Lost: the D in D&AD
While an unprecedented six Golds were handed out at last night's D&AD awards, the Graphic Design section produced just two nominations and no pencils. We asked former D&AD President, Michael Johnson, and Sean Perkins of North why they think graphics was so under-represented (last year seven Silvers and four nominations were awarded in the section) and what D&AD – and indeed the wider design community – should do to change this situation in the future...
(The following discussion appears in the Crit section of the June issue of CR, out next week)
Creative Review: There are 39 projects from the graphic design categories in this year’s Annual, two nominations but, for the first time that we can remember, no Silvers or Golds. Judges have told us that the standard of work entered was “appalling” and that good work featured in other schemes was missing from D&AD, so it doesn’t seem to be simply a case of the graphics sector in general having had a poor year creatively. Does this mean that d&ad is failing to engage the design community? If so, how does it need to change?
Michael Johnson: I’ve been trying to change it for years with varying degrees of success. Last year I helped pick the juries: there were 80 pieces of graphic design in the book and 11 nominations. This year: half the amount in and two nominations. I don’t know what happened with graphics this time.
Sean Perkins: It’s a problem if you get like-minded designers together to judge work – they have to put their name to something. I judged an awards in Spain with Wendelin Hess [of Swiss studio Müller +Hess] and the organisers were complaining there was no packaging in there and we needed to boost the Spanish work. Wendelin said, ‘this is rubbish – if you put this in I’ll go outside and set fire to myself’. He felt that if he had to put his name to the results he wouldn’t choose work just for political reasons. But if you know something is great, you should put it in, even if it’s not to your taste.
MJ: I made a real point of putting contemporary designers on the design jury this time – Philippe Apeloig, Michael C Place, MadeThought….
SP: But on the whole, I’d be surprised if they actually entered work.
MJ: Well, I wanted to say, ‘look, these are the people judging the work’ but something got lost in translation in that the judges – while being recent graduates’ ‘functional heroes’ if you like – didn’t necessarily enter any work themselves. When it got to looking at the work on the tables, some people had very strong opinions about it all. When you raise the bar that high – inadvertently by inviting some of the current ‘superstars’ of design to judge – this can then backfire on you.
SP: But then there are the people who enter everything! There isn’t a discerning ability to self-edit the great work, they’re just hoping to win something. So they just send in lots of average work.
MJ: Yes, some people’s business models are certainly just based on winning awards.... Packaging is pretty good [at D&AD], branding is getting better, but what seems to have happened is that graphics has been slightly sidelined. Perhaps things are going in different directions. Ask most people and they’re not doing many brochures anymore. I’ve done thousands of posters: I did 12 last year. It’s a bit sad isn’t it? But there’s something, and it’s a helicopter view, that maybe feels like a decline [in traditional graphic design]. From emails with some of the judges, some are taking the view that the standard wasn’t good enough this year and that they weren’t prepared to put 16 things in instead of eight even if that meant being perceived as being a bit mean.
SP: The other problem is that the Awards doesn't make you want to belong. I wish it did, that there was something valuable about it to push us, to make us feel threatened or excited, something that cuts through all the politics and averageness.... We all go to websites and see work that we wished we’d done and get inspired. You want to be threatened and inspired like that….
MJ: I think what’s happening is that a certain type of graphic designer isn’t entering D&AD.
MJ: No, I didn’t look at you at that point because you’re a representative of that! It’s just honest. But there is this horrid historical thing about d&ad being seen as having an advertising bias. You can try all you like to fix it….
SP: But then it is wonderful for advertising – as a representation of what’s going on.
MJ: But people blanket bomb the design section, spend thousands and thousands of pounds entering and it’s now become part of their raison d’être. The Partners won a Gold this year – but not in design. They had to do it by entering into an advertising category. That says it all. They played the system because they probably knew if they entered The Grand Tour into graphic design it wouldn’t get in. But it got into ambient, integrated [and won in poster advertising]. They probably entered that work six times across d&ad. They know what we know: that it’s a lottery when you get work in front of a jury. It’s a great project and deserved to get a Gold – so you can kind of understand their approach. On the other hand, we did some nice stamps last year but could only enter them into one sub-category.
