I was honored to be part of a panel of judges this spring for the Washington Book Publishers’ Design and Effectiveness Awards. This annual competition showcases the best in DC-area book design (Sensical Design received an award last year). The four-judge panel is drawn from different areas of the profession: a publisher (this year, Gina Lindquist from Georgetown University Press), an editor (Bruce Gossett from the American Society of Civil Engineers), a bookseller or librarian (Nancy Davenport of the DC Public Library), and a designer (yours truly). This is unusual for a design competition, as it draws from voices other than just those of designers, and “effectiveness” is supposed to be as important as “design.”
Judging took place on a Friday in May. We judges pored over the 180 submitted entries to choose the winner in various categories and an overall Best of Show. The winners were then presented to a packed ballroom last Thursday, June 11.
All the entered books, winning and otherwise, were laid out in the back of the room for inspection. Outgoing WBP president Betsy Kulamer and incoming president Chris Kelaher presented the winners, and the judges took turns commenting on the winning entries and explaining why they were chosen. The winners then were given a snazzy certificate (designed by our friend Anne Kerns) and a chance to speak.
After the event, several people mentioned how much they appreciated hearing the judges’ comments and getting our perspective on good book design. For me, the most important thing coming out of this experience was a reminder that what really matters, what separates the great work from the merely competent, is not some sort of mysterious creative genius. Rather, it’s precise attention to detail in all things: typography, color, imagery, balance, production, etc.
Incidentally, Best in Show went to the absolutely gorgeous Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, Expanded Edition.