What if: America’s Top Graphic Designer

Posted on Dec 28, 2010 in community, design process, Education, Strategy

I’ve been catching up on my Project Runway (the season that happened while I was planning my wedding) and feeling quite inspired. Inspired that due to my youth, I’m more risk-tolerant and able to learn through failure. Thankful that I’ve been able to live my dream and go to school and be mentored under some really great people. And thinking, we’ve had ‘top model’, ‘top interior designer’, ‘top hair dresser’, ‘top chef’, etc. etc. but what would America’s Top Graphic Designer look like? Perhaps not as glamorous as fashion design but illuminating the strategic process of communications design could have a very positive impact on students and patrons of design. This would also serve as a great follow up to Helvetica which was well received even beyond the design community and Graphic Design: The Movie (if it was ever shot).

Let’s say ATGD is produced and published for the web, maybe as a partnership with RISD, Cooper Union or Parsons. These schools have strong communication design programs with ties to industry leaders and could certainly provide working space for the filming. They could contribute space, visiting guest judges and promote their growing graduate programs.

Funding could come from AIGA, design schools’ advertising, Adobe, other design software companies.

Designers might not have a lot of time for TV, but we all burn our eyes in front of computer screens all day. Videos in 30min search-able clips make great shareable and share-worthy content for both industry, clients and design enthusiasts. Who doesn’t welcome the 3pm distraction?

Design firms can post/share/tweet to their clients, colleagues and perhaps the biggest media spend would be an advertising spot during Mad Men on AMC (even though many ad people will say they never watch it, yea right–we all wish we delivered pitches like Don Draper). Generating interest and awareness about this kind of show slowly to see if it has traction might be the best way to start.

The show

So who would be our sexy host? Who would be the Tim Gunn to consult with all the budding designers and what would be the “Fashion Week” to which the season would culminate?

I think Jessica Helfand would make a great host–soft spoken yet sparky enough to make designers shake in their boots during critique (that’s all part of the fun). Perhaps we’d have a Michael Beirut type figure act as a Tim Gunn and mentor the designers during their process.

The judges:

Michael Bierut, designer, critic, writer
Frederick Burbach, designer, educator, brand developer (anyone who knows Frederick knows he would make GREAT television!!)
Jessica Helfand
designer, educator, writer

Example Challenges & Guest Judges

DJ Stout – challenge on designing a poster for the ATGD
Ellen Lupton
– challenge on designing a fashion brand brochure for the iPad
Debbie Millman– challenge on book design & art direction
Tobias Frere-Jones
– Challenge on designing custom type for film titles
Steven Helleron a design historical reference challenge
Edwin van Gelder – on a collaborative design challenge in Amsterdam (final four?)
Milton Glaser, Roger Martinwith the final branding challenge to the final 3 designers

I see the last challenge as a comprehensive branding challenge where the designers have to take a business pitch and create a visual identity and roll it out into various print & interactive collateral elements. They have 1 month to work on this project and can do it from their own studio at home. They reconvene back in the filming studio for the final business pitches where Milton Glaser and Roger Martin will guest judge.

The winner should receive fame, fortune and some cheese for their holiday party. Or maybe a larger brand agrees to commission the winning designer (and his studio?) for their next campaign or large multi-bazillion dollar project.