SP: When we entered the Yauatcha work, it didn't even get in the book. And – without blowing my own trumpet – I thought it was a nice piece of work!
MJ: If you had called me I’d have told you to enter it into this, this and this category….
SP: But we didn’t do it strategically: I thought ‘packaging’ was the right place to put it – people buy a cake and they get it in a box!
CR: So do you think there is a problem with the way the judging works?
MJ: Yes: the underlying problem is that the judges are reflected in the work that gets through. If you pick a set of – for want of a better word – ‘ideas’ based jurors, you know what you’re going to get. If you pick ‘functionally’ biased ones you’ll get a different set of results. You get better ‘curated’ shows with smaller judging panels. With three or four people you don’t get the warfare. At d&ad there can be nine judges, with huge splits.
SP: And then you also only get average work: you give something an average score and it’s then the work that doesn’t really offend either party that gets through.
MJ: There are some who’ve really benefited from this ‘compromised candidate’ kind of thing – the work that sits in the middle ground.
SP: But then going round the advertising, it does seem very indicative of the year’s work. Maybe that’s because it’s all ‘advertising’ and that’s as complicated as it gets? With our work, you can be designing packaging for a supermarket, a high-end boutique, or you do a corporate identity that isn’t about ‘now’ but about the future, where the brand will be. Advertising is more of a level playing field while design is probably more complex.
MJ: Also, designers are much worse at picking the best work. The ad community – with all their wars, politics, hatred, jealousy and egos in the industry – are still able to sit there and say, ‘he’s a wanker, but that’s a great piece of work’. The design community is useless at doing that and is getting worse.... An interesting phenomenon is that the international work often looks fresher. Blogs mean you’ve seen a lot of the work before – so you lose an aspect of it when you encounter it again. You have to be on your game to say, ‘I’ve seen that before and I still think it’s good’ – compared to something from Japan that knocks your socks off immediately but might not look as good in six months. And that’s where the ad industry is better – their work is in the public domain: they all read the same mags, all watch the telly, they don’t fast forward the ads, and they make judgements as they go along. They would have decided at the end of last year that Gorilla is a killer ad and, lo and behold, it wins a Gold. They’d already come to that conclusion.
SP: Yes, every year you know what’s best – like with the Sony Balls commercial.
MJ: Ask graphic designers what the best bit of work from last year was?! But people say that advertising’s in decline: yet they’ll give out 35 pencils. Which is like saying ‘we’re sinking guys, but we’ll still give each other pencils’! Design doesn’t seem to be in decline: product and environmental designers seem to be ok with saying, ‘nice bit of work’ – but the graphic designers have gone back into their shells. Again. And I’ve never worked out why they do it.
CR: What about the fact that there are more pieces of work from overseas in D&AD than from the UK?
MJ: If you’re going to sell yourself as the Oscars of advertising and design then this will happen.
SP: I think it’s great, there’s some examples of exciting work. I’m just amazed that they spend that amount of money, that they think it’s a platform that they want to be seen on.
MJ: I think they do what I might do with international schemes, where you’re much tougher on yourself and just enter two things, like to the Tokyo Type Directors Club.
SP: Well, you’re only as good as your worst piece of work – you should just have a bit of self-discipline.
CR: Is the entry fee a big barrier for a lot of studios? Should that be altered at all?
MJ: I think they should halve the entry fee, or make the fee nonexistent. They won’t do it – but make it something like 40 quid? The trouble is the usual suspects will then enter 400 things!
SP: It does all sound so old-fashioned. Take blogs: kids put the work up instantly, they’re not going to wait for somebody to look at it, make an opinion on it, put it into a book eight months, a year after they’ve done it, compared to getting it on the web and celebrating it.
CR: But isn’t the filtration process of an awards important, in that it gives work a value, a stamp? Do designers think differently about that now?
