Who Won What and Why
We gathered the thoughts of a panel of leading industry figures on this year's D&AD award winners and the organisation's current status in the creative community
Frazer Jelleyman, creative director at TBWA\London
Philip Hunt, director and creative director, Studio AKA
Mark Blamire, creative director, Blanka
James Cooper, creative director, Dare
How do you feel about D&AD—what does it mean to designers and advertising creatives today, and has this changed over the years?
Frazer Jelleyman: A D&AD Gold [Black Pencil] is the highest accolade you can be awarded.
Philip Hunt: You expect everything on the winners' list to be really good, full stop. You expect something that's won a black pencil to be knock-your-socks-off, exceptionally good. But all these things are subjective aren't they?
Mark Blamire: Personally for me it's always been a career ambition—winning a pencil has been a box I've really wanted to tick. I'd only submit work I'm particularly proud of as otherwise it's a waste of my entrance money—I'd even check out the jury to see that there's a graphic designer on there that would get my style and way of working. Looking through an annual and seeing a bit of work that you feel is below par is a bit painful.
James Cooper: When I was at advertising college in Watford about ten years ago, ploughing through the D&AD annual was very much something we did a lot. We didn't really look at Cannes stuff or Eurobest—D&AD was the one you realised you were striving to win. Ten years ago, every single thing in the book I would have killed to have done—whereas now I'm less inclined to enjoy every single piece of work.
FJ: Do you think though that that's because the work's got worse or that you've got more cynical?
JC: I dunno, to tell you the truth I think maybe it's a bit of both. I don't want to be cynical!
FJ: The way we look at things changes...
PH: I think it's the entrance criteria. I know a number of exceptionally good graphic designers who never enter—almost on point of principle. It's like with Woody Allen and the Oscars. It doesn't mean anything so why should I bother? I agree with James, as a student you kind of use it as a cornerstone to an industry you're coming into—to check out the levels that you hope to rise to. And it is a snapshot—a time capsule of that particular year. As your memory fades of the work of 1992 or whatever, you can look back through the pages of the relevant D&AD book and go, OK, that campaign was done then. I do kind of worry about the work that never gets in because designers and agencies don't enter them. It's quite nice where you have competitions where you're nominated. I'm always incredibly flattered when we're nominated for something without knowing it. And to be honest that kind of recognition by your peers means an awful lot more than the self-promotional type of award-entering activity.
MB: Like the Creative Review's Peer Poll that you used to run. If you're voted into the top three designers by your peers, it's a major achievement.
PH: Absolutely, the main thing is the acknowledgement from your peers that what you're doing is OK.
JC: The Webby awards are a classic example of awards working like that. You get nominated and then, via an internet site, people vote to decide what's the best website.
PH: It's kind of scary—we get excited when Studio AKA work is picked up by blogs or newsgroups and we've had nothing to do with it arriving there. When someone out there on the web writes an amazingly glowing review of your work and it bounces around the web... Of course with that you get the flipside: someone picks up on something you've done and says "what a load of shit". But that actually makes it more exciting. Imagine if at D&AD, your entered work could be nominated for public humiliation. And you get pelted with rotten fruit. I think I'm on to something... The fact is, it's lovely when you win and it shouldn't matter a fig if you don't.
FJ: I think the intention of the D&AD Awards and book has been, still is and probably always will be that it recognises and establishes the benchmark for good work. What's in the book is a record of what's been out in that year that people think is great. What gets a pencil should be exceptional and what gets a black pencil should be super-exceptional...
The two black pencil-winning pieces of work are very different—do you think both pieces are exceptional? If you were on the jury would you have awarded both of these with D&AD Gold?
FJ: You can't get 15 people to decide what they want for dinner, let alone decide which piece of work is going to get the top prize in an award scheme! I have to say I look at the War Orphans work and I wonder to myself, "is that deserving of the highest prize we could give?" But obviously there was a roomful of people who thought it was...
MB: You're always gonna get pieces of work where you think "Wow"—like Trevor Jackson's Soulwax work a couple of years ago where chances are everyone in the room just goes "Yes". And then if we'd all been sat in the room and the War Orphans work was put in front of us, as we've all realised, we'd each say "Well, I'm not sure about this one".
