Lorraine Wild | Essays

Think Regional, Act Annual

Print Regional Design Annual, cover by Abbott Miller, 2005

Flying from New York to Los Angeles last week, I spent the long hours at 35,000 feet doing something I had not done in years: I read Print Magazine's "2005 Regional Design Annual" cover to cover. Here are some of the things I learned:

Tech has re-bounded in Utah.

North Carolina is home to designers who emphasize the importance of offering a comprehensive branding program.

San Diego is home to the most consistently happy designers from year to year.

Firms that aren't "weighed down by a large number of employees" are doing well in Virginia.

And ... Indie rock band posters are channeling Marcel Dzama and Edward Gorey, no matter where they're from.

Why did I even bother?

The current Print cover headline, "25th Anniversary Edition," caught my attention in that awful way that things do as I realized that I probably owned — and had once pored over — the very first "Regional Design Annual" of Print Magazine. Back in that day, there were hardly any AIGA chapters: New York was its own kingdom, Chicago (home to the American Center for Design, née the Society of Typographic Designers) was another, and things were just beginning to percolate down in Texas. There was also something called California Design, dominated by a mysterious confluence of talented (but oddly, unrelated) guys all of whom shared the same name (Michael) as well as a particular preference for the color orange.

At that point Print, having sensed that the spread of design east of the Hudson River might be considered newsworthy, invited designers to submit their work for inclusion in an annual review that would be divided and analyzed geographically. To look back at those early "Regional Annuals" is to witness the world of American design when at least some of the work was interestingly local, or thuddingly provincial: this was not only a result of the kinds of clients in each region, but the designers themselves, how self-contained their orbits were, what sorts of schools might have been influencing them locally, and so on.

A big part of the story of the Print "Regional Annual" now is revealed up front, on the first of those many annoying, oddly-weighted sheets of paper bound in to the front matter of the magazine: the entry-coupon for the 2006 regional design annual (each entry $35). It's a big piece of business for Print as they, in fact, average about 25,000 entries per year, as editor Joyce Rutter Kaye estimates in her foreword. But it would be wrong to suggest that this is the entire back-story of the Print "Regional Annual," because, for starters, it's hard labor culling through that many entries. It's worth remembering, too, that Print is determined to generate a compelling picture of graphic design across the nation via this juried survey — even if the legitimacy of their overview is based on an antiquated notion of how, and more to the point, where, design happens.

Print's editors claim that that the thousands of entries — and their culling of them — cannot help but represent a complete survey of what's going on in the world of graphic design. (Their process begins with an in-house panel assessing the entries; their picks constitute a sort of trend-spotting that is subsequently amended with editorial comments based on interviews with a few selected entrants.) Editor Kaye offers a sort of editorial disclaimer in her introduction: "Technology and globalization," she writes, "has enabled agencies and design firms to become less reliant on local clients, and the awareness of international design trends has expanded their vocabulary of creative references." Such a cultural climate, let alone a tacit admission of this new, globalized state of affairs, would seem to trump the very "regional" particularities that Print's editors want to believe they're defining for us — a fact that's perhaps most evident in the actual entries themselves.

Many newspapers — the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Denver Post, among others — are locally parsed and published (and therefore represented by) their respective regional sections. We know that most newspapers in this country are facing a perilous business climate, so it's no surprise that newspapers are sprucing up their design standards. Of course, what really would be surprising would be if the designers of the San Diego Union Tribune deliberately created a graphic identity that was ineffably but unquestionably "San Diegan." (Now that would belong in a regional annual.) But only a contrarian — or maybe someone who had never ever glimpsed those racks full of self-help books trumpeting the new globalism at every airport newsstand across the nation — would even think of such a thing. Actually, it sounds like a graphic design grad school thesis project. (But I digress.)

Today, designers and their clients identify themselves by engaging in practices that are framed by "regional" issues, yet their business is often directed, ultimately, at bigger audiences; the success of those regional designers depends on their ability to visually communicate on a national or even international level. It may be, too, that the designers or agencies who enter competitions like the Print "Regional Annual" are already within a subset of designers deeply invested in working at the national/global level. Or maybe that's just the work that Print's in-house team responds to, since it's "professional" and appeals to contemporary, even more visually-savvy audiences. One exception here is the plethora of birth announcements, moving announcements, wedding announcements and other self-promotional pieces entered — and frequently chosen; here, it's worth suggesting that while the ego may be local, the dreams are transcendent. And with the exception of a few lonely chile peppers or howling coyotes or blobby Hatch Show print headlines, I dare any reader to cover up the location names and try to guess where this work comes from. The same can be said for the descriptions of the business climate for design, which are basically mediocre from sea-to- shining-sea; nevertheless, each regions' designers remain optimistic despite it all — which either speaks to the indomitability of the human spirit , or to the ongoing proliferation of serotonin-uptake inhibitors. Or both.

In the very same issue, Rick Poynor's essay "Arch Enemy" makes the uncomfortable point that much of the work of graphic designers is middlebrow, which he characterizes as popular and clever without challenging the preconceptions of either the client or its audience. It's an interesting choice to run this essay in this issue of the "Regional Annual," since this year's selections seem middlebrow to the core. There's not much in the way of inspiration, nor is there a significant amount of out-and-out crap. This flattened-out picture of design drawn by Print's in-house jury is probably a result of their desire to be "fair and balanced," to give each type of work it's due: and in doing so, each part of the country is indistinguishable from the next. Even J. Abbott Miller's cover of the current Print, with its faux-airline hub-and-spoke map, slyly alludes to the dulling effect of global uniformity, using the most banal of contemporary designed experiences to convey the state of the (design) arts.

Not wanting to be the ever-nattering nabob, I hereby offer Print a few suggestions.

