In addition to my article on the history of the magazine, we’ve included an update of our visual timeline, which we first published 20 years ago. Special thanks to our editor-at-large Anne Telford and her husband, Stephen Orr, who has a background in academic research, for curating the political and cultural content for the first 40 years of the timeline.
We’ve also included 31 brief biographical sketches of creatives who helped define the field of visual communications. Choosing whom to profile was difficult. The most frustrating part of this issue was omitting people and projects we felt were significant, and there is so much more we wanted to include.
We hope you will consider this issue a valuable reference into our field’s rich history.
2019 INTERACTIVE ANNUAL
The big surprise for this year’s competition was the increasing number of websites submitted and, subsequently, selected as winners. Only one mobile submission was selected for inclusion and, for the first time since we added the category in 2011, not a single tablet entry was selected. The environmental category, the second largest in terms of submissions, continues to showcase some of the most innovative work.
“I was impressed with experiences that left the screen or played out across multiple locations, platforms and devices,” juror Josh Goldblum says. “The projects that blended fabrication, hardware and technology really stood out.”
“I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of projects that touched upon relevant social issues and tried to bring attention to a cause,” says juror Isabel Kantor.
“I was surprised by the marketing and social initiatives and how they are more functional than ever before,” juror Megan Meeker says. “Some of this year’s campaigns really blur the lines between product design and marketing.”
“Integrated digital campaigns were one of the strongest areas in this year’s judging, and I applaud those that took the time to truly understand their clients, and work from simple, great ideas,” says juror Michael Kern.
Several jurors commented on how technological limitations actually encourage creativity.
“Any emerging technology brings us a new set of limits to play within, and we’re seeing a lot of creators exploring these limits and figuring things out in cool ways,” juror Pablo Vio says. “Natural language processing and speech input are areas where boundaries are being challenged right now, and those challenges are bringing about a lot of creative answers.”
“Mediums always have technical limitations, but the gems focus on transcending the medium with storytelling where users forget what platform they are even on in the first place,” says Meeker.
Despite all the attention given to the potential of augmented reality (AR), the jury found this year’s AR submissions wanting.
“There was no shortage of disappointing AR applications in contention this year,” Goldblum says. “AR has definitely made technical strides, but if the tech is presented just for its own sake, it won’t carry the project.”
“There was an industry-wide trend to pitch and execute virtual reality (VR)/AR work that was poorly thought out and rapidly executed,” says Kern. “I have yet to see a well-rounded campaign that actively integrates these technologies with mass-market appeal.”
“Mobile web was also surprisingly weak,” Kern says. “For as much as people are on their phones and utilizing mobile tech, sites are just not doing anything new or pushing the envelope. It was disappointing to not see people taking advantage and thinking uniquely about the mobile form factor.”
“Story development and expressing the intent behind the project were stumbling blocks for many of the entries I saw,” says Vio. “A lot of projects lean too heavily on technology to elevate the concept rather than taking a few steps back and really crafting a story that connects with users in a meaningful way.”
In addition to requesting comments on this year’s submissions, I also asked the jurors a series of questions about the future of digital interactivity.
What business, cultural and social developments will alter the role of interactive media in the future?
“As leaps in technology become unlocked, machine learning will scale at a much larger percentage and be ingrained in almost every daily interaction inside and outside our homes,” says Meeker. “Imagine: even the smallest microinteractions, like changing the temperature, will become a thing of the past since your devices, home and even Lyfts will all have smart sensors and remember your patterns and preferences.”
“Recent issues around privacy and the segmentation and reliability of content should inform the content we make and how we present it,” Goldblum says. “I’d love to see more work that creates and promotes more inclusive conversations and communities across various identity lines.”
What breakthroughs will be required for VR to become more widely accepted?
“For any physical exercise or movement applications, the technology needs to have a certain level of fidelity so that users can use it for more than five minutes at a time without starting to feel dizzy,” says Kantor. “That’s a very big hurdle that I’ve seen a lot of projects still dealing with, even very recently.”