JC: There's a genuine awe factor isn't there when you recognise a great idea executed brilliantly?
FJ: That's right—there shouldn't really be any doubt, when recognising a great piece of work.
PH: I can't even remember what those posters are for. It's not memorable to me.
JC: Exactly, I'm not a typographer but the type didn't look right in the War Orphans work. I just kind of feel that I've seen that kind of illustration used before. It's great—but maybe the jury are trying to recognise work beyond the UK. Although for me, this campaign doesn't really cut it.
PH: James, you used the word "awe". I think that sums it up completely. I have to admit I looked at it and it was the bullet holes that stand out immediately—more than the illustration. I thought that's very strong, very powerful work. What disappointed me is that I didn't immediately follow through and work out who it was for. Perhaps it's because the charity's name isn't as immediate as Red Cross or Save the Children... I thought it was good work but I don't feel the need to rip it out and stick it up on the wall and I think that's really what we want to see from the black pencil winners.
FJ: The question's got to be: Is it the best thing you've seen this year?
PH: It's definitely a powerful piece of work although for me it fails on a few communication issues—the key one being that the impact of the gunshot is very clear, but people might skate over that thinking it's an editorial illustration. The purpose of it is missable.
FJ: I think this debate highlights the importance and weight of the black pencil as an award. It's important enough for us to question whether this piece of work is really good enough. It's such a high accolade to win. If this work hadn't won one, we'd not be talking about it now.
And what about the Nike+ work...
PH: I'm kind of torn... After I waded through the supporting text wondering what the hell they were talking about, I realised that they'd done something really clever. It's the first time it had been done—the marriage of two brands, two products—to make something that a community of people can benefit from and use to make their experience of both better. But you have to work hard to understand it.
JC: I'm not surprised at having to work harder to understand it. These days things are more complex—or they can be. Here we have a piece of work that brings together all these different touchpoints that are all quite simple on their own but together form a complex functionality that has real appeal to the community it's aimed at.
PH: I use iTunes for video more than music, but the Nike+ thing is pretty impressive. Me running in London can communicate, compete even with a runner in New York through this hub...
JC: It's the first time I can think of that D&AD have awarded what essentially is a great business idea, produced in an interesting way, rather than a straight up piece of commercial art or craft. This project isn't about art direction. I guess it's the kind of project that the Titanium award at Cannes would like to recognise.
Do you think that both of these black pencil winners denote a change for D&AD, in the work that they are striving to recognise?
JC: The Nike+ is something for me that I'm in awe of. I would have loved to have worked on that project. It's one of those things where it's more than art direction: it's useful, it's clever, it's cool—all those things together—and it just makes much more sense to take a top award than the other work.
FJ: The landscape of advertising is changing and people are having to find other ways to engage people through a brand—and is that important to recognise at D&AD?
JC: I guess D&AD has traditionally been about recognising the art and craft of marketing and advertising campaigns.
FJ: That's the good thing that D&AD are doing now. I dunno if it's down to Tony (Davidson, this year's D&AD president) as he's always been very switched on to this kind of thing, new directions in brand communication. D&AD has always been very advertising focused. If you look at the list of what's won this year, advertising doesn't have the lion's share, which it certainly used to. So I think it's great it's shifting and embracing other things.
Was there any work on the list of winners you didn't think deserved recognition? Or any work you were surprised not to see there?
MB: There was a book parody thing—the Be Books. It made me smile—I've got a small son so I've been collecting Ladybird books. I thought they're a really nice parody and it made me smile BUT then I thought "Is that original? Should it really be on the list of winners?"
PH: It came across to me like a student project. There's probably been a similar project every year for the last 20 years. But then, there are only the judges in a room, a generation perhaps that hasn't seen this a million times...
FJ: Well, someone will tell you that the Sex Pistols were based on another band... and that nothing's new and all that kind of stuff.