Number One: follow the example of shows such as Grown in California (organized by the California chapters of the AIGA — with an orange cover, perhaps attesting to its own enduringly Michael-ized, and arguably regional, DNA) where the work is subdivided into genres to try to describe diversity, rather than uniformity, of practice.

Number Two: dispense with the regional analysis entirely and display the work by genres more thoughtfully described than the typical competition categories (such as "editorial design," "identity programs" and so forth.) What if all the insurance company communications were cross-compared, or all of the pharmaceutical ads, or all of the wedding invitations?

Finally: assign each area a single writer who hails from that particular region, and give them the freedom to capture the gestures, the nuances, the cutural specifics that frame the work — if indeed they do. Of course, in the end it will still all be fictional, but no more so than the idea that that designers who live in Kansas City are any different from those who live in Brooklyn.

It's possible, even likely that such reconsiderations would offer a better representation of the range of work in the Print "Regional Annual," and would help to amplify the "similar differences" that are now completely misrepresented by the magazine's ongoing insistence that we're all constrained by some kind of design dialect that divides us across the map.

I can report the following from my own fly-over last week: from 35,000 feet, I assure you, you can't tell the red states from the blue ones. And I suspect that most of the designers, no matter where they hail from, are still wearing a lot of black.

Posted in: Graphic Design, History, Media, Social Good

Comments [58]

I was a little confused by the plot of this article. Was it to examine the differences between the regions of design or was it a forum to suggest how Print should regard design from firm to firm, state to state? Both?

I think in this case, design is only as contemporary or cliche as you want it to be which depends on the connections you make comparing one method to those that've already been used and deployed.

Then again, if all work was selected and then grouped by Genre, as a traditional method for this anual review, one might argue that a change was in order, that Print revert it's standards to classify work according to it's location (eg: what state is the the agency or firm residing in) and thus, the problem is still as plain as it would've been.

Though i agree, mixing it up every now and then couldn't hurt but nothing i saw in this issue of Print reflected a subtext of blind-sighted jurying. As a rule, i think it's best to leave design outside the ranks of competition. Somehow it works to ruin the caliber of the profession, to see one designer pitted against another. Instead, i'd rather to see what everyone has to offer for the benefit of communication.
andrew Kopietz

Great summing-up of what, I suspect, all too many designers think when they pick up the regional design annual, myself included. There is some value in seeing how other designers approach a particular challenge, and when you're, say, a one-man home-based design studio, you might not have time to see what your peers are doing.

As the Internet did to music (and now television), the need for self-appointed gatekeepers like Print cannot help but be diminished by its ability to directly connect creative people together - through portfolio sites, blogs like this one, Flickr, even Google Image Search.

(And kudos for recognizing that The World is Flat and others of its ilk are self-help books - designed to reconcile CEOs' consciences with the globalized erosion of the very middle class that buys their products, I guess)

"New York was its own kingdom".

"There was also something called California Design".

The Apple or The Orange.

One day I'll write an Editorial about the Great MYTH of New York Design.

The Good Ole Days.

California, Bass, Landor, Runyan, Cross, Primo Angeli, Soyster Ohrenschall, Rod Dyer, Greiman, Sussman, Bright, Hinriches, Scott Mednick, Sedjekov Berman Gomez.

New York, Rand, Lubalin, Glaser, Vignelli, Chwast, Henry Wolf, Arnold Saks, Lippincott, Siegel & Gale, AGP, Tscherny, Frankfurt Gips Balkind, Pentagram.

No Contest, in terms of Ground Breaking and Exciting Work, the Largest Accounts, Annual Billing.
Hands Down California is the Winner!!!!!

I'm talking about Long before Landor opened an office in New York. Pentagram Partnered with Kit Hinriches on the West Coast. Siegel & Gale acquired the Consultancy of Jim Cross.

Even in it's Hey Day, I always looked at California and New York only, in Print Regional Design Annual. They were the Visual Communication Mecca's.

It was always interesting to see where Design and Illustration Mavericks like Michael David Brown would turn up next. He seemed to fluctuate between D.C. New York and California, bound by no Territory.

The Rivalry between The Apple and The Orange was Legendary and will always be compared to the Hatfield's and McCoy's, The Army and The Navy, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

The Dismal Quality or Lack thereof in Print's Regional Design Annual is a Sign of the Times of all American Design Annuals. Print within the last ten years, there seem to be a Noticable Absence of First Tier Work and Representation from Emerging Creatives with Focus on the Middle of the Road Creatives. Perhaps that's the Problem.

"no matter where they hail from, are still wearing a lot of black".

Legendary Designer, George Tscherny had the Greatest Credo I ever heard.

When Everybody Zag, I Zig.

There's NO WAY, in God's Name I can or would ever Confine my Sartorial Dress Palette to a Single Color.

You'll see this Designer in Beautiful MISSONI Sweaters, Lora Piana, Jackets, Zanella Slacks, and Luciano Barbera Shirts.
How can I forget my Ferragamo and John Lobb Shoes.


The Print Regional Annual is flawed in the ways that Lorraine describes, but because has the advantage of working like a quota system, you will see work that that you won't see anywhere else (and sometimes shouldn't see anywhere at all.) For all its problems, we really don't have a better snapshot of where the national graphic design scene is in any given year.

I agree that the attempt to discuss the work in terms of regionalism is futile at this point. I was interviewed by a good writer (DO's own Tom Vanderbilt) for the text for the New York section, and I was embarassed by my inability to draw any kinds of coherent conclusions about "trends in the New York design scene." It didn't help that the few regional trends I was able to conjure up -- the design enthusiasms of the Bloomberg administration, for instance, as evidenced by the excellent design surrounding the city's (failed) bid for the 2012 Ollympics -- were nowhere illustrated in the pictured selections. This is always the flaw in attempting to "curate" a competition when you don't control the submissions.

