Art Institute of Chicago, Gift Catalog 1999-2000

“What is that on the cover?” asked one judge of Art Institute of Chicago’s winter 1999-2000 catalog. The soft-focus image depicting reeds and flowers is beautiful, conceded the judge, “but it’s confusing. I want to know more about it.”

Although the enigmatic cover art provoked a mixed reaction from the judges, the panelists did agree that this Silver Award winner flows “seamlessly” from the cover to the opening spread, and then throughout the book. “And the catalog director’s letter on the inside cover is a nice touch,” added one judge.

Nicer still is the array of art-themed products. The catalog offers a clever, well-priced, and high-quality merchandise selection, noted one judge. “Tiffany glass and Monet’s Water Lilies seem to peek out from every corner of the book.” Said another panelist, “Affordable quality products really are available.”

While judges for the most part agreed that the copy is nothing more than “adequate” and “serviceable,” they nonetheless praised its “extremely detailed” product size and texture information, as in this description of the Water Lilies Bookends: “…each bookend has ceramic tile set into a heavy cast-iron frame. Cork-lined to protect surfaces, each piece weighs five pounds.”

And the catalog’s design and production is of the caliber you would expect from an art museum. “Products are displayed in intelligent groupings with color-themed spreads,” noted one judge. “These are innovative layouts,” praised another. “The deep shadows and silhouetted items are pleasing to the eye, and the images are balanced well by the copy blocks.”

But color isn’t the only theme throughout the book. The Art Institute’s catalog also features several product-themed spreads. For instance, customers may flip through a spread of Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired gifts and then move on to a spread selling Far East-influenced merchandise.

While many judges thought that the absence of the catalog’s 800-number throughout most of the book was “troubling,” they agreed that the order form “works hard” by giving the reader as much shipping, returns, and guarantee information as possible. And the panelists loved the postage-paid envelopes bound with the order form. “You never see these!” exclaimed one judge, especially in a consumer book.

With perks like paid postage, it’s easy to see why this catalog is a Silver Award winner. Concluded one judge, “This is a gifts catalog that makes you feel good about supporting the Art Institute of Chicago.”

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