Six years after it was founded in 1914, AIGA created the AIGA Medal, an annual award to celebrate designers who have gone beyond the bounds of their practice to make a major impact both within the design industry and well beyond it. From unsung heroes to household names, AIGA Medalists include museum curators, architects, art directors, educators, industrial designers, illustrators, printers, policy makers, filmmakers, and yes, graphic designers, as well as those whose titles defy easy classification. This year we’re proud to honor Art Chantry, Emmett McBain, Rebeca Méndez, Mark Randall, Nancy Skolos and Thomas Wedell, and Lance Wyman.

Before we get to know them better—a brief note about the AIGA Medalist essays. Personally, I owe much of my self-taught graphic design education to these essays. For a quick design history lesson, scan down the list of previous recipients, click on a name at random, and either get reacquainted with a familiar face—or better yet, introduce yourself to someone new who’ll leave you wondering how you managed to go this long without meeting before. I’ll start you off with one of my favorites: Georg Olden, a graphic design pioneer in broadcast TV whose CV is a laundry list of some of the biggest names and agencies in the world. As the grandson of a slave, he helped pave the way for African Americans in creative industries and in the C-suite, too, though he lost his 1970 lawsuit against McCann Erickson over discrimination. I can’t help but wonder how some of the events of his life might have played out today, just a few decades later.

This year we invite you to join us in honoring seven new designers. We’ll be dressing up and popping champagne at the AIGA Gala on Friday, April 21, 2017 in NYC. (Tables are sold out, but $1,500 Donor tickets and $350 Friend tickets are still available.) We’ll also be honoring the recipient of the 2017 AIGA Corporate Leadership Award, Bloomberg L.P. and making a couple other surprise announcements that I’m trying my best to keep under my hat.

In the meantime, let’s meet the inestimable 2017 AIGA Medalists we’ll be raising a glass to at the Gala—and indeed all year long—with an excerpt from their Medalist essays.

“Penis Cop” poster, designed by Art Chantry (1997)

Outspoken designer Art Chantry, who we’ve called “unapologetic and uncensored” here on Eye on Design before, is “Recognized for his intrepid exploration of subculture visual communication, and his fearless celebration of cultural diversity.”

Graphic design has never been a narcissist’s job. Ephemeral, anonymous, disposable, the work usually vanishes into the trash or ether. For Art Chantry, a designer rooted in the Pacific Northwest and a celebrated interpreter of old-fashioned commercial art, the purest graphic design bears the imprint of a community. Even if it lasts just a moment, it concentrates the essence of a place and time…continue reading

“Black is Beautiful” ad, creative direction by Emmet McBain (1968). Courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Richard J. Daley Library, Special Collections & University Archives

Emmett McBain, who we’ll be honoring posthumously “for his revolutionary design leadership and profound social impact in co-founding Burrell-McBain Advertising.”

In 1972 there were two Marlboro men. One was the now-iconic white cowboy, alone, staring off into space with a steely gaze. The other was a Black man, pictured in his neighborhood, surrounded by people. He had an afro and wore burnt-orange turtleneck sweaters as he purchased vegetables from his local market or visited his tailor, sometimes with a smoking cigarette in hand. This warm, infinitely more relatable image—an alternative conception of masculinity, free of self-consciousness and grounded in community—was the creation of Emmett R. McBain Jr….continue reading

ArtCenter College of Design catalog, designed by Rebeca Méndez (1995-95)

Mexico City-based designer, Rebeca Méndez, who’s “recognized for challenging and transforming academia and design with her innovative interplay of identity and culture.” Fun fact: Méndez was all set to compete as a gymnast in the 1980 Olympics, but when Mexico boycotted the Games, she went to California and got a graphic design degree instead. Whew, that was a close one.

Rebeca Méndez often says that boundaries are like open invitations to her. Whether that means subverting conventional stereotypes in corporate client work, or physically traveling to other countries in pursuit of education or research initiatives, Méndez has spent her career crossing the boundaries of culture, disciplines, and thought. She inhabits the worlds of design and art simultaneously, and it is this rare ability to migrate effortlessly between art gallery, ad agency, and university classroom that enables her dynamic point of view to emanate from everything she produces…continue reading

Sphere, from the “Postcards to the President” issue, designed by Mark Randall (2001)

Mark Randall, who came up through the “Vignelli school” alongside Michael Bierut, and went onto co-found a social impact design agency that, among other things, funds the Worldstudio Foundation scholarships, which AIGA is proud to help faciliatate. He’s “recognized for his singular dedication to diversity in design, and his tenacity in funding minority and economically disadvantaged design students.”

Years before the concept of social impact design existed, Mark Randall was gaining an appreciation for its need in the world. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he hiked through the lush forests of Washington, witnessing the effects of clear-cutting from the back seat of the family station wagon, and watched countless PSAs featuring Woodsy Owl. Now Randall has become a leader in the emerging field, using design to advance environmental and social causes…continue reading

“Skolos+Wedell Persona,” 2013. Poster for a retrospective exhibition of their work at Wozownia Art Gallery in Toruń, Poland. The design builds on the graphic treatment of the 1982 poster.

Husband-and-wife duo Nancy Skolos and Thomas Wedell, who met cute at Cranbrook Academy of Art (though she refused to date him till she saw his portfolio #bossmove) and are “recognized for pushing the boundaries of art, design, and technology with a distinctive vision to find connection among disparate forms.”

Cranbrook’s design department always embraced an unstructured and interdisciplinary curriculum. “A lot of crossover happened when students from neighboring design disciplines worked side by side in the studio,” recalls Kathy McCoy, then co-chair of the design department. “That might have influenced Tom and Nancy’s hybrid approach, which blurs the boundaries between photography and graphic design, crisscrossing two- and three-dimensional form…continue reading

“Mexico68,” designed by Lance Wyman (1968)

Lance Wyman, the living legend who “just wanted to make something that wouldn’t disappear,” is “recognized for his mastery of visual ecosystems and for setting the standard for the universal, public design experience.” I’ll try not to trip over my dress as I rush across the room and beg him to sign my Gala program.

“Out in the street” is more than a mantra for Lance Wyman. It’s an organizing principle that has driven him ride alongside beat cops in downtown Detroit, discussing the finer points of crowd management with museum security guards in Washington D.C., and interviewing bartenders in Mexico City—all in an effort to illustrate a specific place through design. His designs for metro stations, zoos, museums, and international sporting events have established him as a model public designer. “Lance has nearly always worked for a mass audience, yet has not had to dumb down his design,” said Adrian Shaughnessy, one of the editors of a monograph on Wyman’s work published in 2015. “That is some achievement….continue reading