News / Opinion

“The world has changed and so has the role of awards shows,” says Nicole Jacek of the Young Guns’ radical new format


Adi Goodrich: set design for Young Blood Hawke. Previous Young Guns winner.

We grill the ADC’s Young Guns’ committee chair Nicole Jacek (also founder of NJL.A., a former Young Gun and a member of the ADC Board of Directors) on the competition’s fundamental change in how they find their winners, and how that might change its demographic.

First off, can you just tell us how exactly the ADC Young Guns competition is changing?
Nicole: The biggest difference is that we are no longer a competition, but a curation of talent. An international panel made up of 40 leading thinkers from 11 countries representing a wide range of creative fields will nominate up to five individuals from around the world who they feel are the most talented and forward-shaping creatives who are 30 years old and under. These 200 nominees will be asked to submit their portfolio free of charge. We also have an Open Call for Entries for ADC Members (also free) from which the ADC staff will handpick 20 creatives and add to the other nominees. From these 220 nominees, the final ADC Young Guns will be chosen. I took a peek at the first entries coming in, and I am actually shocked about the extraordinary quality of talent. I have been seriously blown away.

Why is the ADC moving away from the old model, and what is better about the new model?
The world has changed and so has the role of awards shows. Before blogs and social media came into the picture, awards shows were the only platform for creatives to be seen, and to be able to share work, get hired or for clients to find you. Now we live in a fast-paced world and there are so many platforms for visibility. We wanted to create something that is truly valuable and goes beyond a badge of honour. Young Guns has been good for people based in New York, but we wanted to make it a valuable club for young creatives around the world, not just awards but a multifaceted global program that provides recognition as well as events for the members. From my heart, I truly believe that moving towards building a creative incubator will be worthwhile for every ADC Young Gun Club member.

What do you think this will change about the mix of entrants? How do you see the demographic shifting?
Overall the quality and diversity of entrants will, and already has, changed. It’s not about strict disciplines such as illustration, design, advertising and photography anymore, but about creative and cultural relevance, design thinking, strategy and technology. I know this sounds odd, but it also is about kindness. I know people might throw shit at me for saying this, but kindness does matter. Not only about the care for your work, but more importantly, how you treat other people does matter to the creative solutions we’ve seen. How can you be culturally relevant if you don’t care about the world around you? I believe collaboration is key for achieving greatness. No one wants to collaborate with assholes.

How will the panel members find their nominees now?
That’s a question you would have to ask them, but from what I have been seeing, a graphic designer is not necessarily nominating other graphic designers, for example. You will be surprised how diverse in disciplines this group of nominees is. All of our influencers have been around for a while; perhaps they know some of their nominees, or they collaborated with some of them, or maybe it’s their opportunity to reach out to someone new; perhaps they have met somewhere or simply just heard of them, or read about them. Let me be clear, a nomination is just 50% of the path, there still is a judging process.

Do you think this approach is in danger of becoming about ‘who you know’ rather than deciding purely on merit? Or perhaps it puts more pressure on the judges to make sure this isn’t happening?
First of all, it might be ignorant to think that traditional awards show judging is based on pure anonymity. This was the case before blogs and social media helped spreading good work. It’s a small world. Oftentimes a juror has seen the work to be judged before and knows of the creator.

I do think it does matter who you know. We are trying to build a community and as much as your work matters, your personality does too. In addition, we still have an Open Call for Entries, although open exclusively to the ADC Membership. We are test-driving this model this year and will adjust if needed as we go. Again, we are not awarding work, we are curating talent.

Who’s on the panel?
It includes MoMA’s senior curator of architecture and design Paola Antonelli; Pentagram partner Paula Scher; John Maeda, design partner at venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers; Apple creative director Arem Duplessis; The New York Times design director Gail Bichler; PAPER Magazine co-founder and editor-in-chief Kim Hastreiter; OK Go’s Timothy Nordwind, and It’s Nice That’s Alex Bec (full list here).

Grilli Type, previous Young Guns winner.

Tracy Ma, previous Young Guns winner.


Nicole Jacek