So, how was D&AD this year? Any good?

After last year’s dismal results for graphic design at D&AD, the 2009 awards boasts 120 graphic design projects In Book, four silvers and one gold. So, has the organisation successfully re-engaged with the design community? We ask our panel…

These were up for grabs last Thursday night – Matt Dent got one of each colour for his UK coin designs. Photo from D&AD’s Flickr set by Noah da Costa

After last year’s dismal results for graphic design at D&AD (no pencils, only two nominated pieces of work from 39 in the annual), the 2009 awards boasts 120 graphic design projects In Book, four silvers and one gold. So, has the organisation successfully re-engaged with the design community? What about the advertising work this year? Is it a true picture of what is exciting in the industry right now? We ask our panel…

To reflect on D&AD 2009, we asked Ben Terrett, designer at the Really Interesting Group (and blogger at Noisy Decent Graphics); Craig Oldham of Manchester-based studio Music; and Daniel Bonner of agency AKQA about what they thought of this year’s winning work.

Creative Review: What did you think of the standard of work this year?
Ben Terrett: It’s good. I think that, generally, D&AD doesn’t let bad work get through. I’d rather it was hard to get in. I love Matt Dent‘s coins for the Royal Mint. As a disclaimer, I do know him a little bit, but I think that to do something that is witty, funny and attractive with a set of coins is great. You can see your granddad playing with them at the bar, kids grabbing them from your wallet, matching them up – it’s good to cross those age groups. It’s beyond just being about a ‘design’ and ticks D&AD’s boxes of not having been done before.
Craig Oldham: The best thing I heard about them was that the coins were causing the recession because everyone was keeping them to try and get the whole set!

 

Black Pencil in Graphic Design (Applied Print Graphics): UK coins by Matt Dent, for Royal Mail

CR: And Dent isn’t such a well know name – so it’s good that they haven’t just awarded the usual suspects here?
Daniel Bonner: It’s the story they wanted – while, of course, it’s recognising creativity, it also shows that D&AD dug deep to find it. It’s an iconic, almost a dream project but one of those that can go very wrong. I guess it was a bit of a sell, as it has an element of irreverence, a sense of fun which you wouldn’t ordinarily think as being part of such a formal design challenge. It’s just a great story and one that recognises creativity no matter where it comes from. 

CR: Last year the judges stated that the quality of graphic design work entered was low, therefore there were hardly any awards in that section. Do you think D&AD has addressed the problem in getting designers to enter? There will be about 120 graphic design projects in the new annual after all….
BT: I think they made it a lot cheaper to enter graphic design work – down from £120 to £95. And they contacted lots of designers to encourage more of them to enter their work.
DB: The judges are of course exposed to stuff all the time. A high proportion of work will fast track through the judging – because people know it’s good. Rather than thinking that maybe the judges got it wrong last time, maybe things just weren’t up to standard. There was talk last year about the digital work not being as good – has the UK lost its ‘digital edge’?! We lost it overnight! Maybe we actually haven’t – maybe some better pieces got in and won. Sometimes you don’t win – its easy to be negative, especially in our industry. If they maintain their attitude of it’s tough to win a D&AD award, people will always want to win one.

Yellow Pencil in Press Advertising: Bristol Store Opening (one of series) by DDB London, for Harvey Nichols (UK)

CR: In the advertising sections, there are only a few UK winners. Why do you think that’s the case?
DB: Yes, their big focus has been on ‘global’ and they’ve maybe done a better job of attracting non-UK entrants. I know they’ve had road shows, spreading the net wide, and that’s worked. Look at the countries: out of 54 winners, 12 or 13 are from the UK – but there’s Croatia, Germany, Portugal, which is great. If you’re in the UK you know that winning a pencil is the big thing.

Yellow Pencil in Art Direction (Press Advertising): Paparazzi (one of series) by CLM BBDO, for Alka Seltzer (France)

CR: Last year there were some big winning projects – Cadbury’s Gorilla, the iPhone, the National Gallery campaign. Were there some surprises in 2009? Does D&AD still manage to flag up projects that might otherwise go under the radar?
DB: Yes, looking through these winners there’s so much stuff that I haven’t seen, which is a great thing. D&AD should be scratching right beneath the surface, unearthing people, companies, great work, like Matt Dent’s project. There’s an integrated campaign here from South Africa and that’s the kind of thing I want to see. Part of this is to inspire future creativity. But only two integrated campaigns won – OK so it’s a new category but given that people consume so much these days in an ‘integrated’ fashion, I’m surprised there aren’t more. Maybe they weren’t up to standard. That’s fine – it’s still bringing fresh work in. D&AD is about championing creativity, so if you haven’t heard of half these projects then that’s great.

