AIGA 50: Good Design in 2020

At AIGA 50, we celebrate the 50 best pieces of design work created in the past two years in the DMV. 

For 2020, we’re asking a big question: what makes a design good? 

In a city dominated by government and politics, cash-strapped nonprofits and risk-averse corporations, creativity isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. But under the strictest of constraints, designers can excel by thinking of innovative and captivating ways to solve problems.

And that’s what we want AIGA 50 to celebrate — design’s ability to not just captivate, but to overcome a barrier, to shift our thinking, to effect change. 

Judging Good Design

Our understanding of what makes a design “good” is always changing, especially as our understanding of the impact of design evolves. So what exactly would a judge look for?  

That immediate connection often comes from that immediate visual impact. 2018 AIGA 50 judge Christine Taylor puts it this way: While strong concepts and ideas have always been ingrained in the principle of judging a piece, in the end, it often comes down to what it looks like. The ‘eye of the beholder’ mentality will always play a role because a viewer cannot help but come with their own sets of biases and personal likes/dislikes.”

But the visual impact isn’t everything. Earl Gee, a 2013 AIGA 50 judge, says that good design comes down to the “designer’s ability to create work that resonates with human emotions and feelings.” And it has to happen fast. “Your work has only about two seconds to capture [someone’s] attention and make a connection with them. Does your work engage the audience, make a connection, and stimulate their interest?”

AIGA 50 2020

So how do we judge the parts of design that are more than what meets the eye?

In trying to find 50 examples of truly good design from the DMV, the judges want to see the full picture of the work, from intention through execution. 

That means that the narrative you submit with your work is even more important this year. We want to understand the intended audience, what the work was meant to achieve, and the actual impact. We also want to hear about the constraints of the project, the challenges that had to be overcome to produce good work.

In refocusing on the “why,” we’re also moving away from using the “what” as a means of organizing submissions. We’re eliminating the print, digital, and experiential categories, to better encompass work that doesn’t fit neatly in any of those buckets, and designs that have to move from one platform to another as a seamless and unified experience. 

Judges will look at each submission to see if it is innovative in its approach, effective in its mission, appropriate in its experience, and flawless in its execution. 

Think your work can make the cut? Entries will be accepted beginning January 1, 2020, and you can find out more at, including more information about our inaugural student competition. 

Also be sure to sign up for the AIGA DC newsletter to stay informed about this and all our other programming.


Maryam Mwase is the communications lead for AIGA 50.

By Maryam Mwase
Published December 18, 2019