will seek that balance. It will keep its community in focus. It will convene difference to create strength. It will measure success in new and bold ways, bringing its members along on the journey. And, it will never lose sight of what matters.