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I received the 2011 Print Magazine Regional Design Annual before the Thanksgiving holiday. With that said, I've got good news and bad news. Good news first, you say? No worries, let's have at it (hoss)…
GOOD NEWS #1:
The first bit of good news is that the Regional Design Annual is void of any mis-guided, sophomoric guest art direction and design. It's been an awful year for Print in this matter and I'm still trying to figure out who was worse: Metahaven or Kokoro & Moi. In the end, it wasn't the idea that was bad, it was simply who they picked to execute it that was.
GOOD NEWS #2:
Our second nugget of good news is that, as always, the design competition section of the book is chock-full of inspiring design work. I've always loved how the annual is split into sections by region, seeing as how each section of our country is greatly affected by its own vast and varied cultural influences. It's great stuff, by enlarge, despite it's largely hipster-leaning tendencies – which is nothing new for Print. And that leads me to the bad news…
BAD NEWS #1:
The hipster frenzy within the design world of the 21st century continues to spiral out of control. Mind you, even the biggest hipster in the world isn't a hipster – or at least in their own mirror. To a hipster, it's always somebody else that's a hipster. It's funny how that plays out, but I digress…
In the design sense of the term, "hipster" is commonly defined by, but not limited to, your college pedigree, your musical tastes, where you live, who you know, how ironic you attempt to be, and – in recent years – your use of letterpress. For example, when we "Meet the Judges" on pg. 44, we meet 8 people chosen to review the work submitted this year. Here's a breakdown:
The Far West was curated by a German-born NYC-based designer who studied at SVA. The Southwest by an LA-born, Brooklyn-based designer. The Midwest by an NYC-based RISD graduate. The South by an NYC-based MICA graduate. The East from another couple of NYC-based designers who studied at MICA and SVA respectively. Ironically (and hipsters love irony, by the way), the NYC region was judged not by an NYC based designer but by Pam & Jake from Washington D.C.'s fantastic Design Army. Breaking all of the molds, they attended Radford and Penn State and are the exception to every rule set forth in this commentary. A welcome, and well-deserved, respite from the predictable patterns found in the other judges.
Now, this is not an indictment of the judge's themselves or their obvious talent, it's an indictment of Print Magazine and its limited, metro-bubble approach in representing both the graphic design world and all of the tunnel vision its actions generate. Three-quarters of the judges combine to represent only one city and 3 different schools. That's about as fair and balanced as network news. Which, in fact, is not balanced at all. That is, unless you believe there's nothing more balanced than NYC's design community judging the entire country's aesthetic from their cramped studio quarters while sipping coffee, eating vegan sushi, and bitching about the rest of the country's failures. Mind you, all of this is coming from a vegetarian designer who's lived 11 fantastic and inspiring years of his life in NYC and LA.
BAD NEWS #2:
There's more hipster-related bad news that punches even harder at your (not-so) humble narrator's heartstrings. On pg. 21 you'll find "The Best Album Art of 2011," as chosen by a certain Portland, OR-based music critic named Douglas Wolk. It's worth noting that Portland is second only to Brooklyn in the world of hipster-mania. It's also worth noting that the quotation marks around pg. 21's headline in this paragraph were placed there as much for sarcasm as for proper punctuation.
Not unlike Pitchfork Media, a scenester-ridiculous website he also happens to write for, Douglas also breaks out of his 80% hipster band list with a token hip-hop title in order to show us just how well-rounded he is. Now, the Jay-Z and Kanye West album cover may be the cream of Douglas' crop this year but the Roseland and Battles covers are absolutely horrid and uninspired selections. His other titles, Fucked Up and The Weekend, are both solid work but not exactly "best of" material when culling from an entire year in the music industry on a worldwide scale. Assuming, of course, that that was what Douglas was indeed doing (which it certainly was not).
In the end, while album art is a creative outlet that faces different challenges than it did even 15 years ago, this is not a proper "best of of 2011" by any stretch of the imagination. Next year, Douglas might consider getting out a bit more and experiencing music beyond that of the elitist bubble of indie rock. And finally…
BAD NEWS #3:
Typographical widows, or orphans, seem to not be a problem for the in-house staff at Print Magazine. Now, perhaps I'm missing the new trend here. Perhaps this wave of typographical anti-discipline that Print is cunningly generating in 2011 will make its way to the backwoods of America where the rest of us can join in one day. Until then, however, I'm going to continue both believing and knowing that widows are the result of lazy designers who are willing to accept less from their work.
There, I said it. I feel better.