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Legends of the fall

For a design writer, being at the annual AIGA Legends gala is like being a sportswriter at the All Star Game. Oh, look, there’s Paula Scher! Wow – behind that potted palm – it’s Massimo Vignelli. Don’t turn around, but there’s Michael Vanderbyl!

For a design writer, being at the annual AIGA Legends gala is like being a sportswriter at the All Star Game. Oh, look, there’s Paula Scher! Wow – behind that potted palm – it’s Massimo Vignelli. Don’t turn around, but there’s Michael Vanderbyl!

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The Legends gala is the American Institute of Graphic Arts’s annual lovefest/knighting ceremony, in which the industry’s best and brightest get their medals and earn a standing O from their peers. As these things go, it’s a very sweet event, with enough wacky characters in the room to deflate most tendencies toward pomposity.

Last night, three new Legends were named: Pentagram’s Michael Bierut, Thirst’s Rick Valicenti, and Green Dragon Office’s Lorraine Wild. There were two corporate tributes as well, one for Target (amazing that it’s taken until 2006 for them to be named) and one for MTV Networks (rumor has it that Tom Freston was supposed to be the guy showing up to accept. Whoops.)

Among the high (and low) lights of the evening:

The location: Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers. A stunning view of the Hudson, although partygoers were mostly too busy meeting, greeting, and air kissing to notice.

The drinks: tres cool apple martinis, with little slices of apple floating on top. Like apple cider with a kick.

The décor: Lighted, Macy’s balloon-like columns, inscribed with previous legends’ names and years lined the corridor to the reception. Giant, star-shaped fixtures overhung the dining room. White lilies on the tables. Programs wrapped in black paper with a gold AIGA medal seal. Glam, but not glitz.

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The duds: Some folks wore all black. Some wore mostly black. You could count the un-black on the fingers of one hand.

The vibe: a high school reunion, of all the kids from the art geeks’ table who grew up and got even.

The speeches: Pretty windy stuff for folks who are all about images. The highlight was Paula Scher’s introduction of her Pentagram partner, Michael Bierut, in which she noted his garbage-like brain, which sucks up information like a Dyson vacuum cleaner, then parcels it out to appropriate friends and colleagues as effectively as a Google Adword. Equally touching, Bierut’s tribute to Scher, whom he called “the sister he never had.” Ahhh. Even better, though, was the montage of 2006 Legends’ work. Tip for next year: more pictures, fewer words. And this from a wordsmith.

The most inspiring newcomer: Deborah Adler, whose SVA project (in a class taught by Fast Company’s own Master of Design Brian Collins) of a redesigned prescription bottle is one of Target’s biggest recent hits.

The food: prettier than it was tasty. Appetizer was a pyramid of red and yellow beets (nice autumnal colors) with a side of frisee (the world’s most annoying salad leaf) and goat cheese. The entrée was an overcooked fish (see windy speeches, above) resting on a bed of what appeared to be wasabi mashed potatoes, but turned out to be some mashed pea thing. Dessert, however, was an unqualified success: a giant slice of ice cream cake with caramel sauce. Yum.

Most awe-inspiring moment: the annual class photo at the end, when all the previous Legends gather on stage. This year’s shot included the aforementioned Scher, Bierut, Vignellis, Vanderbyl, and Valicenti, plus Deborah Sussman, Joe Duffy (full disclosure: I was there as Duffy’s guest), Steven Heller, Seymour Chwast, and plenty more. I just wish I had brought a Pantone color book for them to autograph.

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About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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