Gordon Kaye: Breaking The Cycle Of Distrust

Gordon Kaye has been editor and publisher of GDUSA (Graphic Design USA) for more than three decades. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, Princeton University’s School of Public Affairs, and Columbia Law School. This comment first appeared in GDUSA’s August 2022 print and digital magazines. Comments, suggestions and letters are welcome at gkaye @ gdusa.com

Thoughts On Our 59th Anniversary Inhouse Awards Showcase

“90% of politicians are giving the other 10% a bad name.”

It’s an American folk proverb, or should be, since it reflects our long tradition of distrust in our elites and institutions. And it works in 2022 when you replace “politicians” with “media executives” or “tech giants” or “lawyers” or “clergy” or “big business” and on and on.

A little skepticism is good for the national soul but the recent implosion of belief in our laws, customs, practices, myths and institutions is downright scary. Trust underpins the social fabric that holds us together, provides the space and forgiveness and resiliency to compromise in a pluralistic culture, keeps us moving forward toward a more perfect union.

Last year around this time I told you that I attended a talk by Richard Edelman, CEO of the Edelman global communications firm whose mission is “to evolve, promote and protect brands and reputations.” He recounted the results of his firm’s 2021 “Trust Barometer” survey which documented an “infodemic” — the collapse of faith in traditional sources of reliable information such as government, media, academia, and big business — leading, in turn, to a loss of faith in the communications and information themselves.

Cycle of Distrust

I checked back this week with the Edelman firm to see if the news was better in 2022. Spoiler alert: its worse. Among the findings: distrust of information and communications is now the default emotion for Americans; government and media are seen as divisive forces; without faith in our institutions and what they say people people fear an unraveling; and corporations are perceived as not doing enough to address social problems or to earn trust.

And if you are looking for solace elsewhere, do not look to the new Gallup poll on Confidence in U.S. Institutions, which reveals significant declines in 11 of the 16 institutions tested. The annual poll marks new lows in confidence for the organized religion, big business, newspapers, criminal justice, the police, big tech, the Supreme Court, the presidency and, yes, Congress.

Why is this relevant — and an opportunity — for graphic and inhouse designers?

More on this point later.


It features a showcase of winners of the original and premier competition for inhouse design departments. With more than 7,000 entries, a nearly 12% increase, this is among the biggest and best of our Design Annuals. Given our volatile times, it is additional evidence that inhouse people are vital, productive, confident and future-oriented. Or possibly crazy and stubborn. I vote for the former but cannot swear to it.

As for the 2022 competition itself, the winning pieces span the world (North America, anyway) and touch every segment of the public, private and non-profit sectors. The winning pieces showcase graphic design for commerce and culture at its best by professionals who ably advance their client’s objectives and build meaningful value for their organizations, products, services, causes, ideas. The design is smart, it is appealing, it is strategic, it uses the full range of media available.
Receiving an American Inhouse Design Award is a triumph on many levels: a personal feat of talent and hard work; a collaborative accomplishment for a team working together to advance an organization’s goals; and a victory for all those who toil inhouse and may not always garner the recognition and reward they deserve.

For our winners the moment is especially sweet, since the path to a successful design solution is often steeper than for their counterparts at independent agencies. Suffice it to say that working in an institutional setting can trigger existential challenges — measuring the immeasurable value that design and communications add, justifying one’s place to senior management in order to secure the resources and freedom to do the job right, overcome the inherent conservatism of institutions, gaining credit and recognition inside and outside, and growing as a professional.

The American Inhouse Design Awards program addresses these matters, turns conventional wisdom on its head, declares that the best inhouse work is the stuff of design annuals and — most importantly — a fundamental contribution to the institutional mission and to the audiences served.

Pick Your Poison

In the sweep of design history, it is fair to say that inhouse departments are better situated than ever. Graphic design is understood to play a critical role in the success of products, services, information and ideas, and it is clear that more and more design and marketing departments are successfully pushing against past constraints. As a result, the contribution that design can make is better understood and respected, inhouse positions are more attractive, the light shines more often on inhouse accomplishments, and inhouse designers are sometimes in the room where it happens.

The myriad unfortunate events of the past three years — pick your poison — have actually contributed to this upward trajectory. From my perspective, there are four reasons for this.

First, inhouse departments have been remarkably agile and adaptable at mastering the technology, infrastructure and managerial resources to make remote working successful. This has led to surprising degree of productivity, an unexpectedly smooth transition, and a growing consensus that a flexible workplace is the wave of the future. Inhouse professionals are at the cutting edge of a massive change on how we work and view work.

Second, inhouse departments, at their best, foster consistent collaboration, communications and reliance between and among inhouse creative professionals and upper management. These characteristics and practices — collaboration, communication, reliability — have proven to be just the soft skill set necessary to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the period of disruptive change.

Third, many corporations and CEOs are embracing societal leadership to address and advocate for solutions to hot button issues such as climate change, economic inequality, and work- force reskilling. Again, inhouse designers find themselves at the cutting edge of a new kind of corporate messaging that is not afraid to express values and beliefs.

The Heart Of The Issue

Fourth — and here we get to the heart of the issue — an inhouse department’s true value proposition is its intimate knowledge of the institutional identity, corporate culture and organizational objectives. At their best, they are keepers and protectors of the torch, in a unique position to express the essence, the credibility and character of an institution, its products, services and ideas. To communicate the truth, to be transparent, to project authenticity, to use design to help solve as well as explain.

It comes down to this. A critical element in reversing the cycle of distrust is for public and private institutions to provide trustworthy information and present it in an engaging way: credible, transparent, consistent, meaningful, fact-based, authentic and empathetic. Inhouse departments are proving up to the task because, in a sense, the good and great ones have long been preparing for this challenge. It is who they are and aspire to be.

A good place to experience this? In our 2022 American Inhouse Design Awards showcase.