SPD Awards With SP

We sent New York-based designer and intrepid guest blogger Sam Potts, of Sam Potts, Inc. to the Society of Publication Designers Awards Gala last Friday, May 5, at the Hammerstein Ballroom, New York. Potts reports:

The motif was meat. New, fresh, etc.

After welcoming words by Society of Publication Designers president Fred Woodward, the M.C.s for the evening, Amid Capeci (Rolling Stone, Art Director) and Bruce Ramsay (Newsweek, Director of Covers) appeared in “The Big Idea,” a noirishly shot short film about two art directors in search and attainment of “the Cow Concept.” (Dinner for the evening was, alas, salmon.) In the film, known personages were interviewed, inside jokes were made, an alphabet designed from steak was, tantalizingly, flashed before our eyes. Following the film, the awards ceremony moved briskly through the already announced (but for one) winners, which allowed us all to absorb the effects of the hour-and-a-half cocktail hour that began the evening. These are publishing folk, they’re famously thirsty.

Never having attended an industry awards gala of any sort, I was not expecting the winners to have been published beforehand. I was expecting the Oscars–anticipation, envelopes, tears. But publish is what these folks do, after all, and so the evening become more of a confirmation and celebration of the winners. While one can imagine the Oscars to have a fair amount of off-camera muttering as winners take the stage, there were no such grapes here. The mood was consistently collegial and cheery and I am sure it would have been so even without all those drinks to start off the night.

As winning designs went up on the big screen and names were announced, we became very well acquainted with one Arem DuPlessis, art director of the New York Times Magazine. Mr. DuPlessis crossed the stage to accept an award at least nine times, maybe ten (I am not, by the way, a journalist)–probably twice as many times as anyone else. The Times Magazine also won the first-ever members’ choice award, which was met with particularly energetic and real cheering. The Times Magazine won so many times that I had to wonder what it means that one magazine can win so much. It is very well designed, but part of the answer, surely, is that awards winners, as in almost all design contests, are a self-selected group. A key factor in winning is entering, and some publications, I was made to understand, enter tons of stuff. This may or may not be fair or unfair, but I find it somewhat unsettling nonetheless. Judges are not selecting from the best design work of the year; rather they are selecting what they choose to be the best among the submissions they’re given, a much narrower field and one not in any way determined by quality. Winners are inevitably presented as the best of the whole field, and not even an asterisk about the narrow selection system. It’s a problem, I think.

The big award every year is Magazine of the Year (not, uh, to be confused with the multiple winners of Magazine of the Year, Silver and Magazine of the Year, Gold–well, actually, it is a little confusing and not because I was still wondering why we’d had salmon insteak of steak). Anyway, the big Magazine of the Year is the only award that’s kept secret until the ceremony, and this year the winner was New York. Design director Luke Hayman bounded to the stage to hoots of “Luuuuuke” (mistaken at first by at least one non-journalist outsider guest blogger for “boooooo,” which made me sad for a second). Hayman graciously pointed out the incredible amount of teamwork that it takes to make a magazine every week, which is obvious and true. Nor does a really lovely use of italic small-caps hurt the cause.

A PDF of all winning magazines and their designers can be found here.