MJ: I think you should devote half of the next issue to asking recent graduates what they think – because I haven’t got a clue. In my late 20s I went along to a D&AD and thought, I’d like to win one of them, they’re clearly a sign of whether you’re any good. And I naively entered into my ‘D&AD life’ thinking one of those means you’re good. I thought that for a long time. But now you’ve got to wonder about that. Even I, as an ex-President of D&AD, am questioning what is the point? And this is partly annoyance at this year – but, also, part of me is thinking maybe I should just move on, just let it go. I like the tdc as well! That’s a beautiful scheme.
SP: Let it go Michael, let it go. We have all the TDC annuals and we still use them, for colour, type, style reference. But I’ve never seen anyone refer to a D&AD Annual.
MJ: Well, to be fair, they do look at them at college.
SP: The tutors should know better than that.
CR: So D&AD needs to address the fact that graphic design students, looking to see what the best design work is, won’t find it in its Annual?
MJ: If you had a million pounds you’d have an online archive and wouldn’t necessarily need a book. Gradually most of the world’s awards schemes are beginning to understand this.
SP: But it would be exciting for it to mean something. Not that I need an awards system to make me feel good. I suppose it’s our age that means we don’t feel we need to do this, but for the younger designers, they always enjoy it when work gets written about.
MJ: Yes, it does mean something. We might just be jaded middle-aged men. Designers in their mid-to-late 20s: you don’t have to scratch far to see that, yes, some would like to win a pencil.
CR: Isn’t D&AD important for other things outside the awards?
SP: It has an amazing educational programme and student awards; the lectures are inspiring – they do a lot of great things that we have to give them respect for. There’s some great ad work voted in and D&AD is the only place to go and see it. But when it comes to graphic design I just feel like I’d never ever look there.
CR: What do you think of the two pieces of work that were nominated in the graphics section this year? There was the stamp from Hat-Trick Design... (shown, top of page)
SP: The stamp is beautiful. So simple.
MJ: Yes it’s nice. I don’t think it’s worthy of an award though: it’s not doing enough things.
CR: And the Object bags for Vinçon by Ena Cardenal de la Nuez…
MJ: I think I’ve done this before, at least once. They’re kind of sweet but they’re still really just use-of-handle-in-bag-design.
CR: So what’s the way forward?
SP: They’ve got to wipe the slate clean, start again and build something completely different. Do something radical, exciting that we all want to belong to, so we’ll value its opinion and existence. I think let the ad world carry on with D&AD as it stands, just the design bit has to be separate. I love it that Wolff Olins or the Partners can enter into the advertising world – but for me the two worlds have just never been connected. Let’s focus on doing something about design – with a fixed judging panel maybe?
MJ: The only way that this judging system works at the moment is if you’re lucky and the judges get on and they’ve got a really strong foreman, who almost has a foreman’s override. At the moment they don’t have that – but you’ve got to wonder if something like that would be the way to make the system work when you get nine people all together.
SP: Kind of curated, where you have a foreman, like an Alice Rawsthorn, somebody who can override it....
MJ: The other thing to do is have less judges and to put those judges through hell and make them look at 2000 bits of work, which they do do on other schemes. You get your Sagmeister, Perkins, Farrow, and say: ‘you’re gonna come out of this with good work, your job is to find it.’
SP: There’s also that debate aspect: if the judging was a bit more like a discussion so that people could enlighten other people about the work. You’ve got to make people believe in it again – do something radical. Make a lot of noise about doing something different, then do it.
MJ: It’s interesting – he’s not entering and I’m just assuming I’m never going to win again: and what are we, 44? It’s a bit ridiculous. But rather than build from scratch, as the other areas of D&AD are healthy, you’d think there was another way to fix it. It doesn’t work for the designer – so change it. It’s just a bit sad: it stands for Design and Art Direction....
For the full results of the 2008 Awards, see D&AD's website, dandad.org.
This article will appear in the June issue of CR, out 22 May. Other features in the June issue include:
Big Spaceship - an interview with Michael Lebowitz
The 2008 logo design trend report from LogoLounge
Not every year is great for wine, no less design.
I just hope that this year's new blood ushers in a new wave to scare/inspire/agitate the old blood.
