Great Design Requires Great Clients

The AIGA 365 Design Competition showcases design work from 2009. And it’s a testament to client partnerships.


It’s the Oscars of American graphic design. 2300 entries. 16 judges. 125 winners. All that’s missing are the sequins and Hollywood spotlights but for many designers, the AIGA’s 365 Design Competition is every bit as exciting.

AIGA, the professional association for design has, for 40 years, chronicled the changing field of communication design in an annual awards exhibition. This year’s categories include Branding, Informing, Entertaining, Experimenting, Promoting, and Packaging. The work shown is from around the world and takes shape as motion graphics, interactive experiences, magazines, packaging and environmental design. Winning entries present the year’s best eye candy for designers and innovative production techniques that celebrate the intelligence and craft of the profession.

The majority of awards in the 2010 show are for relatively small businesses or institutions, but only compared to winning entries for corporate giants like Target, Coca Cola, and Kleenex. Surprisingly absent are entries from heavy industry, manufacturing, government, banking, healthcare and other potent engines of our economy. Are there no design champions in these sectors? Did those submissions not pass the tough scrutiny of the jury charged with selecting designs that “demonstrate a masterful combination of effectiveness and aesthetics?”

I know they are out there. Maybe next year.

If there were a special citation, it should be awarded to the brave clients who champion this award winning work.

Great clients are a rare and treasured breed. They appreciate that three things are needed to create exceptional work:


Courage: These clients accept no less than the best. If they ask for “cutting edge,” they aren’t afraid to bleed.

Collaboration: Great clients participate with their designers in the process that leads to optimum business results. Great design is not a spectator sport.

Commitment: It’s crucial to find the resources (i.e. money) necessary to produce the highest level of design. The customers will love you for it.

The show, designed by Lorena Duran, is now on display at the AIGA National Design Center at 164 Fifth Avenue, in New York, in the Archives at the Denver Museum of Art, and in the Design Archives online. In the coming weeks, it will also travel around the country. Of special note: In New York the show is complimented by an exhibition of recent work by Milton Glaser entitled: “In Search of the Miraculous or One Thing Leads to Another.”

About the author

Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author and teacher. He is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, a design and branding company in New York City.