Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary
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Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary
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Established in 2017, the annual Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary spotlights a individuals who best exemplifies the tradition of prolific writing and boundless curiosity established by Steven Heller—who has contributed and inspired engaging commentary about design and culture for the past three decades. This award celebrates critical thinking about design and the profession, and encourages development in the next generation of design voices through a variety of media (book authors, editors, critics, reporters, copywriters, bloggers, podcasters, radio/video content creators, or filmmakers).

“While the award is, in part, for emergence, it is also for someone who has emerged within and without the orbit of graphic design to explain how all design fits into our cultural mosaic.” —Steven Heller and Jessica Helfand


Although nominations for 2020 are closed, AIGA members are invited to submit nominations to be considered by next year’s committee. To nominate a colleague, mentor, or individual whose writing or commentary has made a significant impact in the U.S., simply complete the nomination form. Including the name of the nominee, a short paragraph about why the individual should be considered, and a link to a writing sample with their byline or their website. Nominations are accepted on a rolling basis and are considered year after year for the next awards cycle. Each year, nominations for the Steven Heller Prize are reviewed by an awards committee of to verify eligibility. Yearly recommendations for the prize are then presented to the AIGA National Board of Directors for majority approval.

Selection Criteria

Individuals who are honored will have demonstrated breadth of their work or expertise in a specific area; shown diversity and range in their storytelling voice and the ability to be adaptive to established brands or delivery platforms; and using longform, short blogs, humor, or serious investigation, writers will have effectively conveyed ideas to engage their audience. The definition of writer may include, but is not limited to: book authors, editors, critics, reporters, copywriters, bloggers, podcasters, radio hosts, and filmmakers. Eligibility is limited to individuals who are citizens or current long-term residents of the United States.

The Awards Committee:

  • Chris Dingwall, Design Historian and Curator, Oakland University (AIGA Detroit)
  • Karin Fong, Director + Designer, Imaginary Forces (AIGA Los Angeles)
  • Gaby Hernández, Social Design Researcher and Educator, University of Florida (AIGA Gainesville)
  • Hugh Weber (Co-Chair), CEO and Curator, Institute of Possibility (AIGA South Dakota)
  • Forest Young (Co-Chair), Global Principal, Wolff Olins (AIGA San Francisco)

Advisors to the Committee (non-voting):

  • Dana Arnett (AIGA President), Vice Chairman and Founding Partner, VSA Partners (AIGA Chicago)
  • Ashleigh Axios (AIGA President Elect), Chief Experience Officer, &Partners (AIGA Washington, DC)

Returning committee members have been invited to participate in the committee deliberations as non-voting members to provide guidance on the criteria. Additional guidance provided by Jessica Helfand and Steven Heller.

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Alexandra Lange is the architecture critic for Curbed. Her essays, reviews, and profiles have appeared in numerous design publications including ArchitectHarvard Design MagazineMAS ContextMetropolis, and T Magazine, as well as in New York Magazine, the New Yorker, and The New York Times. She has been a featured writer in Design Observer and an Opinion columnist at Dezeen. She has taught design criticism at the School of Visual Arts and New York University. She was a 2014 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Her latest book, The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids was published by Bloomsbury USA in 2018. She is also the author of Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), the e-book The Dot-Com City: Silicon Valley Urbanism (Strelka, 2012), which considers the message of the physical spaces of Facebook, Google, and Apple, and co-author, with Jane Thompson, of Design Research: The Store that Brought Modern Living to American Homes (Chronicle, 2010). 

Alexandra Lange

Ellen McGirt is a senior editor at Fortune. In addition to long-form magazine features, she writes RaceAhead, an award-winning daily column on race and inclusion in corporate life and beyond. She is also the co-chair of Fortune’s CEO Initiative. In the past, she’s written for TimeMoney, and Fast Company, where she wrote or contributed to more than twenty cover stories, and created the digital series the 30 Second MBA. Her reporting has taken her inside the C-Suites of Facebook, Nike, Twitter, Intel, Xerox, and Cisco; on the campaign trail with Barack Obama and across Africa with Bono to study breakthrough philanthropy. Ellen was the editor for Your First Leadership Job, a book published by Wiley in 2015. The New York City native attended Brown University and now lives in the Midwest with her family.