I also agree with Design Maven about the myth of New York dominance, although Print certainly bought it back in the day. As I recall, the original Regional Design Annual didn't have a section on New York. I guess the theory was that all the other issues during the were "special New York issues" by default.
Michael Bierut

I have a problem with design annuals period. They will never capture the now in design. Is there a now in design? That is another question. Design annuals show where creativity ends, not where it begins.
Nathan Philpot

Design annuals are like porn. Everyone acts like they're not into them, but they wouldn't be around if people didn't buy them (or enter their work).

I agree that there has been a flattening of design, where things that I would have identified as so NorCal -- graf influence, hand drawn type -- several years ago are popping up in New York, Philly and Baltimore. I do think that there are regional trends, because of the influence of schools and the local scene. Designers may be connected via the internet, but in the end we respond to our immediate colleagues and peers locally are doing. And that is how we take global trends and put our local spin on it. Globalization is a myth. The idea that you aren't influenced by that sign you read every day on the way to work, that there aren't local music cultures (hey, when was the last time you heard Go-Go outside of DC?) and other specific spacial and regional concerns and constraints. Look at Tennessee for instance in 2005 Regional Design Review, here's a whole state that has been incredibly influenced by traditional graphic printing and typography. Yee-Haw in Knoxville and the traditional printing background of Nashville has been enormously influential in attracting people to the region. When I look back 20 years ago and think of what I think of as quintessential 80s design (when I was just an elementary school student), I realize now that much of that "look": torn paper, neon was coming out of Northern California, but I had associated it with a national trend. Having a "Regional" issue then reminds of us again that we aren't as globalized as we fictionalize and that ideas have a starting point. (And for those of us who are just starting are careers, it's also a great phone book, of where to send our portfolios if say we want to leave Northern California and move to Philly.)

In the spirit of 'region-al-ity" this years Florida's section...it was oddly under represented. I actually went through and compared it to the last few years. It was about 50-60% as filled as years before? Why? Less entries? Less good entries? There's no telling. As suggested in Lorraine's post, a more intimate portrait of the region would definitely be appreciated.

I love gigposters. I love designing them and seeing them. But I hate seeing them in PRDA. Several reasons: 1- because it speaks to the abundance of design authorship in US design these days. Something brought to the forefront of my mind by Paula's book (Make it bigger) as a potentially damaging of good design. 2- I have other means of viewing gigposters...many other means. 3- I want to see AND COMPARE other work that is out there. 4- I need to know that there is other good interesting work going on!

PRDA does one thing that I find useful. It shows a quantity of work. I think of it less as a regional examination (Do I really care about specific design trends in say Colorado? (No offense.) BUT I do very much care to see work I could not even hope to see otherwise. To PRDA I say, well done, keep it up...and if I don't miss the deadline again this year I hope to send in several $$$ next year!

Thank you, DC 1974, for pointing out that regional styles do exist (and continue to emerge) and affect design culture in a powerful way. And thank you, Michael, for pointing out the value in having a national snapshot once a year.

I suppose if the RDA's value to designers is declining, we'd see it in the numbers, but it's actually our best-selling issue of the year. Last year, we sold 75% of copies we placed on the newsstand (a 50% sell-through is considered excellent). I don't deny that teasing out regional differences is becoming more and more of a challenge for us, but I do think that many designers across the country are still very interested in seeing who's doing what in their local community, as well as seeing what's being done elsewhere.

Joyce Rutter Kaye

My issue with the Regional Annual has never been the Regional, but rather the Annual. While I realize the business community moves much faster than it used to, the difference from year to year never seems very drastic, especially wehn it comes to the writing portion (which i find far more interesting than the work showcase).

If I were to take Lorraine's approach and offer a soultion, I would rather see the Regional annual be done every two years, with the opposite year devoted to the European Annual. It would show a larger shift in "style" and probably more segregation in economic outlook.

And while Im in a dreamers mood, perhaps developing the European Annual into an International Annual. I feel theres far more cultural aspects that could be written about in a full-on world annual and it would showcase more diversity that would really challenge design instead of being just a showcase. (I realize I have neither the budget or time constraints Print works with.)
Derrick Schultz

The Print Regional Annual is a book compiled of work across the county, why would you think the annual is flawed? It is the designers you should be focusing on. And if you have a problem with it, then design better work. Everyone on this site sits around and criticizes the work out there today. Maybe instead of wasting time talking about recent work, you should create new work of your own.

I have to agree, in part, with Ms. Wild. I too picked up a copy of Print Regional Design Annual and was quick to put it back on the rack. Not much in it was inspiring. Yes, there's a lot of work done these days but that's where it ends. I rather read about functionality and how the work impacts the desired audience. I realized years ago that design is not about me. The moment you see me in the work I do, I've done a bad job. It's about the client and its audience. Designers basically interpret the way information is presented. If you want to see design at its best look at European design. They don't scream "look at me -- I need glitter to look pretty -- please stroke my ego." They do what they do and don't make a big deal about it. They don't obsess about it.

Do what I did. Sell all your design magazines and pledge to never again submit work to a design competition. Why? Because design is not a beauty pageant.
Samuel E. Vazquez

Until reading this article I was very disappointed with the uninspiring work that was put out in the "Regional Design Annual". I felt dissatisfied to see how similar projects looked to one another as well as how flat the issue makes American design culture appear. I know many students making more interesting work than what these important studios seem to be putting out. It gives the impression that there are no risks being, only baby steps in one direction or the other. The design shown for much of the issue was dull and safe. After reading this article however, I was reminded that Print is behind choosing the featured works and I regained some hope. I don't know what the politics are behind the Annual but I do know that there is more exciting works to be shown out there.