PH: The other irritation of that particular project, for me, being a parent myself, I rail against the tireless sexualisation of everything to do with children. And although there's a fairly tenuous link in there, I just think "leave that alone, that belongs to childhood". It's a bit of a sniggering joke really. That's it—it's clever ha ha and whoever did the illustration caught the look very well, technically it's spot on—but the idea is just a gimmick.
FJ: I'm surprised by Sony Paint not making it. I hope it's in the book somewhere at least. It's not some joke, it's a great ad and you can't really hide from that. If I'd done that ad I'd be screaming from the rooftops!
JC: To be honest it's probably suffered from not being as great as Balls, but it's probably still the best ad of the year.
PH: Legions of campaigns have this problem—Honda has done some fantastic ads of late but they haven't hit the same spots as Cog and Grrr... Grrr definitely matched Cog in its impact, but since then... Choir [winner of two Yellow Pencils in TV & Cinema Crafts this year] is great but more people were probably irritated by it than anything else. Think of Guinness—there's a lot of pressure for the next ad to out-do the last one, and that's not an easy momentum to keep up. The pressure's on.
FJ: With the War Orphans campaign, you can't help but think "is that better than Paint?" Is it really more deserving of a black pencil?
PH: Well the jury has to make its decision based on what's in front of them. There is a slight pressure to pick things so there's an order from top to bottom. I've sat on several juries for music videos and everyone's always asking the same thing: "Where's this particular piece of brilliant work? Why isn't it entered?" Because they can all think of something better than what gets the prize.
What were your favourite pieces of work among the winners this year?
JC: The Freitag shop: A great idea. I would have loved to have done it. I bet it really helps sell the product too.
MB: I agree. It's one of those things where you think, if I was in that city, I'd make the effort to actually go and see it.
PH: Yes, it's like the Apple store in New York. You know what it's going to look like and exactly what's going to be in it—but it's got that appeal. You want to go and see it for yourself. Again, it's not the most original idea in the world, BUT it's brilliantly executed. There's a lot of follow-through to the tiniest details in the store. Someone's really done a great job on the project.
JC: It makes me smile. Got to be a good thing, hasn't it?
MB: My favourite thing has got to be the Non-Format LoAF CDs. The re-packaging of the CD is long overdue—the jewel case is such a tired format. So it's great to see someone push that to create really tactile objects that are beautiful on many levels. Imagine buying a CD and the packaging being so nice you don't want to open it!
PH: I really liked LocoRoco [winner of a Yellow Pencil in Gaming: Handheld Games] a lot—the game for the Sony PSP. I liked the advertising and I liked the animation in the game—it really stood out for me, especially against all the shoot-em-up and first person games on the market. I'd like a stab at doing something like that.
FJ: I've a personal fondness for the Stella [Peeterman Artois] work– the posters. I just think they're really clever, simple ideas, beautifully crafted and just left alone. I know you could argue that they're slightly derivative in terms of styling...
MB: I agree—really nice.
FJ: What's good about this list of winners is that there's lots of things in there that make me happy, campaigns and work that are a joy to behold and if that makes other people aspire to do great work or even if clients see this work and are inspired to commission braver work for their brand, then it's got to be a good thing. In fact, I do wonder why clients aren't credited in the book.
MB: With a lot of print work, I wonder why the printer isn't credited. A lot of jobs turn out as well as they do due to the dedication of a great printer. It's always been a bugbear with me that they never get a credit.
FJ: Certainly in advertising, without brave clients, you don't get to do brave work. I tell you what—there's seven pencils given to virals, which seems indicative of the times we're in. Which is fabulous.
Of course, D&AD isn't just an awards scheme...
FJ: Quite. The difference between D&AD and other award schemes is that D&AD is a lot more than just the awards and the annual. They're an educational charity—and no one else really does what they do. And they're brilliant at it. As an organisation they're a lot more important and significant than just an awards scheme. The D&AD student course, certainly when I started, was the accepted way of getting your book together, how you made your contacts in the business.
JC: Maybe it's because we're in London and we're well established now in the industry so we probably have a better understanding of what D&AD does and what it stands for. Though I do wonder if around the world D&AD's charitable and educational efforts are as well known beyond the awards and annual...
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