Is ground-breaking the right word? – CR Readers’ Panel

This year D&AD awarded Black Pencils to four projects, but
do all of them live up to the organisation’s exacting criteria?

This year’s D&AD Awards saw four projects receive the coveted Black Pencil and 42 win a Yellow. Winning the top award were Diller, Scofido + Renfro for the High Line park in New York; Sapient Nitro for The Best Job in the World campaign for Tourism Queenland; TBWAHuntLascaris for the Trillion Dollar campaign for The Zimbabwean newspaper; and Apple for its website, For our fourth Readers’ Panel we invited Graham Watson, an art director and designer at BMB Creative; Danielle Matthews, creative director of Studio this&that; and Marcus Iles, creative director of Golley Slater, to talk over the results.

Of the projects awarded this year, which did you think deserved the attention?

GW: The High Line is lovely. Using design to regenerate an area is an issue I think D&AD needs to focus on more. They need to look at more truly innovative pieces like this.

MI: Awarding the High Line is celebrating creativity in the physical space, showing people what can happen to an area of a city; the impact and statement it can make. It makes you look at the open spaces around you and question what we can all do. If it’s done that, to make people think about the best use of space, then it’s succeeded.

DM: It’s also great to see an architectural project winning, something that isn’t a print job at least.

Were you already aware of the work that picked up the Black and Yellow Pencils?

GW: The people I spoke to had no recollection of maybe 95% of the work on the awards list, except for the Apple site. It’s interesting to see how many of this year’s awards went to agencies abroad. That’s fine, but it brings into question whether it’s just a chance for D&AD to increase its revenue stream, as opposed to awarding the very best in creativity across the board. Tapping into new markets is good PR.

MI: But it’s about balance. I’d disagree in that you can’t expect too many people to stop and wonder about the High Line project, but if you bring it to their attention, they’ll see how beautiful it is. It becomes far less of an elite ‘you-have-to-understand-design’ thing. So with that and The Best Job in the World, I felt the winning work was actually more approachable. The international issue is something Cannes has seen for years. But the smaller agencies abroad are tending to think more creatively and with a bit more flair than we are.

Many of the Pencils are for campaigns that have lots of elements and integrated ideas. Do you think D&AD is keeping pace with the way the industry is moving?

MI: D&AD’s heritage is in craft and execution and the thinking for The Best Job in the World campaign is very much based around ‘an idea’, which happens to be implemented through PR, social media, and TV. It’s clever of D&AD to be stretching into that, but it does make it difficult to maintain the craft and execution benchmark that it’s known for. But then they balance that out with awarding the Apple website which, I suppose, is a perfectly crafted site….

The Apple site also won a Black Pencil, which means it’s considered ‘groundbreaking’ work. Is it though?

GW: I don’t think it’s changed since 2007, other than the style of the tabs and the width of it?

DM: But as visual people, we’re looking at it in a visual way. I spoke to a developer we use and he explained that the background work they’re doing with the site is massive.

But the award has surprised a lot of people, particularly if you think of all the web work that’s around at the moment.

GW: It’s the 2010 awards, so something ‘groundbreaking’ must have happened to that website in the last year. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Apple site’s been changed in any radical way. People reference it as a benchmark in design – ‘make my site Apple-esque’ etc – and it’s clean and usable. But whether it was ‘groundbreaking’ within the last 12 months?

DM: They may have not ‘entered’ it into D&AD in the last seven years.

MI: The difficulty here though, is that you fall in love with the ‘brand’.

But the judges at D&AD shouldn’t be under that spell, of course?

DM: A blog I read asked, ‘would the site have won so much praise if it was selling Dell products?’ Someone else commented that ‘a car showroom shouldn’t win a gold just for stocking Aston Martins’. But Apple has been brave with the homepage, in only ever featuring one product, like the iPad.
MI: Yes, with a three-line header; that is brave. But then there are plenty of sites that are doing a similar ‘brand’ job in a more groundbreaking way. The timing issue is something to pick up on. If the Apple site is three years old, then why award it now?

GW: Yes, the BBC homepage, where you can create your own content, that feels like a groundbreaking piece of work, especially coming from a public body. I think it brings into question about it being a paid entry scheme. Can that really showcase the very best? There are plenty of agencies around who just can’t afford to enter.

DM: And some studios have a policy that they won’t ever enter awards.

What did you think of the Trillion Dollar campaign for The Zimbabwean?

MI: What’s nice about the job is that it has a product to sell: the newspaper. We all get excited about it because it’s ‘creativity in a political space’, we all know it can be that hard-hitting. But it was a job to sell a newspaper and so it’s successful for both reasons. Though it’s difficult to work out which bit of it your heart goes towards as a judge.

More generally, what is it that award institutions offer the creative industry?

MI: The staff at my agency would feel they up our game. Culturally, we’re in danger of languishing, we know we can be creative, but it can be hard convincing our clients that creativity matters. I think awards like D&AD are a pivotal way in which to do that.

DM: Marcus is right in that we need them, but I’m unsure, the risk is that they come across as creatives creating for creatives. There’s not enough client-side judging, for example. There’s a challenge of measurability with that, so it is a tough one, but I think it certainly needs looking at.

But actually, these days there are few areas of creativity that can’t be measured in some form. And clients certainly aren’t buying the things they can’t measure. But then D&AD doesn’t talk about measurement; while other awards institutions do.

GW: And in the current climate that issue is absolutely paramount.

MI: Yes, and the fact is, creativity can change clients’ businesses. Especially at the moment. So it’s about educating them, making them aware that they’re buying something that, ultimately, will help their business. It’s a cultural issue as I think we sometimes see creativity as ‘playing’; but we need to recognise that it’s more of a collaboration.

GW: Also, at the moment, major campaigns are being broken up, as opposed to one agency holding onto everything. Tribal in New York, for example, were pitching for the VW account, but lost out because VW decided to break up the work around a few agencies. So it’s become harder to ensure recognition for all the individual parts of a campaign.

What do each of you look to D&AD for?

DM: It’s great for highlighting trends and also for educating your clients. You can build case studies with some of the awards, to help clients visualise something you’re thinking of for them.

MI: If Black Pencils were always executionally-led ideas, then it would be easier to do that. But what I love about The Best Job work is the challenge of ‘what can I create with a client that’s like that?’ That’s why we need the awards. You can say that trends are there, but a Black Pencil for The Best Job campaign breaks any trend in itself. The work is brutally simplistic.

GW: Yes, everyone wanted to get in on its user-generated content, the PR opportunities were endless, and every TV newsreader is going to want it as an end story to a depressing day.

DM: It topped the Black Pencils list for me, without a doubt.

The D&AD Annual now also competes with blogs and websites showing new work. Should they worry about that?

MI: Even though I blog, if you go to clients saying ‘look at this job I did for you, it’s been blogged about’, versus ‘look, it’s got a Black Pencil’ – I need that benchmark. We all need a level of aspiration and a credible body behind it, one with history.

To sum up, are there any other things you think D&AD should be doing?

DM: ‘We’ shouldn’t be their target audience: it should be industry.

MI: Yes, they need to talk to people who form policy as well as opinion, to the 95% of businesses who are small or medium-sized. Ultimately, I think they have to be more open: they need to go out and find people instead of saying ‘come and find us’.


Graham Watson is an art director and designer at BMB Creative in Luton.

Danielle Matthews is creative director at Studio this&that in London.

Marcus Iles is creative director at Golley Slater, London.

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