Far from me to want to slip into the shoes of the proverbial “fly in the soup” type of person, especially in what concerns such a high-profile and important event like the 50 Books/50 Covers competition, but… I’m afraid there is a fly in my soup.
The facts, to put it plainly and swiftly, are these: in July, I entered the 50 Covers/2011 contest by uploading to Design Observer (which was co-organizing it with AIGA and Designers & Books) five samples of covers of books I had designed in 2011 (two of which, Osama and Gorel and the Pot Bellied God, I decided to nominate to the 50 Books/2011 competition as well). On July the 18th I got an email from Design Observer (DO) informing me that
“our competition rule is that we accept any book published in English, including bilingual editions, irrespective of country of publications. But we do not accept books published in other languages unless the book includes English text.”
Since I could not confirm that 3 of the 5 covers I had nominated had been designed for bilingual editions (they hadn’t), and since they had been, of course, commissioned by a Portuguese publisher to appear in Portuguese-only editions, DO informed me that, “sadly“, they were forced
“…to delete them from our system and from consideration in the 50 Covers competition”.
Later that same 18th of July I received a short and very kind email from DO again, confirming the impossibility of the 3 covers being included in the competition:
“So sorry we cannot include these. They are fantastic.”
I accepted this decision, of course, and took the “they are fantastic” bit as a consolation (and a proof that the sole criterium for the elimination of these covers was the fact that they had appeared in editions that were not in English or bilingual). It is important to state very clearly at this point that I entered this competition with the solid understanding (and expectation) that it would be virtually impossible, or at the very least hugely unlikely that I could get a single nomination on the final winning list; showing some of my work was good enough. Nevertheless, being this a competition, and competitions being normally based upon rules and criteria of universal appliance, I was also expecting that these rules and criteria (under which 3 of my 5 nominations had been taken out of the race) would apply to the very end of the contest. Fade out.
Fade in. Comes October and the final results of the winners in the two categories, Books and Covers. Mere curiosity led me to consult both, and in the latter I’m suddenly struck by a flashback to that email exchange in July. No less than three (3) of the final winning covers were designed for Portuguese-only editions (not even bilingual). That’s when I began hearing the buzz of the fly, while a couple of questions were forming and seeking for answers:
a) is there another country or state inside the USA or the British Commonwelth, where a language stunningly similar to Portuguese is considered to be actually English?
b) is “they are fantastic” new jargon for “sorry, mate, but these stink”?
Somehow bewildered, I decided to contact DO and – while at the same time not wishing to poop on everyone’s party – still get some answers on the real criteria behind this competition. And although I do admire and agree with many of the final choices, I must again vigorously state that what moves me is not a discussion on quality and “good design” (that’s what the judges are there for) but trying to reach a clear and definite understanding of what Design Observer and AIGA consider eligible conditions in a nomination for the “50 Books/50 Covers” competition. Language, or more specifically, the fact that a cover is or isn’t designed for English or bilingual editions, clearly isn’t one of them. So, while I’m still waiting for an answer (and while still considering 50/50 a landmark annual event and in which I’m glad I could show some of my work), all I can honestly and humbly do is raise my hand and say: “so sorry, but I do believe there’s a fly in my soup”.