Justified Competition: 2012 Jurors’ Comments

In the late spring and summer of 2012, a group of five jurors met to make their selections for AIGA’s “Justified” competition. The distinguished jury—chaired by Terry Irwin, head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University—reviewed the nearly 400 submitted entries, eventually selecting 18 exemplary case studies that serve as an effective tool to explain the role of designers in conceiving and implementing solutions. Five of the 18 case studies were unanimously selected by the jurors.

To learn more about the jury’s perspective on the competition and their rationale behind the selections, read the jurors’ comments below. For more information on the case studies that the jurors unanimously selected, click here to jump to their individual comments. To see the full set of 18 case studies, visit the 2012 “Justified” selections page.

Terry Irwin, head, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh

Irwin“Justified” required entrants to articulate the effectiveness of their work, breaking new ground for AIGA competitions. Entrants were asked to describe their process, outline client objectives and lay out metrics for their project’s success. Situated within the landscape of past AIGA competitions, “Justified” should be seen as a complement to traditional competitions, not a departure from them.

In a rapidly evolving discipline such as design, it is important to recognize those projects that demand a more complex set of criteria for success. The jurors for this year’s “Justified” competition evaluated entries on the basis of the following: Strength of concept or idea; impact (based upon the Living Principles criteria of Culture, Environment, People and Economy), process or methodology used and success of formal execution/aesthetics. These broad criteria encourage entrants to think about their projects across longer time horizons, evaluating the effectiveness of their work and incorporating a more in-depth understanding of both client and user needs in their entries.

During the selection process, jurors entered into discussions with each other about the criteria of the competition itself. We viewed the competition as an important, ongoing conversation—one in which designers were encouraged to think deeply about the effectiveness of their work and develop new methodologies for determining its success.

Steve Liska, owner, Liska + Associates, Inc., Chicago

Liska“We are not decorators, we are problem solvers.” This is how we, in the design industry, justify our end product, what our value is and why we are a critical part of all communication efforts. An evolution in design competitions—toward encouraging a review of both problem/solution and outcome—is critical for the following reasons. 1) It recognizes value, intent and the metrics that can be gathered—the “measurements” we are always looking for as an industry. 2) It adds a level of credibility to AIGA, as an organization that values substance over style. 3) It offers a model for how to deal with clients’ expectations.

    Visual design principles and aesthetics must be part of the judging criteria, but the opportunity to understand design solutions and project outcomes made a critical difference in the judging. Members of the diverse group of “Justified” judges were very consistent in their final selections; the justification made everything clear.

    Monica Little, chairwoman, Little & Company, Minneapolis

    LittleWhy have a competition like “Justified”? The world is changing, and with it, the role of design and designers. We are finally getting what we’ve long asked for—a seat at the table—and a chance to weigh in on projects before their parameters are finalized. Because designers think and see differently, we have much to offer in discussions where objectives are determined, key problems are articulated and measures of success are defined. However, participation at this level calls for a heightened degree of accountability.

    AIGA continues to recognize and support the aesthetics of inspiring graphic design—with “Justified,” it only broadens these criteria. As a case study–based competition, “Justified” requires clear articulation of the situation, thinking and strategy that led to the final solution. More importantly, it also requires evidence of the project’s effectiveness.

    “Justified” will continue to evolve, and designers will become more adept at developing cases that support their work. Addressing change is messy, but it is necessary if we intend to remain relevant as the world continually transforms.

    Clement Mok, design and business consultant, The Office of Clement Mok, San Francisco

    MokAs a juror for “Justified,” I can say that the passionate arguments raised by designers about the competition’s structure and implications have been duly noted. I agree with their assessment of the construct of the competition; the format has too many shortcomings. It’s far from perfect, and it could even be interpreted as misguided. However, I believe the intent—asking how we value the impact of our design, beyond aesthetics—is still valid.

    Forget the problematic use of words like “strategy” and “measurements.” The competition is about the power and potential of storytelling—how our stories about design can make meaningful differences and an impact. It’s about learning from each other and understanding how the dots are connected. Not all entries provide insights, but many demonstrate that excellence comes in all forms and practices. They move the “impact/effectiveness needle” in different ways. The winning work showcases the broader design platform, in which AIGA practitioners participate and excel. “Justified” is a story about excellent work.

