Behind The Scenes With The Judges: 2-D Design

Graphics can demystify complex topics, or overhaul an entire corporate identity. The judges in the 2-D category encountered both.

Behind The Scenes With The Judges: 2-D Design


Our Judges

Robert Andersen, Square
Evan Sharp, Pinterest
James Sommerville, Coca-Cola
Linda Tischler, Fast Company

The Finalists

American Airlines: The airline giant’s first rebranding since Massimo Vignelli created the iconic logo 40 years (with a new cabin look to follow)
Geothermal Heat Pump Manual: A Pentagram-designed guide to alternative energy sources, for New York homeowners
Little Sun: Artful branding for solar-powered lamps, by creative agency Wolff Olins and in collaboration with the artist Ólafur Elíasson
Making Policy Public: Graphic guides that break down the ins and outs of New York’s complicated municipal codes
USA Today: A new logo and brand identity for the stagnant newspaper, also by Wolff Olins


The winner: USA Today

The judges in the graphic design category grappled with a range of entries that fell into two very different buckets: On the one hand, there were a variety of candidates that tried to simplify esoteric topics for a mass audience. On the other, was a group of rebranding projects for big, iconic companies whose identities had grown tired and outdated.

While the discussion was spirited, the goal was clear: The winner would need to be fresh, compelling, and durable, and have a clear business impact.


Geothermal Heat Pump Manual

Robert Andersen: The thing I love about this entry is that it takes something that should be completely uninteresting and hard to understand but makes it fun, easy to digest, and easy to look at it–even if you don’t want to install a geothermal heat pump. It’s really well executed, and in terms of being valuable, it’s something that will help people figure out how to install more sustainable energy in New York.

Evan Sharp: I studied architecture, so I have some exposure to how complicated these systems are, how process heavy, and how much investigation you have to do upfront. They packaged something daunting and complex and unfamiliar into a design that felt very simple and educational.

James Sommerville: This entry felt like something I would get from a utility company, and on the flipside, like an expensive piece of design. Does it need to be that big? However, they took a somewhat scary subject and did a fresh job, with some humor in there as well. Overall, I thought it was clean but not groundbreaking.


USA Today

Sharp: I thought this was a very impressive work. The rebranding struck a perfect balance between feeling contemporary and timeless.

Sommerville: The redesign feels fresh and punches out to people who really don’t want to read traditional newsprint. There’s always a danger with things like this, that it looks like it dressed in the dark a bit, with a little too much going on. The circle iconography in some areas felt a little bit forced–like, OK, we need to come up with an idea to fit this circle.

Andersen: I was never drawn to USA Today as a piece of editorial. But it almost looks like they took a lot of what is interesting about websites, with sections that have personality and identity, and made this pretty successful. It feels like taking a little piece of the web along with you. For a dying print industry, that’s not uninteresting. As far as business impact, it’s a Hail Mary pass. You either alienate all the people you have, or you attract a whole different audience.


American Airlines

Andersen: Like newspapers, airlines are fighting for their lives. American’s former branding (by design legend Massimo Vignelli) was famous and iconic. The design snob in me is like, “Oh, the other one was classic,” but in terms of getting people on airlines, American needs to be on the same page as Virgin America, which is kind of eating everyone’s lunch. When you rebrand something, you have to ask: Is this just a new typeface, or replacing the eagle with something more friendly? Are we putting on a new coat of paint, or lipstick on a pig? My main takeaway is that this is a very attractive rebranding.

Sharp: I like the new livery, not the old. But watching the video I had an allergic reaction to their language. I don’t know if it’s better or worse. Probably worse, given how timeless the other one was.

Sommerville: I think it’s like the flag: There’s an immediate recognition there. And I like the spin on the stars and stripes–it almost feels like the flag after it’s been through a wind tunnel and the paint still isn’t dry. I like that feeling of the engine, the drag factor, the movement–like it’s been somewhere and it’s about to take off again. From a wider view of visual identity, I could see how this could have wide reach with brand touch points. But I don’t think it will have longevity.

Andersen: I think it’s pretty interesting for what it takes right now to be a hip new brand again. But it’s going to look terrible in 10 years, and laughable in 20. American had a timeless logo that lasted for a long time versus something now that will be out of fashion in five years.


Sommerville: But I don’t think we live in a world where brands will really achieve that again.

Andersen: That’s true. And you have to remember, the old logo was from the era of the 1960s, when even commercial pilots were heroes, and you were like, “Yeah I’m going to get on an airplane with the talons! Now it’s like, “I just want to be hammered on the plane, and I can’t wait to get off.”

Making Policy Public

Sharp: I believe that this project really fulfills the potential of design. It takes complex, arcane, inhumane language–the municipal code of New York–and makes it accessible to the audience most in need of understanding it. I know how impactful it’s been for groups in the city. But the design suffers from a lack of consistency. People are handed these on the street so they would have a little more authority if they could see the brand or mark.


Andersen: Like some of the other 2-D projects we’ve seen, this has high potential to really change the discourse about politics and local governments. Also, people within the community are helping to design these. It’s an interesting exercise of democracy.

Sommerville: My only problem with this project is that it’s low on the beauty score, meaning there’s a danger it could be forgettable. From a pure branding perspective, it wouldn’t be as high up on the beauty or memorability score as some of the other ones.

Little Sun

Sharp: The Little Sun branding is clean, elegant, and simple, but I didn’t feel the identity itself had the 2-D communication that we saw in Making Policy Public.


Andersen: I kind of agree with that. The impact of the product itself in Little Sun is the most inspirational. I love the photo, and the logo itself is so easy and adaptable you can paint it on a wall and people know what it means. But the branding is not the show stopper; it’s the product itself and what that does for people.

About the author

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