I think that if Print's point is to show the difference in graphic work by location, and being that it is design magazine, they could come up with a smarter approach to the issue where we can really compare the differences. I think that the suggestion of cross-comparing work of different locations within certain genres would create a much more effective account of printed work for the purpose of the Regional Design Annual issue. That way as well, it would be harder to get bored of the work shown because maybe it wouldn't all continue to just look the same. All in all, maybe we have all learned our lesson that the magazine may not be worth the time or read this year.

I'd think the other important trends to watch within the magazine are the body of contributors that just seem to make it in year after year without much question - is this simply an instance of Print officially deciding which designers / firms they know have a good track record and are "safe" bets, is it recognition of tenure within the field, or is it just boring judging on the part of Print and their annual judges?

It's clear that Print is still including names that haven't appeared before, but I'd be seriously curious to know what the ratio of design standards / stand-bys vs. new and notables is within the past 25 years worth of publication...

The goal of the Annual is to provide a comprehensive overview of design being done in this country. When judging the 25,000 entries over the course of 3 months, we are not choosing work based on any particular agenda—we are not trying to favor past winners, nor are we sifting through to find work with a specific regional flavor. We are merely trying to find the best work possible from the work that's submitted, period. We actually do not divide work into regions until the third and final round of judging. if a particular region in the book shrinks in size from one year to the next, it's because fewer viable entries were submitted from that region—we don't fill pages for the sake of filling them.

Considering the sheer volume of the entries, and the relatively few that make it in (1200 or so), it's actually a pretty selective annual, and I think it stands as a fairly accurate barometer of the quality-level of work being done in this country. Is it perfect? No, but we're always trying to make improvements, in the way we solicit entries, select the finalists, and report on the regions. It's five solid months of hard work for a team of only seven people, and I think it works pretty well.
Joyce Rutter Kaye

i've entered just about every show there is over the years. bit by bit, i finally quit entering them - largely because of the ridiculous and largely wasted expense. after all was said and done, the only show i entered any more was the print regional. this was because it has ALWAYS been my favorite. what i loved about it was the sheer clunk of it. what i mean by that is when a design "show" is judged by primarily NON-designers, it gives it an outside view that i found IMMENSELY valuable. where else could you actually see the good and BAD and (mostly) average of the this amazing country broken down by geographical areas? it found looking at the overview of each section enlightening and, frankly, a truer and more honest view of american design than any bunch of tidy design crap promoted by new york or the academic circles of american design. design in this country has ALWAYS been about the 'other stuff', not the opinions and work generated by the self-proclaimed taste mongers of design culture.

that said, this year i finally gave up on print regional. it was the last design competition i entered for the last decade. i think the reason for my giving up has much to do with ms. wild's snotty and off-base opinion stated above. the mediocrity of american design has now surpased regionalism, generally speaking. as you flip through the pages of the regional it really honestly all does look alike. once in blue moon something jumps off the page at you, but that's simply because it actually contains an interesting and challenging idea. you see, computers don't have "idea" buttons (yet).

however, i part with ms. wild in the reasons why. it has nothing to do with the imagined lowering of standards or the cheapening of excellent taste (as design culture tends to view things), but with the profligation of computers and the incompetence of design education. all of a sudden anyone can do excellent graphic design production by simply purchasing the correct software - but they can't come up with excellent design ideas. the result is a staggering and high level of medocrity. the ceiling for fine looking empty-headed graphic design has been reached in america and it is evident in the print regional design annual.

design culture has traditionally taught graphic design as a pursuit of beauty and harmony and 'good taste' as percieved by 'fine art' standards, when i truth it's not about that at all. combine that with a dramatic and fearful embrace of digital technology and you get highly competant mediocrity. it looks great, but it's utterly empty . good taste does not produce great ideas.

we need to backpeddle and begin teaching 'thinking' rather than 'taste and tech'. we need to teach how to talk design as a language and then we need to applaud and publish THAT sort of work instead. right now we just pick the pretty stuff. we are so off-base in our 'design culture' thinking that we sort of have the "regional design annual" we deserve.

art chantry

As someone who recently judged a competition for Print Magazine, (though not the Regional Annual) I must say that the process for choosing work was thorough and rigorous.

Regarding the question "is this simply an instance of Print officially deciding which designers / firms they know have a good track record and are "safe" bets, is it recognition of tenure within the field, or is it just boring judging on the part of Print and their annual judges?" the answer (from my experience) is as follows:

In any of the competitions I have judged, I have never been privy to any of the names of the firms or designers from any of the entrants until after the work is chosen, and oftentimes I have not found out "who" has won until the magazine is out or the show is up. Print, in particular, was extremely diligent in the observation of the competition I participated in judging; a non-staff writer participated to document every decision we made and even challenged group discussions and individual choices.

Competitons are polarizing entities. Judging music, films, actors, design, designers. pies, etc can be fraught with a myriad of cultural biases--who is most popular, most deserving, most previously overlooked, the best at campaigning, etc. Is it always fair? I am not sure that anything ever is, but I can attest from my personal experience with Print that the effort and integrity put forth in the competition I judged was stellar.
debbie millman


I feel compelled to apologize on behalf of the entire design community here in Utah for taking up precious space that could otherwise be spent on something more useful and inspiring to the design community at large.

Since when is design a choice between tasting great and being more fulfilling? Good design is that which incorporates good ideas with style. I agree with you, Mr. Chantry, in your sentiment that design thinking is a critical component to design education, but it does not take precedence over visualization. In truth, design thinking is visualization. Good ideas are just that, good ideas. On their own, without style, without taste, they don't make any better design than just style alone.
Hilary Greenbaum

I too was very disappointed in the quality of the latest Print Regional Annual. I won't be renewing.