“VR is a wonderful technology with a currently limited audience,” Kern says. “People just don’t want to wear devices as a general rule. When the screens become embedded chips and contact lenses, we will be really close, but that’s still relatively far in the future.”
How will the continued diversification of personal electronic devices affect interactive design?
“I believe interactive design will become a lot more specialized, and we’ll have just mobile interaction designers, just VR interaction designers, etc.,” says Kantor.
“First, the tools are still lagging behind how most of the great interaction designers of our generation think,” Kern says. “When the tools catch up, our job will get easier. Secondly, new devices will challenge us to keep learning and alter the paradigm of how we interact with the world around us.”
“As the sharing economy progresses, we’ll be able to interact with our own personalized information on any surface or texture that we pass,” Meeker says. “Designers will need to solve for temporary ownership of products, asking questions like, ‘What information can be digested within 30 seconds?’ and ‘Will users respond via touch, sound or thought?’”
“As creatives and makers leading interactive design, it is our responsibility to not only have our fingers on the pulse of the latest and greatest inventions, but also to learn from user behaviors and consumption habits,” says Vio. “As long as we keep user empathy at the core of how we adapt to new interactive paradigms and new devices, we can design for any platform. Our will to evolve how we work and adapt our approach will be imperative to keep pushing the envelope within interactive.”
Selection for this year’s annual required a minimum of three out of five votes. Judges were not permitted to vote on projects with which they were directly involved; I voted in their stead. The winning projects, including links and case-study videos, can be viewed on our website at commarts.com. I would like to extend our grateful appreciation to our jurors for their conscientious efforts in selecting our 25th Interactive Annual.—Patrick Coyne ca
Josh Goldblum is the founder and chief executive officer of Bluecadet, an experience design agency with offices in both Philadelphia and New York that works with cultural institutions, universities and mission-driven organizations. He has overseen the design and development of interactive experiences and planning strategies for clients such as Doctors Without Borders, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MoMA, National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution. As a pioneer in the technological transformation of the cultural sector, Goldblum is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and symposia. He lives with his wife and two children in Philadelphia.
Isabel Kantor is a senior technology director at R/GA in New York. She helps drive inno-vation by working at the intersection of technology, business and culture. In the past, Kantor had led R/GA’s Software Platform Lab, part of the Technology Consulting effort globally, and managed the technology team at R/GA Bucharest, where she helped pioneer R/GA’s integrated cross-office collaboration model. Before R/GA, Kantor started her career as an engineer at ESI Design, MindShare and Ford Motor Company, where she developed interactive experiences. Kantor holds a master’s degree from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Grinnell College.
Michael Kern is executive creative director and a cofounder of Salt Lake City, Utah–based Welikesmall (WLS). Kern’s passion for storytelling through design, technology and strategy-based communication derives from a desire to give meaning to the world around him and create emotional connections. At WLS, Kern has worked with clients including Adobe, American Express, Disney, Google, Nike, PlayStation, Reebok, Specialized and Starbucks. His continued focus is on pushing the possi-bilities of design, pursuing cinematography and directing opportunities, thinking, creating permanent good, raising his family, and riding a bike fast.
Megan Meeker is a product design manager at Lyft in San Francisco, California. She has been working in the Bay Area for more than a decade, focused on the intersection of the physical and digital and creating products for the connected world. Inspired by the fusion between hospitality and machine learning, Meeker orchestrates initiatives with thoughtful design solutions that are accessible for all. She continues this work at Lyft, managing the insurance, safety and support teams distributed across various headquarters, states and time zones. Outside of the office, Meeker pursues the craft of calligraphy and is always up for a round of golf.
Pablo Vio is executive creative director and one of three founders of Jam3. Currently based out of the company’s headquarters in Toronto, Canada, his approach to storytelling, complex programming and high-concept design has lead to acclaimed interactive projects for Facebook, Ford Motor Company, Google, Microsoft, the National Film Board of Canada and the United Nations. His vision has helped grow the company from a three-man operation to one of the world’s top design and experience studios. Now, with more than 70 employees from Toronto to Los Angeles to Montevideo, Uruguay, Vio’s current focus is on daily operations and expansion of the creative department.