AIGA brings Design Awards to Philly

The American Institute of Graphic Arts honors 34 artists during the inaugural Philadelphia Design Awards ceremony.

One of six graphic design teams holds its trophy at the Philadelphia Design Awards. The event was hosted by the Always By Design gallery in Washington Square Park May 1 (Nic Lukehart/TTN).

If you walked down 10th Street between Locust and Spruce streets Friday, chances are you saw what looked like a great party spilling out onto the street. Beers and programs in hand, nearly 100 people squeezed into a small gallery to see new art from the Always by Design Gallery.

AIGA Philadelphia, the city’s local chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, hosted the inaugural Philadelphia Design Awards May 1. It formally recognized 34 winners by showcasing their works in the Always by Design Gallery in the Washington Square West neighborhood. The awards are an effort by AIGA Philadelphia to strengthen the Philadelphia design community by highlighting local talent.

“These awards show that the Philadelphia design community deserves a closer look,” said Michele Cooper of Cooper Graphic Design, chair of the PDA this year.

Among the winners are pieces of President George W. Bush in chains with an enraged President Barack Obama being held back by Vice President Joe Biden as he winds up for a right hook. Another poster is a crude image of a penis drawn with Sharpie marker against a drab, green background with a photo of a brain attached at the tip, stating that exhibit-goers should, “Use your head – wear a condom!”

Book covers, band posters, company logos, op-ed pieces, business cards and surreal landscapes covered the walls of the gallery. Topics of interest ranged from politics to the environment, from the surreal to the ultra-real.

For Anna Ishii, who works at the architecture firm Wallace, Roberts & Todd, it was about exposure. Her “2008 Park[ing] Day” advertisement, which was about a day in the city when designers turn parking spaces into miniature parks, was chosen for the gallery.

“I want to be more involved with AIGA,” she said. “I think that all graphic designers do.”

“It’s kind of a big thing for designers to have their work on display,” said Alex Peltz from Design for Social Impact. His organization was recognized at the gallery for its artistic design on the book 30 Years of Setting the New Standard.

“It’s all about love. It’s all about connecting. It’s all about highlighting the graphic design community in Philadelphia,” he said.

Even the catalog for the gallery had its own rhyme and reason to it. Five-hundred seventy-six catalogs were printed for the event – exactly the number of entrants AIGA had for the awards. Each book printed was a slightly different shade of color from the last one, following the color scheme of the rainbow.

“It was a nightmare for the printer,” said Allan Espiritu, in charge of the identity of the PDA. “But when you’re working with AIGA, you can experiment a little.”

A small sample of catalogs was on display in the gallery window. The awards’ slogan, “Show Some Love,” encouraged designers to participate. It was printed on the pages of the book itself rather than on the spine, where most titles are placed.

Espiritu said AIGA wanted to bring an awards ceremony to Philadelphia because shows like this happen often in big design cities like New York but are less common here.

“Philly’s a great city,” he said. “It’s very manageable.”

The panel judges, recognized nationally and internationally in New York; Beverly Hills, Calif.; Rome; and London, made their final decisions in November, but the winners were not highlighted until the formal ceremony May 1.

But how did internationally known designers come to judge pieces in a little gallery between a hardware store and a dry cleaner? It was Cooper and the PDA board’s tenacity and willingness to ask for help.

“She found them and asked them out of the blue,” said Peter Camburn, AIGA Philadelphia’s spokesperson. The design awards, he said, were a proposal to AIGA’s board. The first meeting for the awards ceremony was held two years ago in Cooper’s house. Since then, AIGA’s worked to make the event happen.

“It’s a pretty tight community, so there are either people who make themselves available for it, or it’s through previous relationships,” Camburn said. “There is a lot of work involved in it – much more work than I ever realized.”

Jeff Craven can be reached at

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