Who submits their work to these things anyway? And why -- does it reliably yield new or better business? The best award I seek is being awarded a great new project.

How bout a design annual that does not accept submissions, but seeks out and awards publication to the best unsubmitted work?

In light of Debbie and Joyce's replies I'm simply pleased to have more of the behind-the-scenes view of the Annual - although some of my comment / question about those who show up repeatedly in the annuals was accusatory, it was also an honest question about tenure and recognition within our field.

I've frankly enjoyed seeing some of these familiar "faces" show up in several annuals because it becomes a chance to see what they've been working on and what their latest, greatest work is - they're generally the bright spots in the collected work and often enough generate great ideas in enticing packaging that then seems to be bastardized a thousand times over without the solid ideas of the original.

I can't deny that I find a lot of harmony with Art's disappointment over the style-vs.-substance tendency of a lot of the work we've been seeing in many of the annuals - this seems to be echoed more largely in much of the art being produced right now. Lots of surface, the veneer of concern / authenticity / idiosyncrasy / message, but not that much under the hood once the work is really examined and investigated.

Art's stab at design education is well-placed - how many "digital imaging" training centers have been generated with the label "Graphic Design" slapped onto them and the Macs dutifully lined up with all the latest Adobe products while true design thinking, layout principles, typographic understanding, and imagemaking practice have been left in the lurch?

I think we still want to make sure that we don't entirely toss the baby out with the bathwater in terms of what the digital tools have to offer, we just need to train thinkers to regard the computer as simply one more tool in their toolbox which should be filled already with the older stand-bys: pencils, pens, etc. Art's sentiments about design seem to have a lot of echoes these days and are currently building steam to reassess what a true design education / curriculum should really look like.

In the midst of that, it's tough not to utilize Print, How, CA, and Graphis as some valuable teaching resources - where else can a student actually get the snapshot of the field that Print especially has attempted to provide? There's more on-line than ever before, but it's still not as quick and accessible as flipping through these magazines...

Re: Joyce Rutter Kaye - "...nor are we sifting through to find work with a specific regional flavor..." Ahem, - why call it the RDA?"

Re: Art Chantry - "I think the reason for my giving up has much to do with ms. wild's snotty and off-base opinion stated above." Indeed Mr. Chantry, give it up. If Ms. Wild's opinion is so "snotty and off-base" don't spend most of your post agreeing with her.

Re: Patatomic - " I feel compelled to apologize on behalf of the entire design community here in Utah for taking up precious space that could otherwise be spent on something more useful and inspiring to the design community at large." Hey, tech has rebounded in Utah!

My ideas for Print, be very snobby, be very opinionated, don't seek to represent the whole field, maintain your integrity (as noted above), and seek to knock everyone off their bases.

Bernard Pez

There seem to be 2 basic tracks of complaint in the commentary here. One versus Regional, the other versus Annual.

Myself, I'm more interested in the regional.

nor are we sifting through to find work with a specific regional flavor. We are merely trying to find the best work possible from the work that's submitted, period. We actually do not divide work into regions until the third and final round of judging.

This is, I think, what dilutes what little regionality there is [reported to be]. I actually think, from a regional perspective, that it would be more interesting to represent the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from each area to see if any patterns emerge. I suspect that it's at the smaller, local level that any regionalism might be evident. It might be the perception of "excellence" that doesn't recognize quirky, individualistic work.

I'm intersted in the regional thing because we at the GDC were recently looking at the entries to our Graphex awards for any sign of Canadian influence. I also hosted a panel with the judges (Rick Poynor, Debbie Millman, Tan Le, Min Wang, Robert Sarner) on the topic (Nov. 18), and received a surprising amount of hostility from the audience (both during and after the event) for even asking the question. Canadians, it seems, are desperate to be so worldly that their work is indistinguishable from anyone else's. I find this a pity ... and very Canadian.

But still I have to wonder how living in a specific culture, with specific politics, local religions and ethics, a generality of types of business and industry, plus schools and leaders in the design community can not affect the way we work and the way we choose to represent our local clients.

Although our panel and the Graphex judges' largely failed to turn up anything peculiar to Canadian design (in the all of 36 hours they had to think about it), the emphasis of the judging, as in Print, was on "excellence" in general.

So if I have advice for Print, it would be, next time do focus on regionalism and see what happens. I think it might provide a more interesting issue.

marian bantjes

I was somewhat surprised that Joyce Rutter Kaye revealed that they only sort the work out by regions after they have culled the work to be published. Thinking of that giant pile of 25,000 entries, I understand their practical reasons for doing this, but it seems like it has to be part of the problem, at least the one I'm the most interested in, which is the "regionality" of the Print Regional Annual. The process of simply ordering their edited choices geographically clearly doesn't yield a "regional" picture that is very convincing. I don't think that there is anything crooked about the jurying of the Print Regional Annual; in fact, if anything, I think it isn't manipulated enough to deliver a more vivid picture of what may in fact be going on in Las Vegas, Louisville, or even New York. It is not a surprise that the issue sells well, because the prospect of looking at design regionally remains interesting. But for Print to actually deliver on that premise, a degree of creative strategy beyond what the editor describes as their current process seems necessary. (What that strategy should be is, of course, a question).
Lorraine Wild

If you're seeking excellence during judging, the regional influences that do exist in a given area will naturally emerge. I think it's dangerous to apply preconceived notions to an area of what its regional characteristics are. If we were looking hard for sunshine and oranges in Florida, for example, we'd be missing the recent emergence of screenprinted rock posters in Orlando. Selecting work that adheres to regional cliches over work that shows a higher level of design would be doing readers a disservice, in my opinion.
Joyce Rutter Kaye

to simplify my point from above (and to repeat it):

i love the prda. the problem with it is not the concept of the regional annual or it's process, but the work that exists for it to choose from.

it's not the annual's fault it stinks - it's the work that american graphic designers produce for it that stinks.

have i made myself clear?
art chantry

Joyce: I, for one, am not advocating applying preconceived notions of a region to the collection of work, but rather looking at the work for patterns or themes that might then be identified as coming from that region.

