2013 Justified competition: From the chair

“Eclectic” and “diverse” are perhaps the best words to describe this year’s submissions to “Justified: AIGA Design Competition.” Entries ranged from an initiative to transform a corporate culture over a span of six years to a beautifully designed and engineered operating system for a mobile device to a short film rallying legislative action. To see this vast spectrum of work as a representation of the design profession was both humbling and awe-inspiring. 

While diversity is great, judging such a wide field of entries is not without its challenges. How do you select the best work given the disparate distribution of resources, scope, intent and execution for each project? Having judged this competition last year, I knew that this year’s jurors would need to have a range of experience as varied as the entries we received. Thankfully, I was able to assemble an exceptionally talented panel—Valerie Casey, Jessica Hische, Brad Johnson, Josh Rubin, Christopher Simmons and Alina Wheeler—which made the difficult task of culling standout work from each category possible. Clarity of concept, quality of execution and ability to engage and inspire were attributes we examined. We also weighed each submission against the following three questions: Was the design solution a game changer? Did it “move the needle”? Did it engage and inspire its intended audience?

The 14 works we selected are thoughtful, provocative and truly diverse, but our decision to include certain submissions was not always unanimous. In fact, lengthy and sometimes passionate debate ensued about whether or not certain projects should be included based solely on their uniqueness or brilliance, even if they conflicted with our personal views on what kinds of design should be recognized and encouraged.

For example, the majority of jurors agreed that “UNIQLO ‘Storms’ Pinterest” was masterfully executed, but some argued that it should not be selected because it might invite more “disruptive” design. But what if the very same project had been promoting an end to world hunger? Would an inspiring and innovative design solution that benefitted humanity be more valuable or worthy than one that successfully builds a brand or sells a product? 

Some concluded that answering these questions was beyond the scope of our role as jurors, while others believed that it was imperative for us to answer them and judge accordingly. Without clear consensus, we decided the best course of action was to include several such noteworthy submissions in spite of the controversy they inspired among us.

After we had made our final selections, a few new ideas were proposed to improve “Justified” in the future. The most obvious was based on our observation that many entries were multidisciplinary and therefore judging them by discipline category muddled the judging process. Moving forward, we believe that submissions should be viewed and assessed from the perspective of the role the designer assumes: designer as activist, designer as brand steward, designer as craftsman, designer as change agent, designer as entrepreneur, etc. We believe that this approach will encourage and inspire us to design in ways we might not think possible, broadening the very definition of our profession.

—Clement Mok, 2013 “Justified: AIGA Design Competition” chair