A New AGDA Starts Again with the Awards Rebadged as a Biennale
After the last time I wrote about AGDA, and the time before that, I’ve become quite gun-shy about addressing this topic. Indeed - the last three months have been quite stressful, with lots of dramas, storms in multiple teacups and other related nonsense triggered by my writing.
After much consideration, I came to a brutally simple conclusion; I’ll write what I want, about who I want, in the style I want and when I want. If you don’t like it, don’t read it!
So, it’s with a clear conscience and a weight off my shoulders I return to a subject I previously started a conversation about, but was very quickly intimidated, threatened and bullied away from addressing further; AGDA.
In short - I think our industry can do better than AGDA. I think our industry deserves better. I think our industry needs better. What’s wrong with it? That’s a post for another day. How does one fix it? That’s something I can’t answer.
But what I do recognise are genuine attempts to improve, adapt or tweak it’s current form. The refreshed awards program, re-imagined and rebadged as the Australian Design Biennale, is I feel a great start.
Handing out awards is, for better or worse, always going to be seen as an important function for AGDA. The relatively quick success of online awards such as Brand New has had in building an Awards business shows it’s not rocket science, and when you make it easy, affordable and worth entering, there’s no shortage of glory hungry studios and individuals who will line up to pay for the privilege of having their hard work judged by others.
How exactly the ADB from AGDA is truly a Design Biennale, rather than simply a loose program of Graphic Design events, is yet to be known - the details are a little fuzzy but that’s because they’re probably still figuring it out. The vision, however, is superb. Whether they can execute to that vision is another matter, but I’d put money on it working out rather well - they have some of the sharper designers in Melbourne on the case, so the signs are there it will be a success.
Speaking of Melbourne-ness, I couldn’t help but notice no Sydney designers or studios (at least that I’m aware of) were in the promotional newspaper I was mailed to announce the ADB. I haven’t done the googling, but it seemed they were all Melbourne based. How that’s an accurate depiction of ‘Australian Design’ is beyond me, but we all know how sensitive Melbourne designers can be about getting their (perceived) due attention, so one can forgive a little parochialism. They are hosting everyone else and doing all the hard work organising, so the least we can do is let them strut a little and enjoy the spotlight. Right?
The categories have been refreshed and re-organised, and of course there’s plenty who reckon it’s still all wrong. Unfortunately I’m one of them. There seems to be a palpable whiff of some not so ideal compromises in the categories, and it’s still to hard to figure where your work should go. How the sub categories actually matter is still beyond me. For example;
Logo, trademark, symbol
Individual item (eg business card, letterhead)
Identity system (corporate, event, seasonal)
Range (minimum three applications)
Range of implementation – identities executed across multiple applications (minimum 10)
Am I right in understanding I could, perhaps, enter one project in each of these sub categories? Surely not, but I’m confused by the sub–categorisation. Are they more for the judges to evaluate and compare ‘apples with apples’, or a guide for confused entrants to know what they can enter or what fits within a category.
On the subject of entering in multiple categories, I have an axe to grind here. This tactic is a classic for larger studios who ‘carpet bomb’ an awards scheme, entering one project in a huge number of categories. Meanwhile, smaller studios without the financial means to carpet bomb, are left putting their eggs in a single basket and potentially missing out. As an example, the Comedy Carpet project from Why Not Asssociates comes to mind; a remarkable project that didn’t achieve recognition in the single category (typography) it was entered. A simple rule capping the number of categories a project can be entered into would solve this problem and level the playing field, somewhat.
I’m also interested to see how rigidly and aggressively this little condition will be enforced;
All work submitted must have been printed, published or installed between 30 June 2010 and 30 June 2012. No client presentation visuals or mock-ups will be accepted.
There goes half the images from every branding case study I’ve seen for the last few years. It’s an interesting challenge for the likes of Landor, Futurebrand, Principles, Cornwell, Moon and <Unmentionable Design Company>, who’s stock in trade is creating alluring visuals of how their brand schemes COULD look in implementation, but actually finish their engagement with the client at the guidelines stage without any ‘real stuff’ having been printed, produced or published.
AGDA are still asking for printed and mounted boards, and their online entry system appears as clumsy as it was in recent years - twice, in different roles over the years, I’ve been tasked with entering work to AGDA Awards, and both times I gave up half way through because the effort and time required was just too hard (mainly because at heart I think awards are a pile of bunkum, but I’m aware that’s a minority view). I think the AGDA website, which is getting a little long in the tooth, is holding back how far the ‘Starting Again’ can really go.
On the subject of entry fees, my thoughts are that they are still too high. It’s good to have tiers for students and professionals, but I strongly believe another tier must be introduced to distinguish between the studios under, say, 20 people, and the big global agency brands with big teams and deep pockets. As the point above mentioned with the example of Why Not Associates, the entry fees for awards means the playing field for awards is tipped quite squarely in the direction of the bigger players. Not only are they bigger, command higher fees thus giving them the resources for the high entry fees, but more importantly they also have the manpower to pull together impeccably produced case studies. For example, double the current entry fee for studios over 20 people, and halve them for studios below 20 staff members - of course this regime would suck for a studio with 21 staff.
It’s a step in the right direction - in my humble opinion at least. There’s still kinks to be ironed out, and there’s still some flaws. But it’s getting better, and there’s a heartfelt message of ‘we’re trying to make this better’ in the narrative being created in the promotional material - which is no doubt in response to the Queensland awards ceremony, which from what I have heard were quite disappointing. It’s pitch perfect for the situation AGDA finds itself; trying, desperately at times, to justify their relevance and utility for the design industry and wider society, in the face of massive changes to how designers connect, collaborate and form communities.
The name appears misleading, but it’s too early to judge. Time will tell if it lives up to the ‘Biennale’ moniker, and if the festival is diverse enough to be considered ‘Design’ rather than ‘Graphic Design’. One wonders if perhaps, as a showpiece for recognising, celebrating and raising the perception of Graphic Design in Australia and internationally, if that simple extra word in the title might have been a good inclusion.