For instance in Graphex, Tan Le noted that Canadians do a lot of Government work; he and Debbie both noted a use of unusually bright colours; and everyone noted that the work coming from Quebec was riskier and more conceptually driven than from anywhere else in Canada (to the point that one could take one look at the piece and immediately guess it was from Quebec—even without an indication of French language).

I would like to think that a judge from outside a region could look at something and say "That's unusual, I don't think that would work too well in [LA]." and the regional judge could say, "Really? I see stuff like this all the time." or, "Well, that's a direct reference to [something localy cultural]."

marian bantjes

Perhaps more local regional design would come to the surface if the price of admission was lowered.

As an attempt to showcase the best work in the one region that I know best (New England), the RDA is an embarrasment. It bears almost no relationship with the actual state of the design industry in the region, and it demonstrably does not include the best designs of the year. What's more, the little essay that introduces the section managed to be both off the mark and virtually content free.

I can't tell wether the deficiencies are due to the judging or the lack of submissions; whatever it is, it has been going on for as long as I've been reading Print. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the lack of submissions (if that's the problem) is a result of the shabby treatment New England has experienced over the years.
Jose Nieto

I wholeheardetly agree with Lorraine and Art in the fact that the regional anuual is simply a mishmash of those wanting to enter another contest regardless of where they are from.

I dont think globalization has anything to do with it but rather the design shops culling from annuals to create their direction (read: copy)

I think regional design annuals should be limited to smaller shops in smaller markets. Like Duffy and Anderson did with Minneapolis/Midwest in the early 90's and Modern Dog/Sub Pop in Seattle/Northwest in the lates.

I dont see regions really defining themselves in the larger markets such as NY & California & Chicago since shops in those areas tend to have a more multi-cultural influence (and client base) therefore the influences are broader in general. But, I suppose, that may make for a pretty small annual.

Patrick Larson

patrick -

there several things you wrote in your comment above that i would love to correct . however, i will refrain from that and simply point out that lorraine and i are NOT in agreement, especially on what you seem to think we are.

art chantry

Art has differences with Lorraine!

Art - ...the only show i entered any more was the print regional. this was because it has ALWAYS been my favorite...

Lorraine - The current Print cover headline, "25th Anniversary Edition," caught my attention in that awful way that things do as I realized that I probably owned — and had once pored over — rhe very first "Regional Design Annual" of Print Magazine."

Gee...they both like to look at the RDA.

Art -....where else could you actually see the good and BAD and (mostly) average of the this amazing country

Lorraine - To look back at those early "Regional Annuals" is to witness the world of American design when at least some of the work was interestingly local, or thuddingly provincial:

Mmmmm...sounds like they both study it closely.

- ...the mediocrity of american design has now surpased regionalism...

Lorraine - Rick Poynor's essay "Arch Enemy" makes the uncomfortable point that much of the work of graphic designers is middlebrow, which he characterizes as popular and clever without challenging the preconceptions of either the client or its audience.

Ummmm...still sounds similar.

Art -...generally speaking. as you flip through the pages of the regional it really honestly all does look alike.

Lorraine - Such a cultural climate, let alone a tacit admission of this new, globalized state of affairs, would seem to trump the very "regional" particularities that Print's editors want to believe they're defining for us — a fact that's perhaps most evident in the actual entries themselves.

Yikes.....this does sounds like the same psychic drift!

Art - ...it has nothing to do with the imagined lowering of standards or the cheapening of excellent taste (as design culture tends to view things), but with the profligation of computers and the incompetence of design education. all of a sudden anyone can do excellent graphic design production by simply purchasing the correct software - but they can't come up with excellent design ideas. the result is a staggering and high level of medocrity.

Lorraine - Even J. Abbott Miller's cover of the current Print, with its faux-airline hub-and-spoke map, slyly alludes to the dulling effect of global uniformity, using the most banal of contemporary designed experiences to convey the state of the (design) arts.

Gosh, even though she never states that computers or education are the problem, her noting of the use of a banal technological image to describe the problem with design arts seems at least sympathetic to Art's concern.

I see it like this, Art mainly differs from Lorraine when he states ... it's the work that american graphic designers produce for it (RDA) that stinks. As an American graphic designer, perhaps he is in a uniquely regional position to know this. Eh?

Bernard "Bosco" Pez

I think local AIGA chapters should take over responsibility of submitting samplings of area design work to Print.

The problem in my mind with something like Print is that relying on "submissions" from the individual designer or agency means your sampling pool is inherently limited.

By extending the responsibility of pulling in samples to the local AIGA chapters (who then in effect function as small editorial boards), you can create a tradition of chapters seeing their work represented nationally in comparison with the work of other chapters in other regions.

Analysis of the designs as they relate to regions would occur, of course, by the Print editorial staff, but not the choice of what items are shown in the annual.


lovely. we can't go on meeting like this. people will talk.
art chantry

Thanks for backing me up. While you may certainly differ on some points the overall impression that I got by reading your arguements leads me to the conclusion that you are both describing the same thing just in different ways, with different points and that in no uncertain terms I would have to agree with the both of you.
Patrick Larson

well, to further explain, i see similarities in the fact that we both find problems emerging in what's presented in the prda. but, from that point on, we differ as to what the problems are and what caused them and how to 'fix' the problem. my main difference here is that when it comes to the prda, i don't shoot the messenger, i try to look deeper at what's actually happening to american graphic design.

so, i see very little similarity between our positions. in fact, i'm rather surpised that you guys do see similarities.

patrick - by the way, you need to do a little research in the examples you used in that earlier refernce to regional styles.
art chantry

Maybe a little research is in order since my mind tends to get a bit cloudy after a few years.

