“First, I’d like to apologize for my attire, and its lack of festiveness,” Paul Simon, wearing a tasteful, but banker-like business suit, said to the largely black-clad crowd at last week’s National Design Awards. Simon was on hand at the gala to present the award for graphic design to celebrated book designer Chip Kidd, who had also designed the cover of Simon’s newest CD, “Surprise.” Clutching the foot high sculpture, Simon noted, “This award, though somewhat napkin-like, is much nicer than a Grammy.”
The evening was like that. An astonishing array of luminaries in the room -- - Richard Meier, Paula Scher, Rick Owens, Antoine Predock, Paola Antonelli, and Jonathan Ive, among them. But it was also endearingly free of pomposity, from the “floral” arrangements that had been constructed of 6000 pounds of recycled paper from the Cooper Hewitt’s trash cans, to the dessert – a giant, coconut and meringue-covered passion fruit sorbet snowball (which mimicked the giant shredded paper puff balls hanging from the ceiling). I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.
I sat next to the very cool Stephen Doyle, who was jubilant that Stephen Colbert's new book, I am America (And so Can You!) was number one on the bestseller lists. He should be happy: he designed it.
Here’s a run down of the awards, and a smattering of commentary from the happy awardees and their presenters…..
Design Patron: The textile company Maharam. “These folks are the real deal,” Murray Moss said in his introduction to the Maharam brothers, Michael and Stephen. “A true sign of a design patron is somebody who always insists on paying full retail for purchases at Moss.” These guys pony up.
Product Design: Jonathan Ive. As the award was announced, Paula Scher, sitting at a nearby table, started kissing her iPhone and holding it up like a torch. “I’m a truly terrible speaker,” said the bald Brit from New Castle Polytechnic. “So I’d just like to accept this on behalf of the entire design team at Apple.”
Design Mind: The architects and big thinkers Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi. Their writings, including Learning from Las Vegas and "The Vision Thing: Why it Sucks," have long shaken up design thinking with their iconoclastic view of the world.
Corporate Achievement: Adobe Systems. Here’s a dirty little secret, CEO Bruce Chizen told the audience. "We don’t care about our shareholders; we care about the product we create, and how it can unleash the creativity of professionals and consumers alike."
Architecture design: Office dA, the Boston-based firm responsible for the Villa Moda mixed-use building in Kuwait, the Tongxian Arts Center in Beijing and the Rhode Island School of Design’s Main Library. Fittingly, partners Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani were also among this year’s Fast Company Masters of Design “Talent Pool” -- up-and-comers we especially admire. “How cool is it that: the front door of the White House will be open to an Iranian and a Venezuelan?” exulted Tehrani.
Communications Design: Book designer Chip Kidd, who’s designed covers for works by John Updike, Jay McInerney, and Orhan Parmuk, assured the crowd, “Books are NOT going away.” Oprah’s audience, he said, “is going online to order books, not downloads.”
Fashion Design: Rick Owens slunk to the stage, dressed in a black leather jacket with an asymmetrical zipper, and long black hair, which seemed fitting, given that his edgy clothes are faves of rock stars.
Special Jury Commendation: Frank Ching, author of ArchitecturalGraphics. His introducer noted, “Ching taught every architect and designer under 50 to draw and, more importantly, how to see.” Ching, a modest little man, said, “The reason I write and draw is that I don’t like to speak. And since I can’t really draw, I teach.”
Interior Design: Lewis. Tsuramaki. Lewis. “We tried to turn little projects into something quite delicious,” they confessed, “in order to get somebody to hire us to build something of greater substance.”
Landscape design: PWP Landscape Architecture, the firm selected to conceive (along with Michael Arad) the World Trade Center Memorial garden and landscape design. “The memorial still has significant design problems,” Peter Walker, the firm’s principal, said. “So I dedicate this award to the successful completion of the WTC.”
Lifetime Achievement Award: The 71-year-old Antoine Predock (who designed the San Diego Padres ballpark, Austin City Hall, and the Tacoma Art Museum) had a warning for the Young Turks in the audience. “My son keeps me hip, so watch your back. “