Ellen McGirt

Allison Arieff is the editorial director of the Bay Area-based urban planning and policy think tank, SPUR. She’s written about architecture, design, and cities for numerous publications including California Sundaythe MIT Technology ReviewDialogue and City Lab. She’s been a contributing columnist to The New York Times since 2006; a former editor-at-large for GOOD and Sunset magazines; the senior content lead for IDEO from 2006–2008; and editor-in-chief and founding senior editor of Dwell until 2006. Dwell won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2005 under her tenure.

Allison is the author of Prefab and Trailer Travel: A Visual History of Mobile America and has contributed to and edited numerous books on architecture and design, including Airstream: The History of the Land YachtHatch Show Print: History of a Great American Poster ShopBlock by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, and The Future of Public Space. Allison will also be teaching at University of California, Berkeley this summer.

Allison Arieff

Maurice Cherry is a pioneering digital creator—a hybrid of writer, editor, producer, designer, and curator—who is best-known for the Black Weblog Awards, an online event that celebrates Black bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters. Other notable projects of Maurice’s include the award-winning podcast Revision Path and blog 28 Days of the Web. His storytelling projects, design work, and advocacy have been recognized by Apple, NPRNews One, AIGA, HOW, Print, The Dieline, Creative Market, Buffer, the Columbia Journalism Review, and The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Recently he was named by Graphic Design USA Magazine as one of their “People to Watch” for 2018.

Maurice also serves as content marketer for Fog Creek Software, a company dedicated to creating products that enable every person and every team to make thoughtful useful software. Formerly, he was the principal and creative director at multidisciplinary studio Lunch, where he helped brands tell stories while fostering Lunch’s own relationships with its underrepresented communities. His clients included Facebook, Mailchimp, Vox Media, Nike, Mediabistro, and the city of Atlanta. Maurice is an educator who has built curricula and taught courses on web design, web development, email marketing, WordPress, and podcasting for thousands of students.

Maurice Cherry

Anne Quito is Quartz’s design and architecture reporter. She covers a wide range of topics, from graphic design, corporate branding, and product design to workplace design and architecture. Anne has contributed essays to numerous design publications and her MFA thesis on the nation branding of the world’s newest country, South Sudan, was featured on NPR. She holds a master’s degree in visual culture from Georgetown University and an MFA in design criticism from the School of Visual Arts. Anne is also the founding director of Design Lab, an in-house design studio within an international humanitarian development organization. Read more about Anne from SVA and TED.

Anne Quito

About Steven Heller

AIGA Medalist Steven Heller has written more than 140 books on graphic design, illustration, and political art. As Paula Scher said of Steven, “the one common denominator of Heller's work is that the design and/or the designer is always the star. Heller maintains a journalistic narrative that allows the design and the designer to stand out. He is graphic design’s biggest fan.” Steven serves as Co-chair, MFA Design Department, School of Visual Arts; special assistant to the president, School of Visual Arts; co-founder, MFA Design Criticism, MPS Branding, MFA Interaction Design, MFA Products of Design, and Impact! Design for Social Change program with Mark Randall, all at the School of Visual Arts; contributing editor: Print, where he writes The Daily Heller, Eye, Baseline; contributing writer: Metropolis, Design Bureau, Design Observer, Port, IDPure; columnist, The New York Times Book Review. Earlier in his career he served as Senior art director, The New York Times Book Review.

Scher concluded her AIGA medalist essay about Steven by saying, “We easily take for granted our design history books, our magazines, and our conferences. We are accustomed now to seeing design work from all over the world and from any time in history without working terribly hard to find it. But before 1980, design books, magazines and design conferences were few and far between. Steven Heller has immortalized our graphic past and made coherence of our present. The debt that future graphic designers owe him simply cannot be calculated.”

Steven is married to 2014 AIGA Medalist Louise Fili, and resides in New York City.

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