 

Black Pencil in Environmental Design (Installations): Kinetic sculpture by Art+Com, for BMW (Germany)

CR: What did you think of the Art+Com BMW Kinetic sculpture that won a Black Pencil in the Environ mental Design category?
CO: I’d not seen it before and thought it was amazing. It’s beautiful.
BT: We’ve seen stuff like it done before, but I think it was just better than all the others. I’d love to see it in the flesh, it would be pretty stunning.

 

Black Pencil in Integrated (Integrated): Million campaign by Droga5, for the New York City Department of Education (US). Check out the film about the project by clicking on “case studies” at the Droga5 site, here

CR: The Million campaign, where kids from New York schools were given phones and airtime as a reward for completing homework, won a Black Pencil in Integrated for Droga5. What did you think of that?
DB: There’s two things I’d say about it – one, I hope that the award ends up on the client Verizon’s desk. The idea is to give away a million pieces of product? Those ideas happen, but rarely come to fruition. It’s a ballsy move by the client. Like the Royal Mint project – the stuff that gets people excited is when something influences culture. The Million idea is not necessarily about results, but more the influence on kids, on how they can learn more. So it has more of an emotional connection and is clearly not just about marketing a product but about something that is part of your life. Culturally influential work is, once again, what D&AD should be talking about. 
BT: Yes, and that project looks bang on the money for the audience: free minutes for the kids, they get Puff Daddy to give them a ring tone, if they do their homework. It’s spot on and looks great as well.

Black Pencil in Viral (Writing): The Great Schlep campaign film by Droga5, for the Jewish Council of Education & Resarch (US)

CR: The other advertising project that won a Black Pencil was The Great Schlep spot for the Obama election campaign, also by Droga5. What did you think? Again it’s a social awareness campaign, this time for voting in the US election.
DB: If we’re supposed to be talking about the most excellent work, the Black Pencil, the untouchable work, then I’ve seen funnier stuff in a political campaign. I can see how it would have resonated much more in the US, maybe there was a US-heavy jury? In terms of originality I don’t think there’s much there that I haven’t seen before. Is it about its creativity or whether it’s effective?
BT: It seems like something you’d see on the Daily Show, pretty standard American comedy. Funny – but is it untouchable? The whole Great Schlep campaign was quite interesting; there was a website getting people to get their grandparents to vote. But it’s won for writing though, not the integrated nature of the campaign, and that’s where it feels a bit odd.

CR: What about the other projects that received a Pencil. Any stand out?
BT: I was really pleased to see Troika‘s kinetic Cloud sculpture for the BA lounge [in Heathrow’s Terminal 5] get an award.
CO: It’s simple but such a good project.
BT: I think it’s very cool but, actually, it makes you realise why the BMW one is better. There’s a lot of physical/ digital stuff around at the moment.

Yellow Pencil in Digital Installations (Digital Installation): Cloud sculpture by Troika, for British Airways (UK)

DB: Yes, it’s part of the trend where art is crossing into design and technology to make something you haven’t seen before, in conjunction with a brand. But I do think the Cloud could have been anywhere, despite being really mesmerising. The BMW piece has something about the kinetics of the car, the dynamics of being the ultimate driving machine, it feels a little tighter. But, nonetheless, it’s interesting to see how art is working with brands in this way. I wonder if it will become more of a trend? You see it and think ‘how did they do that’? You can’t see the arms beyond the stage working the machine, if you like.
CO: That’s why Gorilla was so successful last year – it wasn’t this gorilla representing chocolate, it was ‘this gorilla is brought to you by Cadbury’s’. In the same way, this is something beautiful to look at that you associate with the brand. 
DB: I think it should create debate – there’s no right or wrong answer. As with Gorilla, people either liked it or hated it; there’s no muddy area where it’s kind of OK. You want people to get angry about whether things should win or not. It forces people to ask ‘why?’ In the creative world, it’s a good thing to force these opinions.

