“Lots of AR in this year’s entries, and, thankfully, lots of well-crafted, contextually respectful AR,” says juror Husani Oakley. “For a long time, AR’s been an answer in search of a problem. It’s gratifying to see almost-mature technologies finally being used to appropriately tell stories.”
“Obviously, there were a lot of AR entries, but what stood out to me were the projects that didn’t simply rely on tech trends,” juror Nathan Martin says.
Projects used to promote social issues was also a dominant theme this year.
“It’s great to see creative and interactive applications developed to bring social issues to a large audience,” says juror Sakchin Bessette. “I’m hoping that this will contribute to creating awareness and making a better world by inspiring others.”
“I was surprised and delighted by the number of entries that were dedicated to making the world a better place,” Martin says. “This made me feel good in a time that gives us so much bad news.”
I asked the jurors about what other themes they saw this year.
“I’m not sure if it was ‘dominant’ in this year’s entries, but there were quite a few [projects] that were great about presenting vast amounts of data in really compelling ways,” says juror Jill Toloza.
“The most meaningful experiences and creative answers brought the human quality forward in the work and seemed to make an authentic connection with the viewer,” juror Aruna Mall says.
I asked the jurors what they found most surprising about this year’s entries.
“I was surprised that there were vastly more website entries than mobile. I did think there would be more of those,” says Mall.
“I was surprised by the entries featuring content I wouldn’t normally be seeking out, but, because of how it was presented, I found myself getting delightfully lost in the experience,” Toloza says. “Pioneer’s Corn Revolution is a good example—I’ve never gone so deep into reading about corn before.”
In the interest of balance, I also asked the jurors what they felt were the weakest areas in this year’s entries.
“I saw too much technology for technology’s sake,” says Martin. “Technology should be an enabler, not the story.”
“This year’s entries contained lots of standard corporate brochure ware, which was surprising,” Oakley says. “There is, of course, art to be found in a well-crafted corporate website, but to be considered great, there has to be something more. How do you extend a static corporate identity into a dynamic medium? How do you surprise and delight, even with dry subject matter? If you don’t answer those questions, your work isn’t ready.”
“There were not that many mobile experiences that looked to solve human problems,” says Mall. “Most seemed to be about promotion of products and awareness of events, not how the industry is looking to push the envelope when it comes to creating meaningful experiences through the convenience of a device that is with us all day. How can this help individuals or society? These can be big or small ideas—but this is a creative challenge that can have meaningful impact. I was hoping to see more of that.”
Looking forward, I asked the jurors a series of questions about the future of digital interactivity.
What breakthroughs will be required for VR to become more widely accepted?
“I honestly think that what we are going through now with COVID will bring about some very creative answers to this as people are craving meaningful moments with the ones they care for beyond FaceTime, and they will need some technical solution for this,” Mall says. “Given that, though, for VR to be more accepted, we need things like equal access to high-speed internet and the cost of devices to go down.”
“Content is key,” says Toloza. “It has definitely come a long way in terms of hardware and price point, which were previously barriers, so, next, we need content unique to VR—experiences that are highly immersive, highly responsive, and ideally can be shared and played with multiple people.”
“There’s a false sense that people don’t want to download apps—they do if there’s a reason for them to!” Oakley says. “People don’t, and won’t, waste their time downloading a thinly veiled ad for a brand, but they will download and use a great experience, a fun experience, something that has an impact on their offline world. And, so, if VR is to ever be truly mass market, we need to figure out ways to convince users that it’s helpful, or we’ll have to wait for the platforms—think Apple, Google—to natively include VR capabilities in default apps. And if we do that, we’re at their mercy.”
What business, cultural and social developments will alter the role of interactive media in the future?
“I think the pandemic and heightened awareness regarding civil rights and social issues will prompt us to reevaluate the way we design and develop interactive experiences,” says Toloza. “It’s been a slow process over the years, but given recent events, I think it will [need to] happen at a more rapid pace.”
“COVID-19 will have the greatest long-term impact on interactive media,” Martin says. “How do we design for a world we are afraid to touch? This is a challenge now and for the foreseeable future.”
“5G is going to change everything, but not for a while, and not in the way most people think,” says Oakley. “Ubiquitous, high-speed, always-on connections have been around for ages, but 5G brings low latency. Imagine what’ll be possible then? Add to that the growing number of IoT devices, mix in open APIs and interconnectivity, and we’re in for one hell of a ride.
“But from cultural and social perspectives, we run into some roadblocks, which is a good thing. How much data are people willing to give up, especially considering the past four years of American society? Who should control that data? Who should have access to it? Normal human beings—i.e., not those who spend their careers making stuff for this medium—are now thinking about these questions, and we have to make sure we answer them when we make new internet things moving forward. We haven’t done a good job of that so far, and now it’s on us to rectify.”
“Altering the role of interactive media generally tends to fall to younger and younger generations as they aren’t as constrained by what has already been done,” Mall says. “Currently, there are so many cultural and societal issues that are important to them that need solving—I’m personally excited to see what ideas and solutions come from that.”
Selection for this year’s annual required a minimum of four out of six 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 27th Interactive Annual.
It is with deep sadness that I acknowledge the recent passing of several influential members of the creative community.
Ed Benguiat, 92, was a master of typography, having created or modified more than 600 typefaces in his career. In 1962, he joined PhotoLettering Inc. as typographic design director, developing hundreds of typefaces during his tenure. In 1971, he joined the International Typeface Corporation, the first independent licensing company for type designers, and became its vice president. His typefaces were seen in movies including Super Fly (1972) and Planet of the Apes (1968). ITC Benguiat was adapted for the title sequence of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. He also taught for almost 50 years at the School of Visual Arts.
