Gordon Kaye: Our 58th GDUSA Design Annual

This column by publisher Gordon Kaye first appeared as the introduction and welcome to the 2021 GDUSA Design Annual.

I have been trying to meditate using a popular app called Ten Percent Happier. With greater or lesser – mostly lesser – degrees of success.

Some days I can calm the mind, focus on the sensation of breathing, and attain a profound sense of relaxation. Some days I tap my feet or clear my throat to the profound irritation of my long-suffering spouse. And some days I close my eyes and secretly smile at my favorite meme of a doughnut meditating in order to find its center. I am especially drawn to the doughnut image if the session is before dinner.

My practice is spotty but the goal is consistent: to find a way to shut out the noise that surrounds and distracts – amplified by the truly strange circumstances of pandemic and polarization – in order to concentrate on what is real and what is essential.

What Something Is

Which brings me, the long way round, to a point. Way back in 1998, GDUSA published a special issue on the state and future of graphic design. Like so much industry babble, the edition largely dealt with what styles were hot, what products were cool, what techniques were promising, what firms were the flavor of the month. These are not unimportant things, much like our explorations today of what mix of digital and print to use, whether remote working will survive, what diversity really means, should today’s logos be flat or embellished, and the like.

But, then, one of the participating designers made a statement that, back in the 20th century, was a bit off the grid: “Design isn’t about what something looks like. It is about what something is.” For me, this simple phrase hit like a bolt of lightning – a moment of clarity and lucidity – when the noise drops away and the essence is revealed. That insight has shaped the way I make sense of the myriad design solutions I have been blessed to see or note in the years since.

In this spirit, I am especially pleased to present our 58th American Graphic Design Awards Annual. The pieces showcased — and their creators — are among the best and brightest – and most resilient – of our community. The numbers alone are prodigious: a swell of 11,000+ entries leading to a showcase of 700 pieces reflecting the endless ways in which first-rate graphic design shapes commerce, culture, ideas and causes.

Equally exciting is the sheer breadth of it all. Projects run the gamut from traditional print and packaging and p-o-p to websites and apps and social media, from dream assignments to bread and butter endeavors, from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits, from ad agencies and design studios to inhouse departments and student projects, from red states to blue. Represented are great and established creative minds as well as many striving to grow, learn and secure their place in the sun.

Expressing The Essence

Most significant to me about 2021, though, is that graphic designers are mastering as never before their special power — to effectively crystallize and express the essence of a company, a brand, a product, a culture, a cause. To discover and express the truth of the thing. As seen in project after project after project. And, happily, this ability, in turn, is making effective graphic design indispensable because clients are coming to understand the value of authenticity, transparency, and human connection in a (fingers-crossed) post-pandemic world. If there are any silver linings to be had, out of the crucible we can expect an even more influential creative profession to emerge.

I hope you enjoy our 58th GDUSA Design Annual.