Gordon Kaye: Thoughts On The 2021 Package Design Showcase

Gordon Kaye is Editor/Publisher of GDUSA. This column first appeared in the April 2021 edition of GDUSA magazine in print and digital in connection with our annual package design awards competition.

Welcome to GDUSA’s 58th anniversary American Package Design Awards™. It features a showcase of more than 300 winners for this celebration of packaging’s importance in advancing the brand, telling the story, amplifying the experience, influencing decisions at the moment of truth. Things move so fast these days that it takes a moment to remember that this competition spanned a period of head spinning disruption: the vaccine rollout, an insurrection, an impeachment, an inauguration, a coronavirus spike and the arrival of variants, and, just for good measure, a couple of major climate events. Yet engagement was exceptionally high, and the final showcase shapes up as among the biggest and certainly the best. This is a small part of a bigger picture:  in the face of the unthinkable, the creative community has proven to be tough, smart, resilient, adaptive and future-oriented. Not to mention (as I always say about our GDUSA family) some mix of stubborn and crazy.

In A Related Thought…  Is Graphic Design Dead?

You may have been too pre-occupied coping with what we will euphemistically refer to as “the events of the past year” to notice a spate of articles and interviews proclaiming that “graphic design is dead.” As if we need more negativity.

Trust me that these pieces are proliferating; an especially provocative specimen by Neville Brody appeared recently in AIGA Eye on Design. To catch you up, the argument in favor of expiry is that the great traditional showcases of breathtaking designs, such as mass market magazines, have given way to often ephemeral online platforms and small screens where UXers, coders, developers, programmers and social media marketers are the stars. Graphic design is a bit player cast in a minor role. “I think the first 100 years of graphic design, which probably started with Dada, finished with Covid,” states Mr. Brody, more, I suspect, to provoke than to edify, though his words pack a punch.

The flip side of the argument is that graphic design is alive, adapting and evolving. Traditional mediums are not all disappearing: you need only look at today’s robust package design showcase – or contemplate the critical role posters, signs and infographics play in COVID health and safety communications – to see that traditional venues abound. Morever – and more fundamentally – graphic design is media agnostic. In its highest form, it is about visually expressing the truth and essence of a thing in order to inform, persuade, entertain, brand, sell a product, service, idea or cause. That function is at the core of human connection, regardless of where the eyeballs land, and designers are uniquely suited to succeed.

I don’t make light of the dislocations in the way we create and produce content. These are wrenching, the impact is uneven, and I’ll bet I hate and fear change way more than you. Still, in a recent podcast, when asked about the post-pandemic future of our community, I surprised even myself by seeing the good news for what it is: “In the crucible of the past year or so … business and society has come to recognize that effective graphic communication is central to … the positive movement forward of our world.” I rarely listen to myself because I know the source intimately, but that is not half bad.

The Opportunities Are Infinite

Jarrett Fuller, a true industry thought leader and director of multidisciplinary design and editorial studio twenty-six, weighed in on this topic (“Considering The Death of Graphic Design”) a few years ago with what, for me, is the winning argument: “In addition to advertisements, periodicals, books, printed forms, packages, industrial products, signs, and tv billboards, we’ll add interfaces and phones and watches and glasses and thermostats and dashboards. The role of the designer has always shaped how humans interact with the world and with each other. That role may stay the same, but the opportunities are infinite.”

If I had a mic, I’d drop it.