Ralph Caplan, 95, was a writer, editor and design critic. In 1959, Caplan became I.D. magazine’s editor. He remained at I.D. as a columnist and consultant for decades. He also authored multiple books, including The Design of Herman Miller (1976), By Design: Why There Are No Locks on the Bathroom Doors in the Hotel Louis XIV and Other Object Lessons (1982) and Cracking the Whip: Essays on Design and Its Side Effects (2005). He also taught design criticism at the School of Visual Arts from 2009 to 2013. Caplan, along with Peter Bradford and Phil Gips, guest edited the special “Sin” issue of Communication Arts in 1971.
Milton Glaser, 91, had a profound impact on visual communications in the second half of the twentieth century, having designed hundreds of posters, magazines, book covers and record sleeves. He is probably best known for his 1967 Bob Dylan poster and his “I ♥ NY” logo. As cofounder of the influential Push Pin Studios, Glaser explored a myriad of influences and styles in contrast to the international style being practiced by many of his contemporaries. In 2004, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, now the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and, in 2009, he became the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts. We published articles on Glaser in 1962, 1970, 1974, 1992 and 2009. He was a judge for us in 1970.
Mike Tesch, 82, was an award-winning advertising art director best known for co-creating the iconic Federal Express commercials in the early 1980s. Tesch had a 40-year career in the advertising business, the majority of which was spent with Ally & Gargano, one of Madison Avenue’s top creative agencies in the 1970s and ’80s. Tesch’s body of work—which included memorable campaigns for the New York clothing store Barneys, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pan American World Airways and Tonka Toys—earned him hall-of-fame inductions in the Art Directors Club in 1988 and the One Club in 2004. Tesch was featured in an article we published in 1978 on Ally & Gargano, and he was a judge for us in 1990.
Wes Wilson, 82, was one of the leading concert poster designers during the psychedelic movement in 1960s San Francisco. Heavily influenced by the art nouveau movement, Wilson was known for his “psychedelic” type design and was considered to be one of the “big five” San Francisco poster artists, along with Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso and Stanley Mouse. Today, Wilson’s concert posters hang in both art and history museums, including the Smithsonian, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Wilson was prominently featured in The Great Poster Trip: Art Eureka, a compendium of 1960s posters published by Communication Arts in 1968. —Patrick Coyne ca
Sakchin Bessette is executive creative director of Montréal, Canada–based Moment Factory. Since cofounding the firm in 2001, Bessette has spearheaded the creation of more than 450 multimedia shows and installations around the world. He leads the studio in a perpetual quest to amaze, inspire and bring people together by exploring new types of entertainment. As the company has expanded with offices in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Paris, New York City and Singapore, Bessette provides guidance, vision and inspiration to the diverse multi-disciplinary artists who have joined the team over the years by fostering an ecosystem where artists can strive, collaborate and evolve.
Lauren Cascio is director of product design at Facebook in Seattle, Washington. Prior, she was a studio director for Microsoft Business Applications and design director for HoloLens. Before HoloLens, Cascio led design for Microsoft’s first cross-platform web browser, Microsoft Edge for iOS and Android. Previously, she spent time at consultancies in Seattle and New York City, designing products and experiences for companies like Boeing, Emirates, Intel and Starbucks. She also helped kick-start the mobile photography company Moment. Her award-winning work has been featured in leading global publications, and she frequently speaks about design and technology around the world.
Aruna Mall is creative director of Teal Media, a woman-owned full-service creative and design agency with offices in Washington, DC, and Detroit, Michigan. A native of Pakistan, Mall has spent her entire 20-year career in the interactive design field. She possesses a passion for amplifying under-represented voices and movements that drive social change. As creative director at Teal Media, Mall produces brand and website solutions that are innovative, inspiring and humancentric, and has led award-winning engagements with numerous clients including CARE USA, Everytown for Gun Safety, Greenpeace, the National Domestic Violence Hotline and TIME’S UP.
Nathan Martin is chief executive officer and founder of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–based Deeplocal. Since spinning Deeplocal out of an art and technology lab at Carnegie Mellon University in 2006, Martin has become one of the most recognized leaders of innovation and invention in advertising and has grown Deeplocal’s portfolio to include work for some of the world’s biggest and most-celebrated brands, including Google, Netflix and Nike. Martin has received numerous awards and recognition for his work in art, music and technology and has been featured in Adweek, Communication Arts, Fast Company and WIRED, and at events including CES and SXSW.
Husani Oakley is chief technology officer of Deutsch New York. Oakley is a startup and technology veteran with nearly fifteen years of building, creating and developing world-class digital experiences. A lead practitioner for Deutsch’s AI innovation studio, Great Machine, he works across clients including Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Booz Allen Hamilton, PNC Bank, Reebok and Siemens. While at Wieden+Kennedy as director of creative technology, Oakley worked on brands including Delta, Heineken, Nike and Target. Recognized as a thought leader, he’s spoken at ad:tech, SXSW and the White House. In 2020, he was named one of Adweek’s Creative 100.
Jill Ann Toloza is an integrated producer with more than fifteen years of advertising agency experience and a personal passion for technology and innovation. She holds an MBA and an MS in information systems from Stevens Institute of Technology. At McCann New York and later VMLY&R NY, she led the design and development of various initiatives for clients such as General Mills, Google, Mastercard, New Balance and Verizon. She has produced campaigns that have been globally recognized and awarded in festivals and competitions including ADC, Cannes Lions, Clios, Cresta, D&AD, New York Festivals, the One Show, Sundance, SXSW and Webby Awards.