Yellow Pencil in Graphic Design (Integrated Graphics): Coca-Cola identity by Turner Duckworth London & San Francisco, for Coca-Cola (UK)

BT: I was also really drawn to the Coke work by Turner Duckworth actually. It’s great because its just a good sensible project, not that flashy, no frills. The Coke cans were such a mess – you know, ‘win a Barbie Hoover’ written on the side. They’ve just simplified them back down to how they were – a classic identity made good again. When you do something like that people say it’s boring but it harks back to the heritage in a good way. That’s a big unwieldy brand.
CO: I agree, it’s an amazing project – but in terms of the D&AD’s standards, is it a new thing, would you say? It’s integrated, so it’s good because the one simple idea goes through everything.
BT: I think it’s new because it’s a massive brand with loads of common sense. Which you don’t often see.
CO: The approach is new?
BT: To pull it off is new. To get something like that out of a project is really hard.
DB: I wonder if D&AD should consider awarding a brand, for ‘creative bravery’ or something? The reason why a lot of this stuff sings, is that someone somewhere, be it a marketing director or whoever, has been brave enough to say, ‘let’s do it’. Verizon, Coca-Cola – should D&AD not celebrate the brands who have been involved in the creativity? It’s good if brands are recognised for this, not just for being clients. And if you could involve clients in some way it might inspire others to be a bit more creative, if they get recognised for it.

CR: What do you think of awards shows generally? Are they still relevant? Does D&AD still have the same stature it once commanded?
BT: Yes, I think so and especially in the UK. I was talking to some art director friends recently and they felt that Cannes was better for them, but only just. I think for graphic designers D&AD is still the one to win. That’s the good thing about it being really hard, that you know it’s worth something. If you have friends that work for banks or something and you mention that your industry awards has whole categories where they don’t even give any awards out, they think you’re insane. So yes, they’re still really important.
DB: Without a doubt everyone still wants to win at D&AD, as hard as it is. The pencil’s the thing to have. There was the debate recently as to why UK agencies weren’t winning as many international awards. But you have to pick the fights you can win as well. And awards shows need to keep on revisiting their categorisation, to give people the best opportunity to win, but understand that it’s difficult to win. It should be about unearthing ‘unobvious’ creativity that’s spread far and wide and they seem to have done a decent job of doing that this year from what we’ve seen.

CR: How about the ways in which D&AD work with students? From your experience of working them, do they feel student awards are important?
CO: The student awards are still so popular. It’s almost like a stepping stones process where the drive to win at the student awards moves them on, then there’s a shift in scale to the professional ones.
DB: Our hit rate of taking graduates who’ve gone through the D&AD system is high: they’re generally better, of a higher standard. If they’ve been in the education programmes, won an award – that’s how we often pick them up. Most of them are still with us. The student awards have a lot of brand equity and set a creative standard.
CO: Professionally it keeps you on your toes as well! It’s healthy for both sides.


Yellow Pencil in Music Video: House of Cards video by James Frost, Zoo Productions, for Radiohead (US) 

CR: Any further observations you can make from this year’s crop?
DB: I think there’s something interesting going on in terms of how technology has changed the face of creativity – you see it in work from music videos, to projects using social media. Implicitly it’s being recognised but should we expect more? It’s disappointing that the film that won the Black Pencil [The Great Schlep] doesn’t change my opinion of the medium, or make me wonder how they did it as I did with the Radiohead House of Cards video [which picked up a Yellow Pencil for director, James Frost], or the BMW work, or the sheer scale of the Million project using technology to influence kids’ lives. There’s some innovative work that isn’t here but you can’t argue with the Radiohead film. I haven’t seen it before, it surprises me, delights me, makes me think ‘what’s going on there?’ Which, after all, is a good thing to be thinking when you see some creative work.

An edited version of this article will appear in the forthcoming July issue of CR.

For the full list of winning work from this year’s D&AD awards, and a chance to view each project, visit the website at awards.dandad.org/2009/. Interviews with a selection of the winners will be viewable at the D&AD blog, at dandad.typepad.com/.

The D&AD Annual 2009 will be published in September, designed by Peter Saville.

 

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