The shortlist where nobody wins

Over the last few days, jubilant creatives have been celebrating the news that their work has been shortlisted at D&AD. So why are many of them now retracting their joyous tweets and, in some cases, apologising to clients?

Image: Big Active

Over the last few days, jubilant creatives have been celebrating the news that their work has been shortlisted at D&AD. So why are many of them now retracting their joyous tweets and, in some cases, apologising to clients?

Since last week, D&AD has been releasing the details online of the hundreds of projects that have been selected for In Book inclusion, those Nominated for a pencil, and, under another heading, work that has been Shortlisted. It is this final category that is causing particular confusion.

Yesterday afternoon, one well-known UK design studio tweeted their delight that one of their projects for an international brand had been “shortlisted” at D&AD. By this morning, the tweet had disappeared, as had the one retweet CR recalled seeing.

Many more creatives turned to Twitter to voice their concerns over the confusion that the use of this non-category has generated, and a short statement was added in bold to the newly-published lists of the In Book and Nominated work on D&AD’s website.

“The shortlist is all the work that survived the first round but was not awarded,” it read. This was also the sole response to tweeter, @onlyben, when he asked the organisation what exactly was going on. In another exchange @Visuelleuk tweeted, “It could be a pencil. Bloody confusing though isn’t it with ‘nominated’, ‘in-book’ & ‘shortlisted’.”

Well, yes. To the outsider, even the regular awards categorisation is challenging. The Nominated work can win a pencil and appears in the book; the In Book work, while in the book, cannot be nominated for a pencil. Bringing in a Shortlisted category, for work that isn’t going any further than first round voting, only adds to the nomenclature party.

Another prominent UK-based designer told CR that he has had numerous exchanges with studios that, on seeing their project in the Shortlisted category online, assumed this meant it was in the running for an award and duly passed on the good news to the relevant client.

“I emailed a client to say ‘hey look, well done’ and then yesterday had to write a retraction email,” he said. “Luckily I didn’t fire off ten, otherwise that could have been really sticky. [The] problem seems to be rooted in the fact that ‘shortlist’ sounds better than ‘In Book’.”

That’s true yet, as everyone knows, a shortlist is a narrow group of things; the best of what’s been whittled down from a longlist. It shouldn’t be a retroactively named list of also-rans. But, perhaps, for D&AD it’s another level of recognition to be celebrated? Another chance for the work that nearly made it to garner some praise?

But a quick Google later and The Other Media’s triumphant post on their ‘success’ in the Digital Design category is all too sad to see. You can read the post here. It’s sad because according to the D&AD list online, they don’t actually stand to win anything. They’ve only been “shortlisted” along with 16 others.

“Maybe D&AD were aiming for more transparency,” our anonymous designer continued, “the details of what gets in or what just misses the cut are forever shrouded in controversy. Trouble is [I’m] not sure this has helped. Perhaps they are trying to boost numbers by adding this extra layer. It seems to be embarrassing all round – various people will have got excited to be shortlisted only to find out that hasn’t happened.”

Furthermore, by issuing the details of the work that was considered for the coveted In Book and Nominated positions, entrants can now see exactly how far their work got in that process but still won’t know what stopped it going the extra oh-so-important mile. Equally, those studios and agencies who resort to tactical blanket bombing of the awards sections now have their efforts on show for all to see.

Rather than offering transparency, the designer CR spoke to implied that most of his studio were actually now even more wary of the judging process. That can never be something D&AD would want.

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