About a year ago, the Knoxville chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts was doing a little brainstorming. The hot topic of this particular meeting was the need for better discourse among graphic designers, not just in Knoxville, but throughout Tennessee. It began as a simple notion, only to propel itself toward something unexpected.
"The idea was for [the TEN Show] to be a statewide design show," says Deborah Shmerler, president of AIGA Knoxville and assistant professor of graphic design at UT. "We wanted to unite the designers in state so we could start a dialogue and show everybody across the state what's going on in terms of our abilities to design."
A few more than 900 calls for entries were sent to in-state designers. Students were also on AIGA's radar because, as Shmerler says, "You can't really leave the students out of it. They're so important for the future [of design]." The future—the evolution of graphic design as an art form and strategic tool for businesses—is the focus of the TEN Show, a showcase for innovative designs in 10 multifarious categories ranging from book design to corporate logos. The winning entries will go on display at the Emporium Center for Arts on April 2 and stay on exhibit through April 29.
"We're taught as designers in school to be problem solvers," Shmerler says, "and we wanted this to be about problem solving. We didn't want it to be just about aesthetics. Our idea was to marry both of those things and think about design on a larger scale."
The now-famous business maxim, "Think outside the box," definitely applies to design, but it's not just experimenting for the sake of experimentation; good design involves thinking inductively rather than haphazardly, an unusual alchemy of sociology, technology, demographics and, of course, artistic élan. The Tennessee chapters of AIGA hope that the TEN Show will pull together the best of the best and allow for an open exchange of ideas and design theories, juggernauting Tennessee's designers into the future by recognizing innovation and emphasizing the fact that graphic design is as much an art as it is a social science.
As Thomas Watson, Jr., the man responsible for putting the IBM logo on 70 percent of the world's computers, once said: "Good design is good business." And, if the TEN Show is an indicator of what's coming in the world of graphic arts, good design is also good for Tennessee businesses.
"Design is both a strategic part of business and a cultural force," Shmerler says. "A lot of things are culminating right now.... Design used to be how to make something look good, and at this point we have an opportunity to make it so much more than that."
Over 200 entries were considered, and 40 made the final cut. "I think that we reached some of that audience," Shmerler says, "but we can do better in the next couple of years." The next TEN Show is scheduled for Fall 2006 in Chattanooga. "If we can figure out how design can be used more as a cultural and strategic tool in the future, that will be a good goal to start with," Shmerler says, adding: "I think that good designers are under-utilized."