2014 Justified Competition: From the Chair

2014 marks the fourth year of AIGA’s competition for design efficacy, and the largest number of entries to date (more than the past three years combined). With fewer than three percent of the submissions selected for recognition, “Justified” is the profession’s most selective competition. The 19 winning entries survived three rounds of rigorous evaluation. We present them here as case studies of effective design.

From comprehensive civic wayfinding programs to interactive data visualization installations and K-12 curriculums in Peru, the scope of entries submitted to “Justified” has never been broader. Neither has the definition of ‘design.’ It’s tempting to say that assembling a jury capable of assessing efforts as complex and varied as those submitted to this year’s competition was no easy task, but we were privileged to have an exceptionally qualified (and critical) cadre of jurors. They included Kate Aronowitz, director of brand design at Facebook, Cameron Campbell, principal strategist at Teague, Jennifer Kinon, co-founder of OCD (The Original Champions of Design), Jeremy Mende, creative director of MendeDesign, Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, Dana Arnett, CEO of VSA Partners and and myself. The diversity of their expertise and the clarity of their points of view (as well as their flexibility in considering others) were central to the success of this year’s competition.

What is Justified?
“Justified” exists to recognize and celebrate the effectiveness of design. But what do we consider “effective” and how do we measure it?

One frame for evaluating design effectiveness is certainly craft. How well is a thing made? How expertly does it employ the formal and imaginative qualities required of graphic communication? For many competitions this is the ultimate benchmark of ‘good design.’ For “Justified,” it’s the minimum threshold.

Clarity is another important consideration. For design to serve as an effective mediator between ideas and people, it must be accessible, interpretable and purposeful. What is this thing? What does it mean? Why does it exist? These seem like basic questions, but it’s surprising how often seductive-looking design fails to answer them definitively.

In addition to craft and clarity, the many contexts in which a designed work exists is critical to determining its value. AIGA describes these contexts as The Living Principles, a framework for environmental, social, economic and cultural sustainability and appropriateness. Some entries, like the compostable packaging for the HP Chromebook 11 or IDEO’s curriculum for Innova Schools, address these issues directly. Others, like Mohawk’s Culture of Craft campaign do so more obliquely.

Over a period of six months, several conference calls and two full days of in-person judging, the jurors evaluated nearly 750 entries against these criteria. We debated, advocated and investigated. We interrogated the entries, each other and ourselves. Though we ultimately reached consensus, we once again committed to including opposing views from dissenting jurors.

Several themes emerged from these conversations. Among them was the realization (and lament) that scores of entries whose beauty and inventiveness clearly advanced the discipline of design were nonetheless eliminated for lack of metrics, scope or comprehensiveness. AIGA acknowledges the need to recognize achievement in design on a formal or experimental level and is working to fulfill that requirement. Systemic design tended to triumph, while entries that addressed a discrete aspect of a larger problem had a more difficult time breaking through. As a result, projects created by larger, multidisciplinary teams are represented with greater frequency—though not without exception.

It’s been my privilege to participate as a “Justified” juror for two consecutive years, and an honor to serve as this year’s chair.

—Christopher Simmons, 2014 Justified Chair
AIGA Board of Directors
Creative Director, MINE™