That Volkswagen ad is a great example of the back-slapping nature of these awards. "Wow, look how clever we are", they exclaim, as Average Joe skims past their ad.
The advertising sector seems particularly guilty of this, probably because they desperately need to hype a service that's becoming increasingly ineffective.
Michael Johnson happily points out the flaw in advertising juries handing out lots of awards and graphic design juries having the opposite problem. But then when asked about the only two nominated pieces of work in Graphic Design this year he dismisses them out of hand: "Not doing enough" and "Seen it before".
Micheal Johnson Beatles stamps are nice, but so are hat-tricks.
Yes we've seen bag handle ideas loads of times, I'm sure even MJ himself has had a go at them before, but so what? If it's good, it's good. Some are better than others.
Obviously this problem runs deeper than we think if graphic designs self acclaimed patron saint suffers from the same condition that he's desperately trying to cure.
Ross, you're absolutely right to say that, and I winced a bit when I read that part of the transcript too.
I DO like Hat-Trick's stamp, honest, but only days before had watched the same jury remove our Beatles stamps from the competition altogether, so was perhaps still smarting from that... and if I'm honest I preferred the 'barbed wire' one a year before... but it's no defence for being a bit negative, you're right
It raises an interesting issue that sometimes judges are expected to carry on being stony faced and objective when they see their work being savaged around them - that's tough to do, they are only human after all
As it happens the 'handle as part of the design' idea isn't new, and HAS been done before, but I guess you could say it was a nice variant on the idea?
But point taken, point taken.
I feel like I've seen "the handle as part of the design" idea done to death now too. I think The Chase did a great execution of it a few years back with someone hitting a ball and the trail making the handle. But then at the same time, we've all seen the sources of many recent award winning ads elsewhere, and that hasn't stopped them taking home several accolades despite the similarity.
Maybe what the design section needs to do is take into account the difficulty of the task undertaken too. For example, work like the Gorilla ad gets such strong approval ratings for being so daring with a big brand.
Maybe we should consider that in the field of packaging / identity a little more too. It's very hard to push through a great idea for a bigger brand, whereas smaller jobs that are blatantly done by creatives to win awards often get the nod over them. And if it's done well, eventually it ends up reaching more people than via billboards anyhow.
For example, the Coca Cola clean up job by Turner Duckworth is immense. At a time when every brand is trying to communicate 5 things on the front face at once, the industry leader reverts to what it does best; being iconic. It is as bare and naked as a pack can possibly be, and probably took months to get through.
I think by its very nature, packaging in particular can be a little restrictive and I fear that this fact gets a little lost when being judged. And I'd hate to see things like Absolut Disco winning, which for me is more of a short term gimmick than a long-term design solution.
But then longevity is a whole other grey area I guess! As is the fact that Apple continually win the highest awards possible for design tweaks year after year...
I have a very nice pencil on my desk. It has lead in it. And is useful for writing down ideas.
When the subject is graphic design, something's not good enough because it's been done before. The advertising industry is much less precious. They often just steal their ideas - look at the Sony "balls" / "play-doh bunnies" ads. Idea [allegedly] pilfered, execution brilliant, ad is huge, job done, pencil please.
Who cares. It's an ad show anyways.
I'm a big fan of MJ and SP, but I have to say from a small consultancy perspective we're tired of entering and seeing the usual suspects win over and over again with no one else getting a look in, and this goes years back.
If our work is no good then I don't enter it. But these days I'm more likely to enter into a US or Japanese awards as D&AD because of the vested interests of the big boys. If people think they can win they will try - if its seen as a fix, rightly or wrongly, then they wont.
Get out of your comfort zone and appoint some people who arnt in your immediate 'club' and you might just see a change.
I was thinking this kind award was just like for designers saying: "I'm clever, look at me!" I think some companies cannot aford to enter each year. Because finantual tsunami, everybody is thinking about more important things now perhaps.
