The DC chapter of the AIGA holds a bi-annual competition called AIGA50. The concept: what are the best 50 things to come out of the area in the last 24 months? Submit your stuff, then our esteemed judges will vote. After, we'll have them on display and hold an event at the Corchran. Not only is this a huge undertaking, but the volunteer-only board did a fantastic job getting the word around. The website should (and probably will) win awards in it's own right.
When the results came out, my project wasn't selected. Bummer. But there was a huge talent pool. The judges fielded over 400 submissions. I eagerly went through the winning pieces. A few things quickly became obvious.
- Agencies boxed out the little guy. Design Army is talented. So, if they flood the entry pool with 28 submissions and then earn 30% of all of winning entries, you can't really complain. They put the money up to enter, and there's no limit on the number of pieces an individual person or agency can submit.
- Sort the winners by category. Click websites. Six results. One is an annual report in web form. One is a fully managed brand campaign with the website only being one piece. One relies solely on graphics created by a multimillion dollar game studio. One is a really cool interactive infographic. That leaves two real websites. You know, websites. Homepage, social media integration, carefully planned UX and an amazing UI. Content strategy. Two. Out of fifty.
So I start asking questions on Twitter, and @AIGA_DC tells me they didn't do the judging, and I should talk to the judges.
I emailed Carin Goldberg, who opened her agency before I was born. Her resume would read like a finely-crafted leather-bound book, although I imagine she hasn't needed to show anyone a resume in a long time. She designed the cover art for Madonna's iconic first album.
The following is an unedited transcription of our email conversation after I introduced myself as a writer with questions on the AIGA50 competition:
Michael Aleo: Why do you think so few interactive pieces made the cut? Out of 50, only four were interactive. Do you think this illustrates the disconnect interactive designers feel from AIGA?
Carin Goldberg: I didn't judge or see the work selected.
MA: I'm sorry - maybe I have the wrong Carin. Are you the same one listed here: http://50.aigadc.org/judges/?
CG: Oh. For DC. Got it. Frankly the work was really poor in general. Hard to find much of anything that was fresh and new an well designed.
MA: Why do you think so few interactive pieces won? Only 4/50 were interactive. Everything else is print, and there's a few video pieces. Going through the nominees, there are quite a few fresh interactive pieces.
CG: Because they were awful!
MA: Do you even have an appreciation for interactive or digital design? Looking through your (obviously very accomplished) portfolio, and noting your own website, I'm not sure it's your thing.
CG: Doesn't have to be "my thing" if its good. I have an appreciation for good work, period.
MA: What does "good work" mean to you? Is it about what the piece does, and how it impacts the world around it? Or is it purely based on designing quality aesthetics?
I ask because myself and others have expressed some confusion about how an entry like this: http://50.aigadc.org/gallery/entry/103/ beat out entries like these:
CG: apples and oranges.
The wrapping paper was at least a relief from some of the downright bad work that was entered.
Can't say it was brilliant/groundbreaking/useful but at least it had something redeeming about it. The interactive web stuff you showed me was pedestrian and just plan bad design. This stuff should be smart, beautiful and content friendly. Ugh!
MA: Then I'd really like to see an example or two of what you consider great interface design. Something that you would have put at the top of your pile. I'm confused that you chose something that was, by your own admittance, not useful, over things that have actual impact in the community.
CG: I'm done Michael. I'm not on trial here.
Fair enough - she's not - although I really wanted to see what kind of interface design she might have voted for. She was asked by AIGA to judge a contest, and she judged it based on personal opinion and style, and in her opinion, clever wrapping paper beat out all of the interactive contenders.
This is the problem.
The AIGA just doesn't get it. Instead of spending an hour laying out furniture to correctly space type on a letterpress, the interactive process takes many, many times longer. Even the worst of the web entries into AIGA50 undoubtedly had dozens of hours of technology behind it propping it up. At the top of the pile? Hundreds if not thousands. They solved problems, made the interactive experience work across different browsers, different devices, different platforms, and different languages. Carin Goldberg isn't a technologist. She's not interested in studying if a subtle, barely there drop shadow to increase visibility to a button (and confirmed through A/B testing and eye tracking tests) creates an easier throughput to an important piece of content the user would benefit from. And technology is certainly part of our creative medium. After all, isn't part of being creative exploring new mediums and pushing boundaries? The AIGA seems to ignore that the web in 2012 is a major player in the creative field, while traditional mediums like the album cover are drifting into relative obscurity.
I asked Doug Powell who is not only another judge, but also happens to be the national president of the AIGA for a comment on the lack of interactive winners, Carin's comments, and the relationship between interactive designers and the AIGA. He declined to comment.
Until the AIGA can understand principles that influence the creative things that I design and love, they're just a broken old organization. I can only hope the future leaders of AIGA, or whatever organization forms to represent the creative community understand my craft. I'll be happy to send them membership dues.