Can D&AD change for good?
Under Neville Brody's presidency, D&AD is undergoing some important changes to the way it's run and what it hopes to achieve. Will they be enough to reinvigorate an organisation which marked its 50th year last week?
When you think of D&AD what do you think of? For most people, it's awards and that's a problem. Not that D&AD doesn't want people to enter its awards. The problem is that it wants to be thought of primarily as an educational charity, using the money it generates from all those awards entries (over 20,000 per year) to nurture the next generation of designers and creatives. To do good not to slap backs.
The link, between the money-making and the money-giving, where that money goes and the good that it does, has not been made clear enough. This has been allied to and connected with a background of, particularly in the design community, a growing sense of disillusionment with D&AD and the feeling that it is no longer relevant.
But what if there was an organisation which supported needy students who are struggling to pay tuition fees in these difficult economic times with bursaries or scholarships? An organisation that was helping to break down the homogeneity of the creative industries by offering financial help to students with disadvantaged backgrounds? Making sure that industry and academia talked to each other and supported each other? Supporting graduates coming into work, providing training and networking? While at the same time performing a valuable role in the professional community by championing the best of its community's work, reinforcing the value of what it does and acting as a forum for debate and the exchange of ideas. That's what D&AD wants to be known for and, in large part, it's what it already does.
Somewhat lost amid the hoopla of its 50th birthday celebrations (top), D&AD has announced a significant change - the launch of the D&AD Foundation. D&AD is being re-organised to separate the awards and professional services side of what it does from its educational activities. In future, the ‘business' side of D&AD will concentrate on making as much revenue as it can from its awards and professional training courses. The Foundation will be funded and supported by the profits generated by these activities.
The Foundation's cash will support students through their education and then, through internships, apprenticeships, mentoring and activities such as the Graduate Academy, through the first years of professional life until they are in a position to be entering - hopefully winning - the professional awards themselves. At that point, D&AD will expect the circle to become complete as those who have themselves benefitted from D&AD's support, offer their own to the next generation, perhaps through endowments or gifts but certainly through entering the awards
This clarified agenda for D&AD is being driven by its chief exec Tim Lindsay and incoming president Neville Brody (subscribers can read a revealing interview with them both in the supplement with the October issue of CR, shown above). Both also recognise the need for D&AD to grow its membership if it is to genuinely represent the industry and offer more to professionals than just the chance of winning an oversized pencil.
"D&AD is often accused of being less relevant today," Lindsay admits in the interview, "but the way you make yourself relevant is to make yourself useful and the way you do that is to provide a product and a service that people find they need recourse to frequently. You need to take a look at yourself and ask whether what you are doing is right for the emerging generations. I think D&AD has done quite a good job on students and quite a good job at the more mature end of the industry but it has missed out the middle. We can disconnect with people when they've been in the business for two or three years until they win an award."
But is winning an award even that important to younger designers and creatives? "If awards are about peer review and peer approval then you get that much more widely and rigorously and instantly by putting something up on YouTube than you do by entering an awards show," Lindsay concedes. "We have to be much more than an awards show. We have to offer great training, great speakers, to be a great place to have discussions. And, most of all, we want to make money to put into the Foundation."
Brody also wants D&AD to be more vocal in the interests of its members. "We're not going to be shy of raising our voices more politically," he promises. "What this government has done to creative education in this country is an absolute fucking disaster. They're shooting themselves in the foot. A huge amount of UK income comes from the creative services, so what possible good can come out of killing creative education? I don't support the idea that industry should be paying for education but we have no choice, so let's formulate a positive response, make it work and stick two fingers up to the government." D&AD, he says, "needs to have a more strident voice to defend the profession we represent and to help protect students who want to go into creative education."
Lindsay and Brody are promising a more active, engaged D&AD that has a clear remit to support education in practical ways. The Foundation, they hope, will set out where D&AD's priorities lie, to an extent not seen in its previous five decades. That sounds to me like something worth supporting, but what do readers think?
A lot of people have been very critical of D&AD in the comments here: What do you want from D&AD that it currently fails to provide?