I don't even consider entering D&AD anymore. I entered a work in a few years ago and got it into the annual. But the work that won a pencil or whatever was a good advertising poster concept. I'd love to enter D&AD more, and would get more work in..but when entry prices only consider huge ad agencies..that just means it's a bad proposition for illustrators who generally don't bill in the millions per year
I can't afford to enter 25 categories in D&AD plus: aiga, american illustration, CR, communication arts, graphis, applied arts, Step 100, How, Print, The advertising and design club of canada etc.
I'm an illustrator-a single person shop. So I don't even think about it anymore. There's no consideration for me in the entry fees and the money is getting exposed to a huge amount of risk. So this year i'm investing in direct mail instead.
I still have mad respect for d&ad, but it's priced me out of the market so I can't afford to pay attention to it anymore. CR has ignored work that has won best in show in other competitions, so I'm quite skeptical of that too at this point.
Sean Thomas writes…"For example, the Coca Cola clean up job by Turner Duckworth is immense. At a time when every brand is trying to communicate 5 things on the front face at once, the industry leader reverts to what it does best; being iconic. It is as bare and naked as a pack can possibly be, and probably took months to get through."
This is a joke, right? To me this comment exemplifies all that is wrong with the field and to some degree the D&AD-a complete lack of understanding of the real problems that design needs to address, and a terribly low level of intellectualism regarding what matters.
perhaps the scottish design non-awards non-hierarchical statement of existence was ahead of its time..?
Noel, what are these 'real problems'? Coca-Cola wanted to look cooler and sell more Coke; Turner Duckworth helped them do it.
In Gordon Ramsey parlance: "Can: Red. Logo: Simple. Re-branding: Done."
you know trivial things like Climate Change and the way that is linked to rampant and wasteful consumerism…Sure Turner Duckworth did there job, but please let's not pretend that reverting to the old Coke design is some work of design genius…Coke has such a monopoly over the drinks industry (and is responsible for taking some of the world's poorest people's drinking water to do it- see Mark Thomas's documentary on Coke for info) that it really doesn't matter about the branding, it would sell anyway.
If the awards were about finding the best work and rewarding its creator then there wouldn’t be an entry fee at all, let alone an extortionately expensive one.
I’d like to see a comparison of 2005/06/07 entry numbers before accepting that last year all graphic design work was “appalling”.
Noel, if we're going to stop awarding creative work because of the people we're working for, then thats a whole very grey area, and one which affects everything in the Book.
Sure, ethically I'm aware that Coca-Cola perhaps aren't squeaky clean, but likewise the design saved on a number of inks for a start meaning that I'm sure across the global portfolio thats a whole lot less waste and pollution. Packaging gets a whole lot of unfair abuse leveled at it because it's an easy target, but there are far more ways in which we disrespect the environment on a daily basis. Note; car travel, eating certain already washed products from foreign countries, leaving on our monitors after work, not updating our old gas boilers etc. If we can take tiny steps to sort out our respective fields, then that can only be a good thing.
My point was that for a big brand, that design is as aesthetically daring and timeless as design can possibly get in my book. And we should reward it.
So how do you feel about the iPod then? That wins an award year on year, yet has a battery thats almost impossible to replace, a lifespan of mere months in some cases, an acid that is highly dangerous and a look that seems remarkably similar to the work of Braun in the 1970's.
I guess the trouble is this all comes down to opinion ultimately. My opinion is that a lot of the work in D&AD is getting very "now" (which is also true of the annual itself) and dating faster than ever, year after year, whereas the timeless clever thinking is getting lost along the way or no longer "clever" enough. They CAN exist hand in hand, but they're struggling to do so right now...
no one is saying that the problems of climate change aren't huge…but if we don't look at what *we* do and question it there is no hope, washing your hands by saying oh well this is worse stuff is not an answer.
Personally I don't care for awards, most of the people I admire don't either, packaging should be criticised because, let's be honest there really is no need for most of it, people in other parts of the world where they don't live heavily commodified lifestyles don't need to have there drink and food wrapped up in silly images that lie about what the reality is inside, and as graphic designers there are far more important things to be doing.
The problem is much deeper than merely surface changes, it really does go to the heart of the system we live under, one that is now making life much worse for everyone, so we are going to have to address these problems, of course I don't expect rich advertising 'creatives' to do this, nor big corporations and that's what I meant about the lack of thinking in the field.