As I remember it in the early nineties things in the design community shaped up that way with duffy / anderson in Minneapolis doing the retro woodcut warming style(which everyone bit), Margot Chase/David Carson doing that beach culture LA Style (which everyone bit) in the early nineties and Modern Dog/Sub Pop Seattle illustrative style (you included) in the mid late nineties.
Maybe a misplaced modifier (late nineties vs. pretty much the whole nineties) but other than that am I wrong?

All I was alluding to is the fact that there are specific periods that I can remember and associate where a dominant style came from a specific region. Not so much anymore.
Patrick Larson

patrick -

i guess i'm always a little shocked by how little contemporary graphic designers know about graphic design and it's history. your examples are pretty strange in some some respects and reveals why i should be shocked.

we practice an ephemeral artform and part of that process is forgetting the past. we re-invent the wheel over and over and over and then lose track of he simple fact that somebody else may have invented it before us. we all need better information about how we got to this point and we all need to take a much much broader view of the practice in an entirety. we all think we know the forest, but in fact we are only familiar with a few trees. condemning the prda as a failed, badly constrcuted overview misses the larger point of what is actually being overviewed.

i love the prda and i've trumpeted it's virtues for literally decades to anyone who will listen. if it wasn't for the prda, a huge amount of "regional" history of graphic design (a strangely as it is presented since all graphic design is regional) would have been lost entirely. however, we need to realize that even the very best overviews of graphic design only presents a odd handful of trees. the forest is overlooked and that is what gets documented. the result is ignorance masquerading as expertise.
art chantry

i think patrick had a staight, honest answer to your snobby west coast rant. "I'm shocked" as you say. Are you really, Art? Homeboy, please.

While I agree with Ms Wild's accurate crit of PRDA, I think Joyce deserves a pat on the back for the recent redesign as well as raising the bar editorially of late. Last year I renewed my subcription after nearly a decade of disgust. Where else can you hear Heller not use the word aesthetic when describing Niemann's genius. Tooshay Seattle.
felix sockwell

With regard to this post, parties interested in seeing this debate played out in another venue might want to feast on "Style that's all over the California map", a review of the California show, "Grown in California" mentioned in this post that was published on 11/30/05 in the Los Angeles Times.. The writer notes the difficulty of defining a California regional style within the context of the same globalizing forces alluded to in Ms. Wild's post but many of the sources cited, in a fit of good editing, seek to define differences between east and west coast graphic design. Maybe some of the perceived differences such as the imapct of motion graphics on Southern California design v. web graphics in Northern California design v. a perceived heavier hand of corporatism on East Coast design that results in more black and white design are worth examining - more critically. Maybe papers like the Los Angeles Times might even invite more critical commentary on graphic design, perhaps even a design beat writer/critic, since GD is all over our everyday eyes and lives.

My favorite quote from the article; Jens Gelhaar's, "I just want to make cool stuff and get paid for it.' Now that's thinking globally and acting locally!
B. Pez

art chantry

Please tell me why those examples are strange? I am not a design historian in any way shape or form and dont claim to be. On the other hand I feel like I have a pretty firm grasp on the designers that came before me and how they fit into the big picture.

I feel those examples are on point because I studied and spent my formative years in that time frame (late 80's/early 90's) so I am going by personal experience. So when I say that Minneapolis, of whence I came, in the early nineties had a huge regional (and national influence for that matter) vibe then I am comfortable with that. When I say that Seattle, of whence you came, had a huge regional vibe (and ultimately national) in the nineties I'm comfortable in saying that. When I say that Margo Chase and David Carson had a huge regional (and ultimately national) influence I'm comfortable in saying that as well so on and so on.

Also just for clarification purposes you just said in your post that we need to "forget the past." So why are you so shocked that contemporary designers dont seem to know as much? You just said that is something we need to do to keep fresh. Can't be shocked at something you yourself believe in. I feel the same way but with designers 1-5 years out of school but I don't act shocked! for them for not knowing. Rather I try and impart my experience and knowledge on them to become a better designer/historian and try to instill within them the passion for the profession, past, present and future.

My ultimate circuitous point being I'm not saying any of these designers invented the wheel but their styles were influential in defining their region and ultimately the nation. I beg you to differ.

Patrick Larson

Youve made your point (and well). Quick taking Art's bait.Like any excellent contrarian, Chantry strives to poke, dance and taunt the flames around the fires he builds. This time he got caught. Burned. I dont know how many times I've heard the New York snobby aesthetic rant, hey- enoughs enough- someones gotta turn the lights out on this regional pity party.

Art spoke well in New York last year. He gave some pretty back handed compliments Mr. Anderson's way, then months later he delivered gooey, unappologetic praise. He's here, he there; yet his work remains situated. Gotta love it.

