And so my life as a panellist ends. 2017 was my third and final year serving on the selectors’ panel of the 100 Archive. It’s been a pleasure and an education to be part of this ongoing project, thanks to everyone who works hard to help this living archive thrive. We are creating something special - a project that will grow more valuable and give greater perspectives with the passing of time. Indeed, passing on the selectors' baton every three years insures that while the personal tastes and whims of creatives, like me, will always be a factor in what makes the final 100 - the Archive as a whole will constantly be renewed with fresh perspectives on the best of Irish design.
The parameters for inclusion in the Archive are wonderfully simple and broad - it’s for practising designers in, or from, Ireland. This makes the 100 Archive unique in the world of design awards, annuals and industry back-slapping. It also tells us something about the experience of Irish designers in the last decade. So many of our talented graduates find it tough to get work at home, or just have the itch to expand their horizons and travel overseas to gain invaluable experience at great agencies in vibrant cities around the world. Some of them will return, and others will blaze trails in their new homes. The 100 Archive embraces our design diaspora, as well as celebrating all the great work created here in Ireland, because leaving Ireland will always be a part of Irish life.
For me, judging the entries has proven to be somewhat of a tricky but interesting task. We review the work without context, sort of like a professional Instagram or Pinterest, and the collective “likes” of five individuals decides what projects make the Archive. Whilst this type of simplistic comparison does the Archive a great injustice, you can see also the similarities. The 100 Archive is a format without categories, without a bias to cultural vs. commercial, established vs. emerging designer, etc. You’ll have corporate projects next to commercial projects, next to passion projects. These all have very different audiences and objectives.
Obviously you look at the entries in the context of each other, in some ways one project may highlight the standard of another entry and vice versa. How do you view a cool club flyer with a very loose brief, done for a friend for mates rates, in the same light as a corporate identity for a pretty boring or conservative organisation, that has multiple shareholders all weighing in on final decisions with thousands of euros on the table?…You see my conundrum.
The many lively conversations and debates I’ve had with designers over the last couple of years about what criteria I use to select work speaks volumes to the importance of the Archive. What makes a piece of design good or worthy of inclusion for posterity? To be honest my perspective has evolved each year.
Over the three years in response to my conundrum, I developed a sort of future-gazing historical lens that really helped guide me through the process. Imagine that the 2017 100 Archive were viewed 100 years from now. What would the body of work tell the viewer about Irish design? What insight would it give from a cultural, political or social standpoint? What will the value of our self-conscious design archive be? These are the questions I asked myself as I worked my way through the submissions each year.
100 years from now viewers might be struck by our obsession with micro-brewing and boutique coffee roasting. They might marvel at the surge in small businesses who valued design as integral to their business. Perhaps they will notice how well-branded our legal practitioners were (lawyers have always been sensitive to the billable value of a well-drawn monogram). These future-viewers will have historical hindsight we can only guess at. They will have their favourites and they’ll find some things charmingly obsolete - but they’ll also get an overview on the things we value as a society.
So I suppose if I boil it down there are two real boxes that needed ticking for me - Box number one: Does it represent the very best of Irish design? Is it a great piece of communication, executed to a high level, demonstrating exemplary typography, material choices, finish, etc. Box number two: Does it tell us something about the year in question?
Two of my favourite projects from this year really thrive under this future-historical, double-box-ticking lens. The ‘Police/Verso 2017’ pin project from Detail in Dublin was an elegant, optimistic piece to celebrate the end of 2016 - a year that had given us Brexit, Trump and Syrian nightmares. The reversible thumbs up/thumbs down wearable pin was fittingly considered and speaks to our social media-obsessed times.
‘201’ promotional installation submitted by Rory Simms at Pentagram was another worthy inclusion. The sombre tone of the piece foreshadows the #MeToo movement that has gripped our collective consciousness this year. Again, but in very different ways to ‘Verso’, it’s an example of a thoughtful, beautifully crafted and executed piece of design. 100 years from now I can’t help but think it will be seen as part of a movement to draw a line in the sand.
Ultimately both these projects strike a nice balance between cultural relevance and design execution. But of course there are many great projects in the Archive that have a less overt cultural tone, but are also wonderfully executed. Our job isn’t to be a cultural barometer - but shouldn’t it be part of our job?
See what else made it into the 2017 100 Archive selection