    Petrula Vrontikis, creative director, Vrontikis Design Office, Los Angeles and professor at Art Center College of Design

    VrontikisFor graphic designers, “justified” means alignment on opposite sides. This term has proven to be a perfect metaphor for the controversy around the 2012 AIGA competition. AIGA took a risk, making a radical change in the way the organization chose to acknowledge the “best” work in our field.

    The debate was another version of the ongoing “Are graphic designers artists?” question. Simply put, what designers value was on one side and what industry values was on the other. As a juror, I found myself deeply conflicted about whether balancing these opposing sides meant compromise or achievement.

    What emerged were winning entries that showed an exceptional alignment of ideas, impact, methodology and aesthetics. More importantly, the entrants thoughtfully articulated the “how and why” of what was done, and they were able to measure the difference their work made in the world. They inspired me to reevaluate what approach serves us best as a community of designers.

    In a challenging economic climate, articulating what we do has become more important than ever. It is possibly the most useful skill we can master, allowing us to keep good clients and make purposeful (and beautiful) work.

    The five unanimous selections

    Among the eighteen entries selected by the jury for the 2012 “Justified” competition, five were chosen unanimously. Here, each juror shares his or thoughts on these five exemplary case studies.

    Feed the Future Website

    This is one of the most successful case studies entered in this year’s competition. It’s an important project that was well-researched, and the entry clearly describes a process that involved multiple stakeholders. The form of the project arose out of well-identified and well-researched parameters. This is the entry that I think most resembles business case studies. Its only identifiable weakness is that it was perhaps submitted too soon: Had they waited until next year, they likely would have had more concrete metrics for effectiveness. That said, I feel that, in many ways, this entry exemplifies what this competition is trying to do. —Terry Irwin

    A very complex project with an equally complex client and audience, this selection worked well on many levels, as presented in the well-written and researched case study. —Steve Liska

    The case study for this initiative demonstrates a depth of knowledge—imperative to the successful outcome of this extremely complex assignment. Feed the Future is an outstanding example of information design that deals with a very important topic.Monica Little

    Great story. The effective narrative helps us understand the nature and complexity of the design challenge. I was particularly impressed with the focus on training the user to use the system. Good design earns its merit not only through concept and execution, but also through implementation. Well-thought-out design solution. Multiple thumbs up! —Clement Mok

    This selection offers a great model for writing a thorough case study. It helps us understand the level of empathy needed to determine the optimal strategy for communication. It represents the crucial step from “design thinking” to “design functioning.” —Petrula Vrontikis

    Make Congress Work!

    This entry is an excellent example of how a seemingly traditional piece of print communication can go much deeper in terms of its effectiveness. The piece met its design objective, acting as a compelling piece of communication design that served three diverse audiences—Republicans, Democrats and independents. The formal execution of the piece was excellent, and the simple, understated graphics placed the focus on the content. The metrics for effectiveness were clearly articulated, both in the additional print runs required and the amount of press that the project received. While a simple print piece like Make Congress Work! might easily be overlooked in a traditional design competition, the entry made the case for its effectiveness, justifying both the formal execution and the realization of its stated objective. —Terry Irwin

    Clear, direct, low-budget and effective. Tracking media hits was critical to this case study’s inclusion in the final selections. I would love to see more work like this in the future—work that creates a dialogue in the rarefied world of politics. —Steve Liska

    This important project is a great example of “form follows function.” The design is no less and no more than is called for, and the case for effectiveness is well supported. By all accounts, the piece successfully invites dialogue—the first step toward making Congress work. —Monica Little

    The fact that “the design continues to foster dialogue among the most contentious elements of the Republican, Democratic and independent parties” justifies this project’s place amongst the winners. More importantly, the simple, “no-thrills” design approach enhances the directness of the message. —Clement Mok

    This is a very good solution to an impossible problem. Fostering meaningful dialogue and promoting communication between opposing sides in the United States Congress has the potential to change the world. I appreciated the way in which the designers chose to use clear and bold messages to convey meaning. This is a great example of designers getting away from the creation of artifacts and entering into an environment where they create the framework for something greater to happen. —Petrula Vrontikis