No I agree. We do need to look at what we do, you're right. And I'm not a huge one for awards either, but I do feel that some odd stuff is getting rewarded of late.
But I'm saying that it's surely better that someone does the work and makes some difference, no matter how big or small, otherwise the problem will just carry on forever.
The packaging debate is an odd one, but this topic affects the whole design community. As someone thats done it for a fair few years now, I have days where I question how much of it is truly necessary, and others where it feels like we're a convenient scapegoat. But thats why it's great when you get through a recyclable pack for a brand previously not using one, or reduce the amount of ink or glass used on a job, etc.
Most of what we do use is unfortunately required by Government health and safety standards, and to combat the sheer dearth of the problem we need to look at ourselves and lifestyles; agreed. But I feel its better to make small strides than expect everyone to change overnight. And I genuinely now see Brands and companies doing so more than ever before.
Here's a solution:
Each studio/city office of a large company may only enter 1 piece into 1 category per year.
That way people are forced to consider a) which is their best piece (and let's face it there will only really be one great piece) and b)which category it truly belongs in.
That way everyone has the same chance.
Or you could alter the fee based on how many people the studio employs, so a studio with only 3 designers only needs to pay one hundredth of what a 300-strong behemoth pays
well I do think we need massive change, Capitalism is taking us all over the edge and *is* destroying our ability to live on this planet, of course this is a problem for all of us and requires a political solution, this doesn't mean not doing the small thing too, I'm all for anything that anyone can do to make things better. I sympathise with the difficulties of packaging design re: health and safety etc but look at the huge amounts of food we throw away all nicely packaged, whilst billions live on a few dollars a day…
…I think my broader point is that a lot of what graphic designers do is so geared toward pointless and unneccesary consumption we need to have a serious debate and do something about it!
Josh makes a great suggestion 2 posts up I feel. One of the best, but hard to differentiate, aspects of design these days is the fact so much of it defies categorisation. Lots of disciplines cross over, apply to many award categories and so you often end up seeing the same ad's winning across multiple areas.
But the same isn't true for design I'd argue. Maybe we need some new sectors, or ways in which forward thinking design can be applied to these areas more, but I've seen far more interesting and progressive design on blogs this year than I have ads (or so my gut tells me).
Also, a note on D&AD's more recent Videogames award. I'm not sure who chose them, but some of the most uninspiring, bland games have won in the past. I haven't seen this years' winners, but there really is a wealth of more artistic efforts out there in recent months...
Hello All! Very nice JOB!!!
I've never entered, and I never will. Looking at the work that wins, gets nominated etc, and the work that doesn't tells me one thing. That it's a farce. The two examples here aren't exciting, original, or even interesting. To hear someone then say that the standard was "appalling" is enough to turn anyone off.
Plus the idea of design "superstars" is just utterly laughable.
The work that seems to win awards is often dull, 'the safe option' and frankly very well trodden paths. It's rare that boundary pushing work wins, work that pushes boundaries to the point of being a future trend. This work is either never exposed or seems to go completely over the heads of the judges. Of course not to mention that D&AD is a farce 'if you either pay me, or talk me up at your next meeting - ill give you a pencil.
You might get more people entering D&AD if you actually let people, who deserve to win, win and not charging them the earth for the privilege of doing so.
"Get out of your comfort zone and appoint some people who aren't in your immediate 'club' and you might just see a change." - couldn't agree more.
It's hard not to laugh at Simon Waterfall's + others comments on youtube, especially where they start talking about the influence youtube has on filmmaking and youtube being 'the next frontier' for advertising. Well CONGRATULATIONS D&AD for recognising this humble site called youtube. I hold you all in such high regard, and catching up to the rest of us who are aware of the platform called the Internet.
Perhaps designers should be focusing on trying to contribute to the solution global issues, instead of the destructive and corrupt bullsh*t involved in advertising, where people repeatedly pat each other on the back for doing a 'great' job on selling people ridiculous products they don't need.
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