Tearjerking melee at annual Graphic Design Awards

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By Wendy Dimpleman

Last weekend, I attended the annual AGAA awards (American Graphic Arts Association) in New York, where some of the nation’s best new graphic design is showcased. I hate to say it, but the stellar event of my profession was a total snooze fest — until the fistfight broke out. Some background first:

The ruling graphic style today — minimalist, “clean and corporate” looking, insistently whispering “Like a rare wine label, I’m more understated than the other contenders.” — took off with the roaring success of first Apple and then Google and their scrubbed-down GUIs (Graphic User Interface). The rest of the corporate world soon stampeded after them, then the whole herd of MeToo lemmings followed. “That’s the unique look I want for my Septic Tank/Exterminator business — like everyone else, but with a twist! And I want the logo in Papyrus font.” Oh-so clean, oh-so subtle, oh-so white, oh-so… sterile. And soporific. Corporations rule our world. Now their “ascetic aesthetic” rules our eyeballs.

Tears poured from not a few eyeballs around me when the Grand Prize for Web Design was awarded (see the winner above), including my own. Many may have been genuinely moved, but for me the tears flowed due to excruciating eyestrain.

The new rule: if you want to be taken seriously, your text must never be darker than 30%. Very faint and very small. I interviewed the winning designer, Alexandra von Hollenbeck, whose home page design for Inrupt, Tim Berner-Lee’s supposed new web revolution, she judged to be a bit too “strong” for competition, so she smartly dialed it way back for the show. Her ghostly, diaphanous sophistication won the day hands down.

“Thirty-percent text is just so gauche and passé,” Alexandra explained. “Ten percent or even lower should be the new standard — unless you’re designing for myopic proles stuck in their own private Idahos. But I do have a difficult time convincing my less woke clients. They insist textual elements be fully legible without blowing up the browser window 200-percent! How crude and retrograde is that? Sorry, I will never bow to barbarism.”

The fight broke out after the second-place winner, Xiu Lee, grabbed the mike like Kanye West and accused von Hollenbeck of plagiarizing his own basic design from his stint developing Bootstrap.  Then the Bronze winner, Carlos Ixtahuatl, accused both of stealing everything from him, screaming, “I was the main designer behind Mac OS 2.0! Steve Jobs bought my lunch!”

The contenders closed and wrestled before Lee attempted a judo takedown of von Hollenbeck, who fights in the UFC women’s division when not bleaching out her winning designs. (She went a few rounds with Rhonda Roussey). A quick jab on the “button” knocked Lee out, then she submitted Ixtahuatl with a rear naked choke.

So all that kept me awake. Now if only they could invest some of that exhuberance into their monotonous designs…