    Earth Lab: Degrees of Change

    This entry combines a very strong concept and objective with a high level of formal execution. The content effectively addresses the Living Principles criteria of Culture, Environment, People and Economy. The video demonstrates both the educational power of the installation and its effectiveness. The jury wished that more qualitative or quantitative metrics for effectiveness had been incorporated into the case study narrative; nonetheless, this was an impressive project. —Terry Irwin

    This quiet project does a great job of solving the initial problem. The video is worth viewing, and offers readers a real understanding of the thoughtfulness of the solution. In addition, the project is well-documented and achieves the goals set forth. Very nicely done. —Steve Liska

    While the case for effectiveness could be better articulated, viewing the video convinced me that the installation successfully achieved its goal to “attract, interpret, engage and advance.” —Monica Little

    Earth Lab is an exhibit, information and UX design project. The goals of “attract, interpret, engage, advance” were attained and communicated. Usage or visitation stats would tell an interesting story, but the true question—and the true test—is whether or not visiting kids learned anything. Judging by the video, which demonstrates how the interaction design works, the exhibition is truly a tour de force. —Clement Mok

    I appreciated the transmedia aspect of this project, which incorporates all available communication methods—video and information systems, screen-based and dimensional—into one experience. In a marketplace that is increasingly in flux and requires more than “good design,” this solution illustrates the agility that future design projects will require. Both the work and the case study demonstrate that the designers are critical thinkers—perceptive, imaginative and skillful. —Petrula Vrontikis

      HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites

      This is an excellent example of a traditional problem solved in a new and innovative way. The case for effectiveness has been clearly articulated. An entry such as this could easily be entered into the “50 Books/50 Covers” competition, and yet the full impact of the design can only be appreciated through the case made for its effectiveness. —Terry Irwin

      A great example of rethinking how to communicate about technical matters. A very thoughtful project, and a great example of how to enable learning through design. —Steve Liska

      This isn’t just a book design, but a category reinvention. It does a good job of mitigating the intimidation factor of technical information through information design that is accessible, understandable and visually appealing. —Monica Little

      Love it. The book tackled a wickedly complicated information design problem with a demonstrable visual approach. I actually bought the book, and I use it periodically, as a reference. One can’t get a better endorsement and justification for a winning entry than having the judge swear by the book. —Clement Mok

      This piece conveys complex, high-level concepts both effectively and beautifully. The case study indicates that the reach was global. It’s a great example of form and function, and one that led to success across borders, languages and media. —Petrula Vrontikis

      CODA Experience Center

      This is another example of a complex project that involved more than just communication—one whose effectiveness will likely take a longer period of time to be fully realized. The formal execution of this project was very strong and involved a variety of media; its subject matter met the Living Principles criteria. Although the narrative makes a good case for effectiveness, the jury wished that more metrics had been captured. —Terry Irwin

      A complex project that took a unique—and effective—direction. Visually appropriate and well-documented. They make a great case for understanding their audience and thinking through a new brand introduction. —Steve Liska

      CODA is an impressive solution to a multilayered problem that begins with interpreting a new product category. This is an interesting initiative that goes beyond traditional graphic design and involves sophisticated design thinking to create a unique experience that is appropriate for the product. The case for effectiveness would have been stronger if the target and actual numbers for reservations, test drives and media impressions had been stated. —Monica Little

      A well-written narrative about how the designers connect the dots for their clients. The story about the product is clear, and it leaves a good impression about this new product category and brand. —Clement Mok

      The CODA Experience Center offered an interesting challenge: design a dynamic educational experience in a shopping mall next to a Sunglass Hut. It’s in a mall, but you can’t buy anything there. Somehow this experiment succeeded—maybe because it brought up a lot more questions than answers. The designers combined solid information systems skills with compelling visuals. They were very competent in their execution, but the real value of the project may lie in the way it opens up discussions around how companies can promote their projects in nontraditional, non-virtual ways. —Petrula Vrontikis

      To see the full set of 18 case studies, visit the 2012 “Justified” selections page.