The Beautiful Meme’s identity for D&AD Festival

D&AD Festival is taking place at London’s Truman Brewery this week, with talks, exhibitions and workshops alongside judging for this year’s awards. Design studio The Beautiful Meme created the graphics and way finding for the event – and say their designs aim to provoke a debate around the importance of creativity

D&AD Festival opened yesterday and runs until Friday. The three-day line-up includes an exhibition of pencil-winning professional work, Next Director, Next Photographer and New Blood Awards showcases plus talks, workshops and studio tours. (Speakers include Paul Smith, Annie Atkins and Wayne Hemingway).

The Beautiful Meme created the identity for this year’s event, including environmental graphics and way finding, and have produced around 100 pieces of creative. Typographic artwork features a mix of jokes, poems and phrases which reflect on creative work, industry awards and the importance of creativity – some are quite abstract and others more light-hearted, from “Awards are newborn stars forming sudden constellations” to “Whenever you begin to doubt the brilliance of humanity just look around and ask, ‘could dolphins have done this?'”

Ben Haworth and Tom Sharp, creative directors at The Beautiful Meme, say the work aims to provoke debate around creativity while representing the variety of voices and discussions that can be heard at creative festivals and awards judging.

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“All those voices are going to have a different opinion about why creativity matters or what creativity is, or what even good is, and what we didn’t want to do was create a very single-toned campaign,” says Sharp. “We wanted to represent all the different ways you could talk about creativity.”

Sharp says the studio also wanted to reflect the diversity of the festival’s audience, which will range from new graduates and professionals at the start of their career to creatives with decades of experience who might be a little more critical.

With the festival taking place in a vast venue, Haworth says he was keen to avoid using the same creative on repeat. Instead, graphics are arranged in various combinations and at different sizes around the space. “Even if you wrote six of the most amazing lines ever, [people] are going to get bored of them walking around that space. It’s so cavernous,” he adds.

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The awards entry campaign preceding the festival was based around the phrase “Nothing Matters More” – presenting the idea that nothing matters more than creativity and that there is no more important accolade than a pencil. The Beautiful Meme’s graphics both explore and challenge this idea: there’s a poem which champions creativity and lines highlighting the importance of creative education (“If we stop teaching creativity to young people the robots will win,” says one), but any seriousness is undercut by jokes about monkeys and coding. One line poking gentle fun at the notion there is nothing more important than creativity reads: “If everybody in the world was a filmmaker or a designer or a writer or a coder or an artist or a maker there wouldn’t be any war. Until the food ran out.”

From my perspective, in terms of the words, I think people can be very po-faced about creativity. I think we can sanctify it a bit too much,” says Sharp. “It’s not that we don’t take creativity really seriously – we do – but I think you need to have a lighter touch and be open and honest about it…. The idea that nothing matters more than creativity, than a pencil, that’s quite navel gazing isn’t it? We’re not putting forward a point of view, we’re just saying it’s a really interesting debate – the idea of why creativity matters,” he adds.

The studio used a single typeface (Franklin) for the identity but this has been stretched, distorted and arranged in various ways. The end result is a range of visual styles to match the various voices which come through in copy. 

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“Some of it I’d be wincing at if I saw it as a single piece and I think that’s the really interesting thing about this. Some have more merit as individual pieces … there are some type executions that are really formal, [like poems arranged in stanzas] and then you’ve got ones where the typeface is virtually unrecognisable, but again, I think that’s what makes it interesting. I think it will antagonise certain people … and I think it’s reflective of a lot of our work,” says Haworth.

“We look at a lot of Dada and pop and grunge, and we do type experiments every week as a personal thing … so I think it was just a natural progression of that really,” he continues. “It was also creating something you can change and keep adding to. This has been redesigned so many times and if we had another six weeks, 50% of it would probably have been designed again.”

The Beautiful Meme also created graphics without text made up of stock pictures from festival sponsor Shutterstock and winning projects from previous years. The disparate artwork is united by a pencil silhouette which also provides a nod to the judging taking place at the festival.

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“We didn’t have to take on imagery, but we were told that Shutterstock was going to be a sponsor and that if we wanted to access their archive we could,” explains Haworth. “Stock photography gets a bad rep and sometimes, rightly so, but we spent a couple of days one weekend just going through it and we started to find some really interesting and beautiful stuff – [for example] where someone had stumbled upon an amazing digital artwork or a great technique in Photoshop,” he adds.

Way finding has been kept simple, with black text on a white background and more pencil silhouettes.  “When you’re coming up with something like this you’ve got to make sure you’re not just creating a gallery of TBM’s identity. There is going to be a hell of a lot of work in there so once you get to the way finding stage, it’s about saying, ‘let’s be a bit more subtle’,” explains Haworth.

When creating copy, Sharp and Haworth say the aim was to create a mix of long and short form copy and both serious and more irreverent lines. “I’m looking on an aesthetic level as well as what the content is, looking for a balance of short punchy lines and long copy …. but that has to come second or third to making sure we’ve got that mix of content – five or six [phrases] that are funny, five or six that are about higher education,” says Haworth.

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“Things never got rejected because we couldn’t make them work visually I don’t think, because the copy has to come first to some extent,” adds Sharp.

Haworth and Sharp worked closely together throughout the project and Sharp says the pair act as “each other’s editors”. Haworth describes this process – an art director and copywriter working in tandem – as unusual, but an integral part of the way the studio works.

“Often, you’ll have designers who bring in copywriters they trust and they’ll come in and do a few lines, but I think having that back and forth throughout the creative process is quite rare,” he says.

“Copy is so embedded in what we do, it’s never an afterthought. We think in terms of words as much as think in terms of visuals,” adds Sharp.

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D&AD Festival runs until Friday April 22. For details, and to see the full line-up of events, see dandad.org

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