Art | D&AD: a design for life.

Image courtesy of TASCHEN

D&AD is an originally British and now wholly international organisation that rewards commercial creativity, the self-titled Nobel Prize of the creative industries. Their yearly annuals bring together the work of those who have been awarded their coveted Yellow Pencil, and a lucky few who have won the illustrious Black. Neville Brody, D&AD’s president, opens the tome with a brief but incisive reflection of the current state of creativity in our society. He points out the sad truth that ‘because creativity isn’t quantifiable it loses out’ and calls on creative individuals and the engineering world to ally themselves in order to put creative education back on the agenda. TASCHEN remain a publishing house that pride themselves on being at the frontier of reaffirming creativity, and with clients like D&AD it isn’t hard to see why.

The book is full of insightful and critical essays like Brody’s, pointing out the ways in which the UK is beginning to fall behind other world players. Lynda-Relph Knight points out the rapidly growing number of design schools in China (400 and rising), while Sir Christopher Fraying sits in the courtyard of the V&A, which he is a research fellow of, and lambasts the British avant-garde for becoming the establishment. ‘We have to regroup’ he says, calling for a new attitude to creativity that makes the government take it seriously, ‘Complacency is the enemy’. Mark Porter, a designer responsible for the 2005 transformation of the Guardian, seems to sum it all up when he points out how invaluable adaptability is to creative industries. We must adapt our approach, we must adapt our education, we must adapt our mind-sets.  These ideas are ones which can be found running throughout this spectacular annual.



The Art Direction award, ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ was a multiple-platform Metro Safety campaign by McCann Erickson.

The annual’s spectacular cover points to its international and technological concerns; designer Fleur Carrol created a panel for each of the 196 countries represented within, each generated by a code. Using latitudinal and meteorological data, Carrol has created a series of joyful, Rothko-esque swatches which are re-printed in full page glory in the books interior. Each seems almost like a strip of exposed film, flaring in and out of rich colour and darkness. Countries like Poland are all cold blues and serious pinks, whilst we find a riot of warm colour in Croatia’s pale blurs. Carrol’s work is exemplary of the way modernity and creativity can marry perfectly if approached in the right way.

The work we find within ranges from light hearted work like the Australia’s now famous ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ Metro safety advert, to the surprisingly beautiful and understated petal-like design of the Olympic cauldron, each garnering a coveted Black Pencil award. There are awards for fashion product design and photography, for graphic design and TV promotion, for newspaper covers and special design and installations. The wide range of awards on offer, rather than seeming superfluous, rather serves to enforce D&AD’s policy of celebrating creativity in whatever form it may take, and encouraging a dialogue across different mediums.

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Leo Burnett Chicago’s Black Pencil award-winner for Branding and Graphic Design, ‘Peace One Day’. (Peace One Day is a non-profit that aims to raise awareness of the International Day of Peace, occurring annually September 21)

Design is not just the cold, coded production of a slick website (although these are rightly celebrated as well), it is a way to reach out to people and to connect them with something they may never have considered. The ingenuity of a domestic worker’s rights organisation that uses light humour to encourage security in callers is lauded alongside the self-aware, self-deprecating farce of a stand-up festival.  Some of the work in the annual is simply visually stunning, or just playful in a way that the eye is immediately drawn to. Some of it may make the cynical reader balk at the cleverness and manipulation of today’s advertisers. All of it is immensely fascinating and commendable on a level of ingenuity that is inspiring even when perhaps worthy of criticism.

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Leo Burnett’s London office won for this Pantone campaign in the Direct and Branding category.

With even a cursory look inside D&AD’s 2013 Annual, anyone could find themselves coming across a piece of design they have subconsciously enjoyed, or that does in some way the very thing they have been striving for in their own work. Each awarded work is accompanied by a description of the concept and rundown of the design process, opening the door on what brings these things to life. The book itself is an object to behold, designed with as much creativity and care as the work featured within. Brody and his team are right to be critical of the state-of-play as regards today’s creative culture, but their work also highlights and celebrates its centrality and worth in our everyday life.

Joanna Thompson

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