“50 Books/50 Covers” is back

AIGA is working hard to ensure that we are as supportive as possible to the aspirations of the profession. As the profession keeps growing, in interests and in scale, we are seeking to find ways in which we can adapt to all of our stakeholders’ passions and needs—no easy task.

In seeking to balance AIGA’s celebration of design in all its dimensions, we recently merged the historic AIGA competition for books and covers—which since 1996 has been framed as “50 Books/50 Covers” but has transformed many times in its 87-year history—into the broader competition, “365: Design Effectiveness,” which includes interactive, cross-media and print design. Book designers, publishers and admirers reacted strongly to this news with a public petition to “Save 50/50,” gaining more than a thousand signatures in mere days.

We have listened to these passionate voices in the design community, and we have reinstated “50 Books/50 Covers” as a distinct competition. Our intention was not to reduce our support for book designers, but to present AIGA as representative of—and respectful toward—all design disciplines equally. We apologize to those who construed the original decision as a reduction in AIGA’s commitment to the importance of book and cover design; that was not the intention, although it was clearly the impression. We also apologize for tinkering with something that is held so dear by so many; and we were remiss in how we vetted and communicated this change.

This year “50 Books/50 Covers” will look much like it did last year, although we are working to adapt the system to include e-books. Moving forward, we will continue to strive to balance proving design’s effectiveness with celebrating the craft and tradition of design in all its forms. We look forward to a continuing discussion on recognizing design excellence through competitions, both with those who expressed an opinion through this process and with our members and chapter leaders.

The revised process and schedule for the 2011 competitions—which will also extend the deadline for all three of AIGA’s national competitions to March 31—will be published Wednesday on this site.

The exchange in the past week has provided a couple of important lessons.

First, we understand the passions around this fundamental and central demonstration of the art and craft of communication design, regardless of the area in which many designers work each day. We will be talking with the originators of the petition, Christopher Sergio and Catherine Casalino, about the format and character of “50 Books/50 Covers,” to achieve our respective goals—which are congruent in terms of celebrating great book design. For us, part of the challenge is how we can best demonstrate that we respect other dimensions of communication design to the same extent that we love and respect books.

Second, it revealed the depth of feelings and expectations for the role of AIGA, coming from both members and nonmembers, who look toward AIGA to play a role that supports their practice of design.

Third, it reinforces our interest in seeking broad input on what is expected of AIGA. Already in the works is an opportunity for global input on the forces facing designers and what they need from their own community. On April 13, “One Day for Design,” we will seed questions among a number of communities beyond our own membership, and aggregate the responses on a single website where we can all review the opinions, comments and suggestions. (We will notify all AIGA members about participating, and announce it through Twitter and Facebook, but let us know if you would like to receive an email when “One Day for Design” is live.) A team at VSA Partners in Chicago, led by AIGA board member Jamie Koval, will help us sort through the responses in order to identify key issues. We hope to have a summary of the findings available by June, although we do not underestimate either the scale of the undertaking nor the fact that everyone will read the panoply of opinions through different lenses.

By June, we will also have launched a new website, with the intention of giving much greater voice to members in all areas of AIGA’s activities. The new AIGA.org will provide examples of extraordinary design identified and critiqued by design’s leading practitioners as well as allow members to bring attention to great design that they discover and why they think it is exemplary. There will be more channels for comments from members and conversation.

AIGA is intent in finding ways to serve the passions of designers in this moment while also anticipating the needs of the community moving forward. This is an ambitious agenda, driven by the aspirations of members. The power of AIGA is in tapping the full measure of ideas and energy of 22,000 members, not in the limitations of a small staff and limited resources.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.