The cover of D&AD50, designed by Planning Unit, features a clear dust jacket printed with the numerals 10 to 50
As part of its 50th birthday celebrations, D&AD has put together a history of its half century as told by its presidents. Together, they remember the good, the bad, the arguments and the annuals. And a few take the opportunity to grind some axes too…
Cover without the dust jacket
Each year D&AD appoints a significant figure from the creative industry to act as a figurehead for the organisation. In the past, the task alternated between a designer and someone from advertising but in recent years ‘digital’ has provided a third constituency for representation. The full list of 50 past presidents (only two of them women, by the way) consists of many of the great and the good in the creative world. For its 50th birthday book, D&AD invited each past president to recall their year in charge and the work chosen for the awards under their stewardship.
It would be fair to say that D&AD has, at times, endured something of a stormy history, particularly when it comes to financial matters. Many older readers will therefore turn first to the chapter dealing with 1992, surely D&AD’s most inclement year, when Tim Delaney was at the helm. Typically, Delaney does not mince his words in remembering this time.
He begins his chapter by recalling the mutinous mutterings of the design community which was threatening a schism (something it has periodically returned to over the years). “They wanted a different Dinner,” Delaney writes. “Design Awards were always less respected by the rowdy crowds at the Awards evening, apparently … Secession was in the air. In our meetings I reminded the rebels that approximately 75 per cent of all of D&AD’s activities were paid for by the advertising community in one way or another, and that if they did, for instance, organise a separate Dinner for the Design Awards, it would most likely take place in a B&B off Praed Street.”
During this process, Delaney reveals, “one of the staff at D&AD divulged the misdeeds that led eventually, via an evenhanded and formal hearing, to the suspension and exit of the executive chairman and the financial director”. The effects of the ensuing crisis were still being felt by the following year’s president, Aziz Cami, who had to endure an investigation by the Charity Commission and go cap in hand to the industry in order to stave off bankruptcy. D&AD was saved by a total of £40,000 in loans from four leading ad agencies (underlining Delaney’s point about the ad industry’s importance to D&AD).
Ths stormclouds of this period did however prove to have something of a silver lining as it was during this time that two figures who would lead the revival in the organisation’s fortunes came to be involved: David Kester, who became a passionate, effective and hugely enthusiastic chief executive, and Anthony Simonds-Gooding, who, as chairman, would prove to be exactly the kind of father figure D&AD needed.
While many most of the advertising presidents confine their comments to the inevitable anomalies of the judging process and their fears that the year of their reign wasn’t a ‘vintage’ one for the awards, as well as picking out creative highlights, quite a few of their design counterparts take the opportunity to loose off a few potshots at both the organisation itself and their erstwhile advertising colleagues. Derek Birdsall (president in 1965) complains about the ‘advertising guys’ taking over and that his ‘kind of work hardly ever got a look in’ while dismissing the awards dinners as ‘pretentious nonsense’. Michael Wolff (1971) bemoans the “torrent of meaningless, unoriginal and superficial work” which drowns the few good pieces in D&AD these days while Mike Dempsey (1997) is concerned that many young designers think D&AD “expensive and irrelevant” today.
My favourite grumpy design contribution has to be that of Rodney Fitch (1984), however. His opening paragraph fulsomely lists the achievements of his own business (“Our work was winning everywhere … Fabulous, clever, talented people at every desk”) before having a dig at D&AD for not giving them any awards, complaining about the Presidents’ Dinner and taking a shot at the design of “later Annuals where, for some egotists, the book design became more important than what was in it”.
Surely though it is the sign of a confident organisation that such criticism is allowed in what is a celebratory book, so good for D&AD in letting it stand. And elsewhere, there is much for D&AD to be proud of, particularly as the presidential narrative shifts from the looming disaster of the early 90s to careful rebuilding under Kester and then on to today’s pre-eminence and global reach.
And there’s some great work in there too. Although any history based on awards entries is by its very nature partial (more so in the case of graphic design than advertising), D&AD50 provides a fascinating overview of the shifting nature of the creative industry and many of the landmark pieces of work produced in the last 50 years.
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