Perhaps one reason he feels so strongly toward Minneappolis is that their aesthetic (sorry) is so Seattle-esque (aka: Chantry-esque)? I always pinned the Duffy moment as post-Dallas Pushpin derivative. But I could be off.

felix sockwell

guys, guys....

please stixck to the prda. if you want to discuss those personal beefs with me in detail, this is not the place. i've learned the hard way that we need to stay on topic here on d.o. or it gets stopped but the powers that be.

so, my comments about the prda are as follows:

1) i love the prda.
2) i think some problems have been pointed out with the whole structure of the 'regional' design concept.
3) i think the prda is a doing fine job, but the material used (the output of american graphic design) is in a strange and unsettling place of an extremely high level of mediocrity.
4) i don't blame the print people or the basic concept or process for this apparent problem. i blame the computer, design education, "design culture" ignorance and george w. bush. but, then i blame bush for everything these days.

i think my position stands in general opposition to lorraine's initial commentary. am i wrong? then, please explain.

art chantry

Like Felix Sockwell, I too am a new (or new-old) subscriber to Print, having also recognized that the editorial direction of the magazine has been re-energized under Joyce Rutter Kaye: I guess that's what led me recently to check out this latest RDA so closely. I respectfully suggest that the RDA is another aspect of the magazine that needs fresh thinking. There has to be something between their current process described and defended by the editor (but which ends up looking just too random) and the reliance on pre-concieved notions or local visual cliché. As this thread has gone on, I am thinking that the answer lies somewhere in regional reportage that is focused, and which helps guide the selections. It also might mean actually persuing entries pertinent to an idea rather than just relying on what comes through the mail slot, if only to re-invigorate the issue.
Lorraine Wild

A postcript re: Chantry's post above. He's right, we are not exactly on the same page. My reform of the PRDA would ential the invention of a new editorial strategy. His reform would simply mean a new title, something like Print Regional Annual of Stinking American Graphic Design Produced During the Bush Administration, Geographically Organized for Your Convenience. It's clearly an easier idea to implement, and perhaps he could design the cover.
Lorraine Wild

lorraine -

c'mon, that was really unnecessary. i have to give you credit, however, that you didn't call me a "liar" again like the last time we had a discussion on the net. that's at least a small improvement.
art chantry

Print Regional Annual of Stinking American Graphic Design Produced During the Bush Administration, Geographically Organized for Your Convenience.

No, you gotta hand it to Lorraine for that one. It is simply hilarious.
marian bantjes

marian -

i'm sorry you find it hilarious. i think it's an insult. not as bad as "liar", but certainly not a compliment.
art chantry

I think that was a "backhanded compliment" as referred to by Mr. Felix in his previous post.

Personal asides aside, is there some way that regionalism can be demonstrated on a global scale? I know there are international annuals but I think on the local levels there is just too much cross pollination from various areas to make a viable excuse for such specificity.
Patrick Larson

Regarding the question of global regionalism, I've found myself pretty impressed by the original work coming out of Print's European Annual, when compared to the American one. Maybe American design is going through a dry spell right now. Maybe I'm part of the problem. My wife loves me anyway...

One thing that struck me as odd, or, rather, deceptive in the PRDA spotlighting is the strong prevailance toward illustration (and photography, though on a smaller scale). Its a regional map wrapped in an illusion. I found myself representin' Detroit, while Canadians like Taxali were all over the map. Regional? Rat'sass! It used to be that designers did a much larger portion of their own illustrating (ie: chili cook-off posters in TX, various cycling events in California, etc, etc). Perhaps the real lesson is that designers need to learn to draw. I blame Canada.
felix sockwell

What about making the PRDA an international annual (including the US) and then if the need arises have hotspot issues or special issues for certain areas that will be more precise in focus.
Patrick Larson

Critique used to do exactly that. Now there was a great design magazine. RIP.
felix sockwell

I blame Canada.

That's funny too. Glad to see we have some influence in the world of design.
marian bantjes

amen to Critique magazine..

I only puchase Baseline and Idea these days. I still get out my old issues of Critique, and, my jumbo size Emigre zines(i can't live without my tdr issue). I have to say that in the last few years the only Print issue I looked at was the sex issue while sitting in a famous studio's waiting room. And it left me unfulfilled and wanting more.

I think an international annual would be much more interesting, especially since so many of my designer friends were kicked out of the country in the last 3 years and have taken what they learned here back to Thailand, Japan, South America, and Eastern Europe. Have you seen how Bangkok design collectives have reinterpreted Charles Anderson? And the amazing work done by design collectives like Ant-Zen that are the real innovators in "global branding campaigns" that travel the world with touring noise musicians that package innovative video performances using tools like VVVV, Jitter, and C++ with clever graphic design and live music. I can't say that would make for a compelling page in a print mag. Perhaps "print" is the problem?

It seems designers are doing more and more work that tackles problems with information systems design which has nothing to do with the style. Like an accurate visualization of a trade going through the New York Stock Exchange. Would that ever make it into Print's annual? No. The design firm was in Atlanta, the client was in New York, and I live in a remote third world country (Kansas City).

How does globalization and universal access to our toolsets effect design? Well, it means that I was outbid on designing Bangkok's Fashion Week because they found a local rock star designer to do it for a fraction of what I bid, and it was at a discount. Physical location means nothing now, even on small projects. And don't forget, Art lives in St. Louis now, and I bet he can count his local clients on one hand. And where does Shepard Fairey live? Both Shepard and Art are doing a vastly different form of design than someone like myself. It is really a different "thing" all together.

Addressing the educational, and personal issues here is to much. I do like the idea of using the AIGA on a local level to promote local design to a global audience. I think a good precentage of our chapters now have annual design competitions.
Scott Bower

Why do we have design competitions anyway? What does that say about the way we view our profession?

What would happen if we threw away all the rules and just had a show...no winners, no losers, no entry fee, no gatekeepers, no limits, no barriers to creativity. I'm going to find out.

I don't understand the nostalgia for an authentic regionalism. Too bad, isn't it, that people got their phones, cars, computers, FedEx, and NetFlicks. It's a shame, but there's no going back. It's these things that allow me to live in Baltimore but work in New York City (well, maybe not the NetFlicks).

An important function of the Print Regional Annual is to help people who are looking for design firms (for a job, for a client, for a designer) in a particular location. Not that location matters all that much any more, but some people do want to live somewhere where there are other designers.
Ellen Lupton

Jobs | July 17