African American History and Culture Projects Honored by SEGD GDA’s

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SEGD’s Global Design Awards set the standard of excellence for experiential graphic design, honoring work that connects people to place through engaging storytelling. The GDAs also celebrate projects that inspire and improve the human experience, including those that reflect the narratives of traditionally underrepresented communities. The GDA winners outlined below—both past and present—amplify, celebrate and bring African American culture and history to the forefront in exemplary ways.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

This quote by Martin Luther King Jr. greets visitors at the entryway to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. King’s words powerfully set the tone for this memorial commissioned by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and opened in 2018.

EJI has described the memorial as the nation’s first “dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” It raises the awareness—on a monumental yet respectful level—of the lives of the thousands of Black Americans killed between 1878 and 1950 by lynching, drowning and other forms of murder, their individual names recorded and presented within the memorial.

Playing a vital role in telling this story are the memorial’s designers: Small Stuff, afreeman and MASS Design Group. Their successful design strategies prompted SEGD’s Global Design Awards jury to recognize the National Memorial for Peace and Justice with both an Honor Award and a Best of Show Award in 2020.

Commenting on the memorial, one juror said that “The care, intention, material, typography, and form of each aspect of the experience deliver a powerful and necessary focus and allow us to see and understand the contemporary impacts that continue to surround us.”

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the most recent project honored with a Global Design Award centered on the Black American experience. Since 2013, SEGD has presented nine other awards recognizing outstanding designs reflecting African American history and culture, presenting narratives that have often been overlooked or neglected by the larger society.

Several of these projects include museums devoted to civil rights, including the first to receive a Global Design Award: The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, honored with a Merit Award in 2013.

Another SEGD award winner is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the largest and most comprehensive museum in the United States devoted to the Black American experience. The Global Design Awards jurors honored the NMAAHC with a Merit Award in 2017, citing the curators’ and designers’ ambitious goal to present 500+ years of Black history and culture within one building and organized and conveyed through a thoughtful program of narratives of different scales.

“The exhibition, or rather multiple exhibitions, is an incredible display of an overwhelming amount of artifacts from several hundred years back to current times,” commented one SEGD juror. “Each exhibition respects in layout, and choice of media, the time and circumstances of each period.”

To learn more about the design strategies employed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) in telling the epic story of the African American experience, see the video presentation “Designers Elevating Untold Narratives” presented during SEGD’s 2020 Exhibition + Experience Symposium by Aki Carpenter, Principal and the Director of Social Projects at RAA and SEGD Board Member

A monumental project, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is typically matched with a monumental budget—in this case, $87,000,000. But not all design projects need to sport a massive budget to be worthy of a Global Design Award. The branding and graphic identity of the AFROPUNK Festival was created by one person: Yuma Naito, a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California—and all on a budget of only $400! SEGD recognized this resourcefulness with a Finalist award in 2018.

Other Global Design Award winners have designed graphic identities which successfully work at various scales, often within one project. One case in point: the Platform Summit held at Morehouse College in 2014. This conference focused on ways to encourage greater participation of African Americans, Latinx, and women within the fields of technology and entrepreneurship. Pentagram designed a wayfinding system for the event using temporary cylindrical signposts and balloons—and even a blimp! They also designed graphics for two large-scale LED displays framing the conference stage inside Morehouse’s performing arts center. Lead designer Eddie Opara of Pentagram and his team received an Honor Award and Best of Show from SEGD in 2015 for the Platform Summit’s innovative graphics program.

“A great example of a strong identity that plays out very effectively across a wide range of scales and materials,” commented one member of the Global Design Awards jury. “Love the use of inflatables for a short-term event. It manages to make balloons look incredibly sophisticated.”

From small-scale to mega-scale, the SEGD Global Design Awards has recognized a broad range of design projects—both past and present—reflecting different aspects of the Black American experience. Below is the comprehensive list of winners:

2020    National Memorial for Peace and Justice
2020    Rising Together: The Black Experience with Police in America
2019    Afropunk Festival Rebrand
2018    Woodlawn Stone Barn
2018    Afropunk Festival
2017    the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture
2017    The Segregated Lunch Counter
2016    The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
2015    The Platform Summit
2013    The National Civil Rights Museum

Next week, SEGD will highlight lesser known—yet outstanding—African American history exhibition experiences in museums across the United States.