What role do design competitions play?

Filed Under: About AIGA , awards , Article , AIGA Insight

AIGA is always reviewing its programs to ensure that what we offer is in line with what members want and need. Although we are a century-old institution, we have remained vital over the years by adapting and not simply sticking with legacy activities. Through member surveys, conversations with stakeholders and, most recently, sessions at “Pivot: AIGA Design Conference” last fall, we have been examining our annual design competitions and their role.

Everything’s changing

The context has changed significantly since AIGA began its competitions nearly 100 years ago: Inspiration is now accessible 24/7 online, and designers can gain exposure for their work by publishing it online themselves, rather than waiting to be selected and published by an annual competition. The idea of a single jury meeting once a year to review past design for publication in the future seems anachronistic to how design is shared, discussed and critiqued in our daily lives. The issue is not with the value of a juried competition; it is with how slow and retrospective the process appears when so many receive daily alerts to blogs celebrating great design every day.

What’s more, the playing field has changed: With dozens of publishers and organizations offering competitions, the best examples of contemporary design do not necessarily get entered in any single competition. Hence, no single competition can truly be a comprehensive review of the year’s design achievements if it must depend upon what is entered. “The bellwether of design excellence for 2011” would be a presumptuous statement for any competition in this era of such fragmented participation. That reality—that no one place is THE place for great design to be showcased—also makes competitions less crucial to individual designers and as a resource for design audiences.

But designers still love recognition and inspiration

AIGA is not shying away from honoring stellar design. It is simply trying to find new ways to do so, with:

New partners for new audiences: 50 Books/50 Covers

One of AIGA’s competitions remains important in the field of book and cover design, and there is little in the way of competing juried selections: “50 Books/50 Covers.” AIGA is partnering with Design Observer and Designers & Books to continue the legacy of this competition—the competition chairs will be William Drenttel, publisher and editorial director of Design Observer Group, and Steve Kroeter, editor in chief of Designers & Books. A call for entries will be issued in the spring, a jury will convene in the summer and the announcement of selections will occur in the fall. Selections will be widely published and entered in the AIGA Design Archives.

So how should competitions adapt?

The question becomes: With all of these activities, are design competitions still the best way for AIGA to demonstrate the power of design to business leaders, media and the broader public?

These developments, when coupled with AIGA members’ consistent urging to create more stories and case studies not only showing design but also describing how design has created value for clients and made an impact, suggest it is time to approach AIGA competitions from a new perspective.

Introducing AIGA’s 2012 competition: Justified

Our competition for 2012, “Justified: AIGA Design Competition,” invites designers to submit examples of projects from all media and communication design disciplines, in the form of images and a description of the work’s impact. “Justified” represents the next generation of AIGA’s competitions and seeks stories that reveal the value design creates for clients.

AIGA believes its role is to reinforce all the dimensions of design:

  • Hand—the craft of design
  • Heart—the impact on the human experience
  • Head—design thinking and the creation of value

The focus of AIGA’s criteria may vary in emphasis among these characteristics, but they will never ignore the critical contribution of each in any successful design.

Case studies created for “Justified” will communicate the power of design that’s brilliantly executed—that reveals the role of a designer in a project, the range of contributions a designer can make, and the effectiveness of design—to audiences beyond our own profession. “Justified” invites work from all forms of visual communication, including books, branding, entertainment, experience design, information design, organizational design, packaging, promotion and service design.

We encourage you to participate; entries are due by March 31. This next stage in AIGA’s competition history will showcase great design while saying so much more.

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.