More than a decade of pure creativity

Top Ten List & Interview with First Place

In 2014, AIGA Arizona issued a call to Arizona’s design community to submit its best work. The call asked for work produced in Arizona over the last 25 years that represented an individual’s or agency’s important career moments, such as landing a new client, or solving a challenging problem. The submissions were displayed at the 2014 Method + Madness conference, and established the 25th Anniversary Legacy Exhibition.

In 2015, the design community was asked again to submit its best works, but this time only those works created over the last 12 months. More than 100 works, including 40 artifacts, were submitted. These submissions composed the Best of 2015 Exhibition, and were displayed during the Method + Madness conference held Oct. 17-18, 2015.

In 2014, the submissions were curated by Kathy Morgan, Caesar Chaves and Ward Andrews. In 2015, conference attendees acted as curators by casting votes. The 10 works that received the most votes are listed below, and will be added to the Anniversary Legacy Exhibition begun in 2014.

The Year of the Ram

The Year of the Ram Playing Card Calendar

The Best of 2015 submission with the most votes was The Year of the Ram Playing Card Calendar, submitted by the MM Brand Agency. It’s a custom-illustrated deck of playing cards that celebrate the Chinese Zodiac animal sign for 2015, and serve as a desk calendar when used with its custom wooden cardholder.

The submission reflects not just one moment of creativity, according to MM Brand Agency Founder Cathleen Mitchell, but a deliberate choice for the last 15 years to pursue one project each year where “pure creativity” rules every decision.

Fifteen years ago, Mitchell started looking for a creative project that she and her associates could work on each year. “I had just started my business in New York City . . . it was the holiday time . . . and I was trying to think of something that would last.”

She also wanted something that was unleashed from any client requirements, and would inspire associates as well as highlight her firm’s abilities. The Chinese Zodiac seemed right, she recalls. It wasn’t being overused and just seemed to fall into place, said Mitchell.

A decade and a half later – more than a full cycle of the 12 animal signs that comprise the Chinese Zodiac – you might think that Mitchell would be tired of the genre. But when asked if she is ready to move on from it, she said unequivocally, “No,” and then added, “I do not see us ever departing from it.”

The Year of the Dragon

The Year of the Dragon

For the first 12 years, Mitchell and her associates formatted the calendar like a poster that could be rolled up into a tube. It wasn’t until 2013, The Year of the Snake that things departed from the poster format, Mitchell said.

Julie Baker had just started with the Agency that year, and suggested that the calendar be formatted with an accordion fold. “It was perfect that accordion fold, for the snake,” Mitchell said.

The Year of the Snake

The Year of the Snake

The departure from the poster in a tube format, opened the door and cemented in everyone’s mind that going forward “sky’s the limit,” added Mitchell. And so the following year, The Year of the Horse, instead of reverting back to the poster in a tube, Cathleen and her associates changed the format of the calendar to a deck of playing cards with a custom wooden holder.

“The Year of the Horse is where we had a lot of lessons learned,” said Mitchell. “So by the time we got to the Ram in 2015 . . . there were a lot of efficiencies, because we had already done it once.”

The biggest departure in 2015, The Year of the Ram, was having associate Paul Dunbar – formerly with MM Brand Agency – do the illustrations, instead of commissioning them, said Mitchell.

Sketches by Paul Dunbar - The Year of the Ram

Sketches by Paul Dunbar – The Year of the Ram

She estimates that Dunbar worked about 400 to 500 hours on the illustrations to get them just right. “I think that was a huge success. Paul did an amazing job.”

Up until Dunbar took on graphics for The Year of the Ram, Mitchell had hired an illustrator. And for the 2016 illustrations, The Year of the Monkey, Mitchell has already commissioned four local artists.

“We’re going to mix it up big next year,” said Mitchell, referring to 2016. “Pure creativity . . .  Sky’s the limit,” is how Mitchell described what’s coming. She has a budget, but adds that the agency’s biggest investment every year is the calendar.

The annual calendar project has been a form of self-promotion, Mitchell admits. But she also believes that it has done a whole lot more.

“[It’s] a reminder of our capabilities. [And] it’s a great way to rally the team. We get to make every single creative choice!”



1st Place – 2015 Year of the Ram Playing Card Calendar / MM Brand Agency
2nd Place – Preserve the Native Youth Posters / Seandean Anderson
3rd Place – 2014 Method + Madness Materials / Safwat Saleem
4th Place – Built to Spill Poster / John Stobbe Design
5th Place – Phoenix Illustrations / Ryan Lowry, Red Ducky Visual
6th Place –Sundt Construction 125th Anniversary Book with 3D-Printed Case, Logo and Microsite / WHYFOR
7th Place – Short Shorts with Short Leash / Lindi Kropivnikar, METANOIA
8th Place
  • Dash-In Coffee Line / Kitchen Sink Studios
  • College of Marin: Brand / Paul Howalt, Tactix Creative
  • Architecture-Infrastructure-Research Logo / Alfred Sanft
  • Capstone Homes Brochure / Yano Creative
  • BLOK Books / Rain Visual Strategy
9th Place – Second Anniversary Quad Ale / Made with Math, Tommy O’Connor
10th Place
  • Pinewood Classic / Timiam, Timothy Brennan
  • Arizona K12 Center Teacher Kit / Rain Visual Strategy, Anika Bausom
  • MindFlex Logo / Avenue 25
By Christopher Leone
Published November 7, 2015