006 A culture where special interests take priority

In order to properly address the issue which arose during the selection of the official emblem for the 2020 Olympics, I feel we must take a long hard look at the current condition of the community that specifically leads art direction and graphic design here in Japan. What I am about to say here, at first glance, may seem unrelated to the logo issue at hand, but I believe it is a crucial perspective, an inevitable step in order to get to the bottom of the problem.

At the moment, I belong to such organizations as: The Japan Graphic Designers Association Inc. (JAGDA), Tokyo Art Directors Club (ADC), Japan Design Committee and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI).

ADC members are required to participate in the selection of works to be featured in the Tokyo Art Directors Club annual. However, I am afraid my participation began to wane around 2007. I have not been fulfilling my duties as an ADC member. I appreciate the fact that I owe much to such senior artists who acknowledged my work, and that was what made it possible for me to continue pursuing design, up to this very day. Thus, when I became a member, now on the voting side, I wanted to choose outstanding pieces of work by budding young talent, deemed to push creation’s future forward. I participated in these screenings, doggedly believing in the value of my single vote. But from a certain period, I lost faith in the value of my vote. And I started to distance myself from the judging.

Once the number of people who give priority to special interests grows out of proportion, fairness is lost from the whole judging process: I believe the rule of majority fails to function properly. Looking back on the timeframe, I can see that I began excusing myself from the ADC screening around the time I began to suspect some flagrant bid-rigging was going on. In fact, when I look over the list of past award winners, names from a certain company, people who formerly belonged to the company, and people who belong to affiliated companies keep on cropping up every year. Specifically, I will point out that in the 16 years since 2000, 19 works by such artists were awarded various ADC and ADC members’ awards. And without exception, the pattern was repeated for the current year. There were multiple winners, one work taking the grand prix and another an ADC award. Consider the fact that there are close to 10,000 entries submitted for the ADC annual screening. Of which only ten works will be chosen. The odds for entries related to the said company to keep up its winning streak is amazing—I must say, almost astronomical. Building on such proven performances, winners of ADC awards will eventually be up for nomination to become ADC members. Then it will be their turn to cast votes. In even simpler terms, if voting members who belong to the company and affiliated companies were to vote for a specific entrant—with ties to the company—the work will automatically get a boost of almost ten votes, making things considerably difficult for other entrants with no ties or connections. Naturally, it is highly probable that the entrant with ties to the company wins.

On the surface the screening seems to be regulated under a fair procedure, a majority decision by members. But in reality, in recent years we have been seeing a growing number of, what seems to be a pattern of collusion, practiced by a select group of people. There is very little fairness here. If I were to ask myself, were these the best representations of art direction and graphic design that emerged here in Japan during the past year, I must say, I have serious doubts. In fact, in recent years, we are seeing a decline in the number of submissions for the ADC annual. Isn’t it natural to assume that the pattern of gross imbalance is apparent to those looking at ADC from the outside?

The difficulty of the problem is deep-rooted. There are some who actually support the actions taken by greedy people; there are others who are aware of the wrongfulness of the practice but choose to keep mum, giving their silent approval. I suspect that the spread of nihilism is somehow connected to the current logo fiasco. How do the conscientious members, people equipped with sound judgement feel about this uncomfortable reality which was brought on by a handful of people?

My views are pure conjectures based on actual figures, backed by statistics only. Obviously, I have no concrete evidence that collusion took place. Then what can be done as we strive for a fair judging process? In the end, for a truly fair and equitable screening, we have no way but to rely on people’s consciences. That is what I think. But this is not the time nor place to discuss idealistic theory. Let me propose a specific remedial plan to revise the judging process. If a new rule is applied for the screenings at ADC and JAGDA—prohibiting members from voting for submissions by entrants belonging to their own company and affiliates—the unfairness of voting will change for the better. Actually there are some design organizations that have already implemented this policy for their screening panels: no voting for submissions by their respective companies.

Furthermore, regarding the actual screening, both the judges who cast votes and the entrants who seek those votes, should not set their goals at winning an award or giving an award. The purpose and significance of the annual screening should be to give a genuine assessment of the submitted work, and serve as a frank recording of its worth as a design. Unless we stick to these principles, the ADC annual has no value. It loses its meaning. It must be a gathering of true creators equipped with class and intelligence, who can seek out and give praise to the special talent demonstrated by others; the creators must be pure of intention in their evaluations; they must have enough  self-discipline so that they do not give priority to their special interests. Now that will certainly bring a fresh breeze of air to the judging process.

Let me change the subject and move on to the screening for the Olympic logo. I cannot disclose the contents of the judging that went on regarding the other seven judges on the panel beside myself. The decision regarding disclosure of information lies with the Organizing Committee. As for myself, I think my action is in the realm of my own responsibility and discretion. So let me explain. In the last round of voting, I cast my vote for the design that ultimately came out first. I would like to expand on the basis of my decision at another time.

Regarding the logo issue, as a member of panel of judges, I have been giving much thought to the way the judging take place. It has already come to surface that the organizers played a key role in causing the current problem. But I feel there was a separate issue at play. I cannot say with absolute conviction that there was not a hint of special interests taking priority. It is a pattern in the industry, which in recent years, we have come to recognize.

Keiko Hirano

[Correction Notice]
This is a notification to the readers of my blog. A concerned party from the design industry pointed out that some parts in the initial 006 post could be misinterpreted. Please note that I have made some corrections. The revised segment was reposted on November 28.

Keiko Hirano
November 28, 2015

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.