With Pride and Surprise, The Selectors View.

20th July 2014
by David Smith

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“Sure we’ll just politely ask a few well respected colleagues and industry representatives to quickly assess and comment on the projects and we’ll be done – it’s the first year there will most likely be 150 – 200 projects max”
Six Hundred Projects! They repeated, Six Hundred Projects!
Well none of us expected this to prove so challenging, overwhelming, exciting, engaging, revealing and so bloody time consuming. We – the steering group – had no idea that the selectors would be so overworked and that the breadth and quality would leave them torn as they tried to reduce the numbers to the current survey that spans the very best of Irish design from 2010 – 2013.

We promised them that it would take a weekend – for some it took weeks.

They “deliberated, cogitated and digested”, with dedication and professionalism, they grappled with each decision in respect of what should or should not be placed in the archive. At every stage they advised and questioned; improved processes and guidelines – always with the intention that current and future selections would be as broadly representative of all strands of practice. Focused on selecting work of excellence that represents and captures a moment in time or as the selection criteria sets out “work that is reflective of our society, culture and circumstances.”

Despite my deep involvement with the project and selection procedures, it is only during the last week that I have begun to fully review and retrace the comments and conversations of our first selection panel – Kevin Finn, Susan Murphy, Amie Norman, Kathryn Wilson and Barney Whelan.

Looking back afresh over the near 300 projects they selected and absorbing their commentary again, two recurring themes emerge; their pride and their surprise.

Unanimously they speak of pride.

There is no hubris in their words and thoughts. Theirs is a genuine and emotional response, proud of belonging to a community concerned with excellence and a sense of privilege having been asked to make the inaugural selection.

Despite the heavy workload placed upon the selectors Kevin Finn of The Sum of in Brisbane enthused “It was difficult to reduce 600+ entries down to a handful, but it was a thoroughly enlightening process. I have been away from Ireland since 1997, but have kept an eye on developments in design during that time – or at least I thought I had! The 100 Archive showed me there has been so much more happening back home, proving the 100 Archive is a wonderfully important platform to promote, explore and share design in (and connected to) Ireland…"

His views were echoed by the other selectors with Kathryn Wilson of Slater Design recognising the quality of work and quality of Irish designers in practice she commented; “Its a great body of work that reflects excellent visual communication by Irish designers – both here and abroad. It helps us understand where we are and I hope, over time, as the 100 Archive grows it will also help us develop our own more confident voice. I hope you take away the same as me from the selection for these years – it's a body of work to be proud of and to be inspired by.”

One could easily regard their surprise as being only concerned with the improving standard of work but they acknowledged the diversity of practices; the diversity of experience; and something else that has resonated with all of us privy to their final selection, was the surprise of how many more talented designers – initially unfamiliar to many – who are at practice here and abroad. 

Annie Atkins, Wayne Daly, Ken Deegan, Dan Flynn, Kasia Ozmin, Sean Mongey and Craig Sinnamon all appeared on the selectors radar as “unfamiliar” yet exciting names to watch. Regardless of their profile or familiarity within the broader community these designers have all demonstrated “that more than ever, that there is a vibrant, intelligent and talented design community of Irish designers here at home and abroad.”

Concerned not only with their role as Selectors the panel were also perceptive to trends and practices evidenced in the submissions and at times questions were asked on the “authenticity” or concept of what Irish Design is or what “it” may look like. I suspect that this is a debate that will run and run. With such a large diaspora at work across the globe and increasing evidence of global trends influencing our visual vocabulary, can we define or identify something as particularly Irish?

This issue certainly occupied Kathryn Wilson when she commented: “One nagging question at the back of my mind while looking at the work was whether the work is reflective as an Irish Archive of Graphic Design for the years 2010 – 13. I wasnt looking for uncial typography or overt references to a celtic style of a previous era but it did strike me on a number of occasions that much of the work is heavily influenced by graphic design from the more established centres of visual communication beyond our shores. While I think the work represented shows sophistication and excellence, the pieces I truly loved were those that told a story, were humorous or had personality – these pieces seemed to be more reflective of us as a nation today and in some way representative of our cultural past.”

The old adage that we’re great at telling stories clearly resonated with Kathryn and in her selection she was clearly taken with projects that connected and engaged her on an emotional level. Where Amie Norman was mindful of the need to acknowledge tradition and our heritage she was “impressed and inspired to see so much wonderful work of an extremely high standard coming out of Ireland” but more importantly belived that the selection “more than respectably places Irish design on ‘the map',”  citing the work and the designers to be of an international and global standard that “we should be collectively proud of.”

In convening the panel of Selectors we were extremely conscious that the established model of peer to peer assessment only provided a “designers view” of the work. It was Barney Whelan, formerly of ESB and now of An Post, who provided an excellent and insighful counterpoint to the expert views on the panel. As a commisioner he recognised that there remains great opprortunities to vastly improve the overall standard and that clients and commisioners should not be intimidated by the quality and standard of the selection, but be inspired to commision bolder and more inventive solutions for their communications needs. He acknowledged the diversity of the work and reflected that, in his opinion, “this review illustrates the centrality of design to our everyday world. From Policy documents to Tayto crisps, from Disability to Dorian Grey… it is a body of excellently conceived, excellently executed and excellently presented work.”

From my own perspective – as a designer almost emebedded in the Cultural sector – Barney’s acknowledgement of more commercial and corporate communications is critically important if the 100Archive is to fulfil its promise of showcasing “work that is reflective of our society, culture and circumstances.” As auspicious as the inaugural selection is, there was a strong bias towards cultural projects, and work that is “on trend” in the 600+ submissions received.

As practitioners we can appreciate and applaud the value of such “trophy projects” but within the context of the 100 Archive it should not be at the expense of work that is more commonplace and arguably more hardworking. We should all recognise the quality and the value of the everyday and ensure that our colleagues who excel in maintaining or pursuing a standard – where one may not have existed – are applauded and celebrated alongside more easily definable exemplars. 

With gratitude and appreciation to all who have got us this far I’ll conclude with a closing comment from Kevin Finn “… the work I have seen in 100 Archive makes me proud to be connected to an emerging contemporary Irish design community… It certainly makes me want to have a closer, perhaps more active, connection to the Irish design community. With this in mind, thank you – and congratulations to all ...”

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