Bruce Duckworth wants to put the Design back into D&AD

As D&AD’s new President, the Turner Duckworth co-founder explains why reconnecting with the design community is top of his agenda

Our business at Turner Duckworth has been built on the simple principle that the kind of work that wins awards also wins customers for our clients, and builds their brands. But over the years I’ve sometimes questioned that. And wondered if it was true. It was always easy to see that creative excellence was good for our business, attracting clients, and creative talent. But was it good for our clients’ business? If I can be honest I was sometimes slightly unsure. But not anymore. It’s very clear to me that, in the age we live in, the work that wins awards is also the work that works.

Bruce Duckworth
D&AD President, Bruce Duckworth

As proof of this we have a client, running one of the biggest brands in the world, whose ambition it is to win a D&AD black pencil. He’s not a designer, he’s a marketer, and a very smart one. And he wants to win a black pencil because he knows that the kind of work that wins a black pencil – ground-breaking, thought-provoking, brilliant – is exactly the kind of work that wins the one thing that every marketer is finding it so hard to get – people’s attention. He knows that in an age of declining attention spans and infinite distractions it’s creative excellence that will turn people’s heads and hold their imagination. And that in an age which rejects the anti-social, the interruption, and the sell, it’s creative excellence that will get things liked, and shared, and taken into people’s lives. And he knows that, as a result, it’s creative excellence – rather than deep pockets – that will make a brand famous today.

And this makes it a great time to be in the creative industries, and to be doing what we do. Because there really is no opportunity, no future, for the badly-put-together, the glitchy, the unattractive, and the forgettable –– people can make this stuff, but it just doesn’t get very far –– and money can’t help in the way that it used to. And this is great news for all of us who rally against the shoddy and the mediocre.

It’s also a time when the lines that used to define the communities of our industry are blurring, and disappearing. As agencies react to a broad and borderless definition of media by changing the shape of their businesses, by challenging the conventions surrounding what media can be – and by embracing collaboration. And we’re seeing the most creative work come out of collaborations. As film makers get together with lettering artists, and spatial designers get together with UX designers – and when all of these people get together with activists, sculptors, biochemists, and so on. That’s where the magic is.

And it’s a great time for design. I would say this, as a designer. But it’s hard to think of a modern brand or business that is doing well and isn’t putting design at the centre of what they do. In part because there is a realisation that design is what brands are famous for – that when people think of brands they think of design. And of course there is huge power in that. And in part because there is a realisation that design is inherently social, and does useful and empathetic and likeable and attractive better than anything. And that, as a result of all this, design has a way of getting everywhere – and of course design opportunities are everywhere.

And all this makes D&AD more relevant than ever. As a champion of creative excellence. As a champion of collaboration. And as a champion of design. D&AD was, after all, started by designers back in 1962. But the relationship between D&AD and the design community has weakened. I think there are a lot of designers who feel that D&AD isn’t for them, and who find it hard to justify the cost of entries – despite a genuine belief in the purity and prestige of a D&AD pencil. So a priority for me this year is to get the design community involved in D&AD, and in all the things we have going on.

D&AD New Blood Awards 2016
D&AD New Blood Awards 2016

And there is so much going on. D&AD is a very different organisation even to the D&AD of six years ago. It has changed hugely, and is constantly changing, as the creative industry changes. The D&AD Impact awards – new this year – are opening D&AD up to organisations of every kind, and celebrating the power of creativity to do good. New Blood is now a global programme, getting students excited about the professional world and the professional world excited about them. The new D&AD Shift programme – bringing creative people from diverse backgrounds into the industry – has been a great success and will be rolled out next year. And of course the D&AD Festival will be back again in the summer. Three days of immersion in creative excellence. This year we had 26,000 pieces of work, and 150 speakers across four stages. And all sorts of invaluable behind-the-scenes stuff – tours, workshops, screenings, the work that didn’t make it and why – and just this fantastic art-school atmosphere. And it was full of all the things designers love – printmaking, films, industrial design, I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that-ideas – we need to get the design community there. And of course we have the 2017 president’s lectures. Kicking off with Simon Mottram, the founder of Rapha.

We’ll also be putting in place a programme of professional development training to help creative people of all kinds, but particularly designers, become better business people. To help them take creative excellence to businesses at the highest level. To help them get work through, and out there. And to help them stay in control, and lead business through creativity – not accountancy. To help small brilliant companies become bigger brilliant companies.

There’s also a real opportunity to make D&AD a hub. For creative people of all kinds. One of the things I love about D&AD – judging, the festival – are the conversations I have with people from other disciplines, people with different ways of seeing things. I find it energising and inspiring. So we have to get the different communities within D&AD talking, and sharing ideas. Embracing the “&” in D&AD. And this will be a thread that runs through all the things we have planned for 2017.

D&AD Shift exhibition
D&AD Shift exhibition

And of course D&AD does all this – the festival, the workshops, the lectures, New Blood, Shift, the training programmes – because it has a purpose: a commitment to the future of the creative industries, and to creative excellence. And it is in a position to do this because – uniquely in the awards world – it’s a charity. All the money made is given back into education, in its broadest sense. So it’s not just a good thing to get involved with, it’s a good thing full stop.

So if you’re not involved, or you haven’t been involved for a while, get involved. Enter the awards, give everyone the week off for the festival, come along to the workshops, book tickets for the President’s lectures. It can only be good for the only thing that matters – the work.

Bruce Duckworth is the joint Chief Creative Officer and Chief Executive Officer of design consultancy Turner Duckworth and is D&AD‘s newly appointed President

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