Where should it be concentrating its energies?
How would you like to see it change?
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I've been a member and involved with the D&AD on and off through my whole career. It's been a frustrating experience to say the least. In my opinion the D&AD holds a unique position from which it is capable of creating deep changes in the design industry, yet it only appears interested in gala awards dinners and environmentally questionable publications.
D&AD, as an organisation, has unparallelled access to the world's best creatives, but this access is not exploited for the greater good. With the exception of a minor presence in Manchester there appears to be zero activity outside of London. Surely this is not LD&AD? How are these London-centric events and courses helping this nation of upcoming creative talent? The UK not only needs better education programs to feed the industry, but it needs support for creatives to run sustainable businesses. The average lifespan of an agency in the UK has dropped to just 4 years.
I suggest the D&AD becomes a nationwide network of support for its members. Also moving to an online showcase of work (rather than a printed annual).
From a recent blog post I wrote after reading the D&AD supplement that came with the latest Creative Review:
For a long time I’ve been quietly critical of D&AD’s education stance. Not that it hasn’t had one, but that it is overshadowed by its other activities to the extent it felt like a platitude. Further, it seemed that the opportunities that were available for students and their courses tended to be London centric and concentrated on those institutions with big reputations and long histories. Having a stand at the graduate New Blood exhibition several years ago was a daunting experience for lowly Suffolk students, not to mention expensive. They didn’t get a single look of interest in the two years in attendance and this wasn’t because of the quality of the work or their talent. But when faced with big guns like Ravonsbourne, Kingston et al, who seem to have unlimited resources to throw at their stand and a reputation that means industry creatives seek them out first and ignore the rest, it tends to leave a bitter taste. Initially I put this down to my own cynicism, until I heard other lecturers from regional colleges and Universities say similar things. And then they stopped running the XChange conference, where inspirational speakers addressed design lecturers in a fantastic networking opportunity. All this when the D&AD website proudly claimed ‘For Education’ next to it’s logo on their website. It is not surprising that D&AD’s University Network numbers appear to have dropped in the last couple of years, if comparing the amount of stands at New Blood 4 years ago and the Universities listed on their website is anything to go by.
The remainder of the article can be read here:
A Foundation offering genuine and practical support for design students (particularly financial support) would in my opinion be a real reason for joining D&AD. A grand idea. I have no respect for their whole awards bit which has always looked drunk, bloated and silly.
There are other organisations claiming to champion design education. Few (if any?) are offering that support which would most enable any student secure the best creative education. Namely financial support.
Likewise I doubt that the Creative Services Industry truly recognises the future impact on their own businesses of not practically supporting creative education. Compare them with a Theatre Industry that has a far more acute sense of what happens when its own talent pool runs dry and new audiences don't turn up and you will understand that creating a D&AD Foundation would be a sound financial investment.
I’ve written a little suggestion over on my blog, about supporting young designers with mentors. I suggested that D&AD is ideally placed to jump start this, for example by providing a website which connects young designers with established designers on a national scale.
Please take a look at the full post here:
I think bloated is perhaps an accurate word. I found this article interesting and the comments sparked my interest in actually finding out what D&AD was all about, what it even stood for and how it even differed from other design communities like eye mag, creative review and AIGA.
After filtering through a lot of inspirational wordy text, confusing UI, swirly eye candy and over-indulgent appraisal - I did not find and concrete answers.
The sad thing is, I follow D&AD on twitter, have commented on a lot of their videos and even gained feedback - but as the internet, twitter and design goes, to me it was always just another blurby award churning web design bubble.
On another note, as an Irish deisgner in a very small but close circle of design studios here and not to mention OFFSET, I've never felt D&AD's presence as an international society penetrating us here, and from reading the comments am I right in saying D&AD is more concerned with the interests of the UK and their students? I actually don't know!
I wish Mr. Brody the best of luck in figuring out this confusion.
until the awards themselves are more open, generous and interesting, d&ad will always be mumbling (monotonously) to itself.
I think the fact that there are so few comments is quite a scathing assessment on the D&AD by students. Many of whom are very vocal on this blog.
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