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For more than 33 years Steve Heller has been art directing at The New York Times. More specifically, for 29 years he has been art directing its Sunday Book Review section. During those years, Steve has given the Times and its readers a front row seat to great illustration by commissioning the best illustrators for nearly all of the Book Review’s cover and much of its interior content. He has also jumpstarted the careers of a boatload of budding illustrators and artists. It has been a delightful partnership for the benefit of all.

Through his use of illustration, Steve has given readers of the Times a familiar place they can visit each Sunday to read what’s new in the literary world. Seeing what’s on the cover has been something to look forward to as much as the contents of the section itself. Each illustration, from its cover to the black-and-white spots, gives the reader a wide range of emotionally charged visual insights that have branded the Book Review as the benchmark of literary review.

At the Times, Steve has commissioned art from some of the best artists far and wide- always graciously giving them the spotlight. Whether by instinct or design, Steve always commissions the right assignments to the right artists, thus placing them in the best position to succeed. Meanwhile, he is one of the few art directors who still regularly schedules and allocates time from his busy schedule to review illustration and art portfolios. Steve has continually demonstrated his commitment to excellence.

That alone would be more than enough to merit Steve the Society of Illustrators Richard Gangel Award for Art Direction. But it is his body of work beyond that of his duties at the Times that is a true testament to his commitment to the field. Steve has written, co-written, or edited extensively in professional journals, trade publications, and nearly 60 books on graphic design, graphic design history and influence, typography, illustration, education, and business. He is the editor of the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design that can be found on the AIGA website. The Journal posts articles written by him and others covering a wide range of topics concerning designers, art directors, photographers, illustrators, and anyone else in the graphic design industry, all of which is designed to spark open dialogue from its readers.

It is difficult, if not confounding, to estimate the impact Steve Heller has had on the graphic design industry. After all, he is still forging new tracks for us to follow. Steve’s continuing impact, influence, and pursuit of excellence make his commitment to illustration so meaningful to those of us who practice the art of illustration. For these reasons it makes his receiving this Society of Illustrators 48th Illustration Annual Dick Gangel Award for Art Direction so right.

– C.F. Payne

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