Back to School

By Craig Welsh Posted on Jun 20, 2013

One Show Design 2013 judging was as much a group of highly motivated students taking part in an intensive, week-long education program as it was a group of individuals tasked with determining the work that best exemplifies the world's highest standards of design.

The "school" each day for the judging was a series of warehouse spaces in wintry Brooklyn, New York. A mix of fourteen people from seven countries on four continents had roughly the same assignment each day—examine, evaluate, and grade design work from around the globe. And, in my case, write an essay about the experience.

There were thousands of submissions from dozens of countries. It was an incredible assemblage of all manner of design. Print projects laid out across a series of tabletops and pinned to movable, upright boards in one space, motion and video work reviewed in a light-controlled projection room, and packaging and dimensional pieces in another section of the building.

Production techniques took center stage in a few print projects. "Complice" mesmerized with its seemingly impossible print registration on the sides of corrugated fluting and the "Implosion - Explosion" series of posters confounded jurors with its thousands of kiss-cut sticker dots. But perhaps the most unexpected project was a series of vibrators. Jurors, to my knowledge, did not get to actually try the "Smile Makers Vibrators" entries yet the work still produced smiles on everyone who reviewed the pieces.

Each project had an opportunity to teach the jurors about its merits and each person evaluating the work had to quickly absorb and learn as much as possible about each entry. This process took place repeatedly over the course of four days and as each 24-hour period passed the level of difficulty and scrutiny in evaluating the submissions grew more intense.

The ultimate output of the judging is the collective body of work that showcases the most outstanding design from the previous year. It's the work that finds its way into the annual. It's the pencils and merits that can define years of effort if not entire careers. It's the work that teaches practitioners and students alike about which projects are most worthy of further examination.

It's in this spirit of teaching and learning that this year's projects feel most at home.

The "Meltdown" board game was designed to use actual ice cubes to help teach kids about the impact of global warming as players move polar bear game pieces across the melting blocks of ice. The thoughtfully designed "Daily Fun Math 2000+12 Calendar" helps kids learn basic math in an engaging manner, while the "Bigfoot Art Show" celebrated kids' creative writing in an exhibit filled with magical images and stories, and "The Great Paper Airplane Project" provided an opportunity to teach kids about aeronautics and flight. There was also a children-focused project that was much more sobering. "The Daily Abuse" newspaper was distributed on International Day on Prevention of Child Abuse (November 19) and was filled entirely and exclusively with names of children, representing the nearly 250,000 children around the world who are subjected to some form of abuse each day.

There is more emotionally-charged work in the "Bridge of Life" project with hand railings that speak to persons feeling suicidal - teaching us that compassion and empathy can guide design to literally convince people to walk away from certain death. We were taught that life passes by quickly (873 images to be exact) in "From Love to Bingo" and were reminded to dream of achieving monumental accomplishments on the world's biggest stage in the "Stadium UK" work. "Project EDSA" revealed how a reformulation of the chemical composition of paint could be used by artists to help beautify a city's landscape while also substantially improving air quality. We also learned from "Tree Concert" that chestnut trees not only can be used as musical instruments but they can also rally the financial support of an entire community to help revitalize urban green spaces.

Most significantly, the "Recipeace" campaign that took Best of Show honors teaches us that the differences that separate people can begin to be overcome with an act as simple as sharing a meal while opening ourselves to conversation with one another.

It was less evident during the judging process but in hindsight we were in school for a week and the world's top designers were our teachers. Their work was guiding us and revealing secrets if we were willing to seek its meaning and gain understanding.

It is these designers whose work will fill the annual. It is the textbook for the industry. Study it. Submit work for future juries to consider and let's continue to learn from and teach one another.



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