Saturday, February 14, 2009

Judging the AAUP

Way back in January 22, 2009, Deb Wood and I had the honor of judging the AAUP / The Association of American University Presses Book, Jacket, & Journal Show, 2009. The results are in! Congratulations to all who entered.

One of my favorite blogs, Faceout Books was kind enough to ask us for the INSIDE SCOOP behind the judging process. Enjoy the ramblings of a mad man.

From the AAUP Judges
FaceOut Books
Feb 9, 8:11 AM
I talked with Henry Sene Yee and Deb Wood to see if we could get the inside scoop on the judging process for the AAUP. They were kind enough to share with us some of what went on.
–Jason Gabbert

From Henry:
Designer Scott Levine at Cornell University Press recommended me to be one of two judges at this year's AAUP design competition. They were kind enough to offer to pay for my expenses to get to the place of judging. Sounds great. A little traveling would be nice. It turns out that their headquarters are here in NYC. Just down the block from the Flatiron where I work. I should've at least taken a cab half a block to my deli.

Scheduled to meet at 9 AM. We were set up in the quiet AAUP's office. One room had tables piled with books waiting to be judged for their interiors. There were so many interesting titles that I wanted to read. We asked what becomes of them after the judging and were told that they get donated to libraries and senior citizen homes. The jackets and covers were set up in the mail / supply room next door, spread out on the table. Deb Wood, the Design Director of Princeton Architectural Press was the other co-judge for the covers. I've never met Deb Wood although I've always admired her work at Princeton Architectural Press (PAP), no association with Princeton University Press (PUP). Ironically, we had both judged the NY Book show a month before but she was at the next table judging a different category. We had our coffee and we started going through the piles. Roughly separating them into NAYs and MAYBEs. There were surprising amounts of thoughtful and challenging solutions. A few designers names kept popping up with consistently good designs. We were pretty much in agreement on what we thought was a design that worked well. I was looking for good typography, clean information hierarchy, a fresh approach to the subject genres, interesting image choices. A photographer took pictures of us as we were deliberating. We tried to look thoughtful yet not Muppet-like in our expressions. We had a rough cut of about 45 chosen entries and needed to break it down to 35. But it was lunch time and we needed a break ourselves. We all went down the block to Monster Sushi. The restaurant is decorated with Godzilla memorabilia. They make a deliciously juicy yellow tail special roll. When they first opened, they were known as Godzilla Restaurant until TOHO, the copyright holders sued them for intellectual property infringement. You can read more here.

Back at the judging circle we continued our edits. With a more critical eye, we took some out. Reevaluated. Replaced jackets. One or two became less of a YAY after several viewing while others in the MAYBEs that insistently made it's presence known were added to the YAYs. Exhausting.
We then were asked to write our judge's comments. After the first one, we knew we were going to run out of adjectives and perhaps fall into the trap of saying the same boring comments. Nice blah, blah blah. Good use of blah, blah, blah. Who's really going to read this? So Deb and I decided to be a little bit loose and personal with our observations. Praising the use of hang quotes, colors, interaction between type and image. Throwing in puns and alliterations. That was fun and helped bring our energy level back up. In between pauses, we were checking our work emails on our iPhones. Getting coffee and updating my Facebook page. I tried convincing Deb to join Facebook. We were done by 4:00. Complete. Finito. Whew. But the interior judging was still hacking away. The piles were still high. They were going to have to come back tomorrow to continue. The AAUP wanted us all to meet up afterwards for drinks at the Algonquin hotel but I was beat. I was anxious to get back to work and finish up some projects for that day. Later on I had dinner and drinks and when I got home, I saw a Facebook friend request from Deb Wood. Hello new friend.

From Deb:
I really enjoyed judging the AAUP, it was refreshing to see the caliber of design coming from university presses. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Henry and I had to make some tough choices, as there were an overwhelming number of qualifying entries. (As you can probably see from the list!)

I often feel strange about judging a book cover without knowing the whole back story. As someone who's daily life consists of solving issues related to book design, I'm well aware that there is much more than meets the eye when we see an unresolved design or a missed opportunity. There are so many voices and challenges that the designer faces when designing a book cover. Sometimes what appears as a lukewarm cover, could actually be a triumph over many adversaries.


Anonymous said...

Interesting to see that you look at open covers - a way that most readers never see them.

H3NR7 said...

It is interesting. Deb and I kept the emphasis of the judging on the front panel alone. And we often folded the open jackets to view just the front if we needed help isolating it. We know that often times, the front can be designed by one person and the flaps and backad could be designed by somebody else. If the rest of the design wasn't compatible with a well-designed front, it wasn't seen as a negative. And if the visual/concept was carried throughout, it just elevated an already well done design even more.