Gordon Kaye: Thoughts On Our 57th Design Annual

‘Welcome To The 57th Design Annual’ first appeared in the December 2020 print edition of Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) magazine.


What doesn’t kill you makes you — the proud owner of a bunch of unhealthy coping mechanisms and an alarmingly dark sense of humor.

My own coping mechanisms are, I think, relatively benign: day-after-day in running shorts and a t-shirt, selective and spotty shaving, cornering the market on pretzels, a burning love/hate relationship with Hallmark Christmas movies and Amazon, a growing concern that my wife and I will run out of topics to argue about, and a paralyzing fear that I will do something career-ending during a Zoom call. Though, true story, last Thursday my daughter called me out for pouring myself a bourbon at 9:45 in the morning. Frankly, I did not know it was morning. Or Thursday. They all blur together. Luckily, I managed to salvage some self-respect in front of her since (this time) I actually bothered to use a glass. As I said, true story.

When you consider the dislocations that have marked 2020 — pandemic, politics, protests — it’s a wonder that anyone bothers to get out of bed. Much less strive to do better and be better, to create and be creative, to find ways to connect and stay connected. But you do it, everyday, proving that humans in general and graphic designers in particular are either the densest of species or the most resilient — as in productive, persistent, hopeful, even courageous.

With this as backdrop, it is a pleasure to present our 57th American Graphic Design Awards™ annual. Selected from a mind boggling 10,000+ entries, these pieces — and their creators — represent the best and brightest and most resilient of our community. The numbers alone are prodigious: 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, mobile and apps, from dream assignments to bread and butter endeavors, from Fortune 500 companies to non-profits, from ad agencies and design studios to inhouse departments, from red states to blue. Represented are great and established creative minds as well as many others striving to grow, learn and find their place in the sun.

I began this note trying to make light of the pain we all face because it weighs heavily in the air. But after reviewing the 2020 American Graphic Design Awards, and taking the long view, I feel uplifted because it reflects a promise of better times ahead for our community.

First and foremost, it is clear that graphic designers have mastered as never before their special power — to effectively crystallize and express the truth and essence of a company, a brand, a product, a culture, a cause.

Second and related, effective graphic design is increasingly valued by business and society as a way to authentically connect, touch and inform.

Third, smart creative professsionals are seizing the moment to transform into strategic and solutions oriented thinkers as well as agile users of technology, infrastructure and managerial resources adaptive to the relentless demand of change.

Fourth, more designers have become more deliberate about their skills to make the the world a better place as they see it.

And, finally, the creative community has refused to allow social distance to become isolation, finding ways to bridge the distance by sharing thoughts, ideas, experiences and connections with empathy and humor. It has been suggested that the success of our 2020 awards program is part of the indominable drive to share and to connect; not sure it is true but we appreciate the sentiment.

I hope you enjoy our 57th Design Annual. Once you see the quality and breadth of creative and creators, you will agree that optimism is the order of the day and that out of the crucible we can expect an even more influential graphic design profession to emerge.

Time to go. My Amazon pretzel order is being delivered.