I recently got my hands on the Society of Publication Designers Spots Illustration Annual 2005 and noticed something that I had never seen that much of before. The work was placed in context. For that annual, each illustration had two pages. On one side was the original illustration while the image on the other side of the page was seen inside the newspaper or magazine it was commissioned for. It was interesting to compare the two images beside each other, but also to note what really worked in in the real world and what worked as a thumbnail in space. That got me to think of a couple other annuals that I somehow collected over the last year. So I pulled out my D&AD Annual 2006/44, Graphex 06 (GDC BC), 365: AIGA Year in Design 27 along with Society of Publication Designers Spots Illustration Annual 2005 to see how each of them compared to each other. There’s a couple different levels to this comparison. There’s the different missions of each organization, for the most part the represent different countries and different ways to communicate. But with anything that is compared today, there’s exceptions to all those categorizations and it seems definitions are up for grabs these days.
I suppose the first question is why do these publications exist? Is it for historical reference, for the practical purposes of self promotion (for both the individual and the organization), altruistic notions of awareness to the public, all of the above or something entirely else? There’s probably a mixture of all of those elements in these annuals. Each of them is judged differently so it would be difficult to explain in great detail what each philosophy was in picking “the best”. I only emphasize the words the best because we all know how subjective that categorization can be.
So as a regular designer that was borne and raised in Canada and has somehow found themselves in New York, what am I exactly looking for, why would I spend time with each of these books, and what was it that made each of them memorable? Each of the books gave off a different feeling before I even opened them for the first time. If I were to place each of them beside each other on a table, I’d have to say that I would open the big yellow D&AD (UK) one first. It simply wins out because it’s the only one that is a hard cover book. The size is intimidating, but I also think that reflects the scale of their awards program too. After that it would be a toss up for what the next book would be. Of the three smaller books, the SPD (USA) one seemed to have the nicest page format proportion. What exactly does that mean – for the size, the number of pages and the simple layout, that was the one that I would spend the second most amount of time with. The GDC (Canada) was third, though the the rationales didn’t really interest me. The AIGA (USA) book seemed really cramped for space and I got tired just flipping through it. I think if that book was twice the paper size that would not have been an issue. The thing is, I haven’t really answered my earlier questions of why bother looking at all? After putting the books down I would judge it successful if I was a little inspired and learned a couple new things. It would be hard to say that I didn’t get at least some of that from each of the annuals. However I think if the only reason you design is to get in one of these books, you need to question it a little deeper. Why not just be an artist?