Each year hundreds (if not thousands) of graphic designers, writers, artists, animators, directors, publishers, copy-writers, art directors, marketeers, product designers, non-creatives and general design fans descend onto Shoreditch, London, and more specifically into the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane for the annual D&AD festival. A festival touted as “a creative spectacular celebrating the world’s best design and advertising”. VBAT allowed me (a D&AD festival virgin) to attend the festival this year to learn, discover and explore what it is all about.
This is what I want to share here: my experience of the festival, what I learnt, what I took away from it and my opinion of the whole thing as well as some insight into some of my favourite projects and most insightful talks.
To start with, something that I found important for the overall integrity of the festival and especially from the perspective of a graphic designer was my first interaction with festival, the visual identity. Carried out by London based agency HATO, the bold 3D visuals that make up the identity are born from a 3D drawing tool developed by the agency which, through an online platform, allowed the wider creative community to generate marks and shapes as a way of expressing themselves.
Whilst being vivid, the style and variety of marks make for a highly dynamic identity system; with some 1,300 submissions to choose from, all drawn and recorded in 3D HATO were able to rotate, animate, colour and apply texture to these to create a number of deliverables.
However, this identity is more than just a series of nice patterns, it has the creative community at the heart of it; much like the D&AD festival and organisation itself.
This animated gif visual below shows how adaptable the marks could be; creating a number of variations from one 3D mark.
Over the three days at the festival I tried to attend as many talks and sessions as I could; each day my schedule was jam-packed with little time to spare for much else. The diversity across the talks is what I found most inspiring at the festival; the diversity between the topics of the talks ranging from sustainability to innovation as well as the diversity in speakers in terms of gender, nationality and ethnicity. Although something that bothered me slightly with this was the lack of diversity in the position/job title/job role of the speakers. Of course, the festival thrives from big name speakers: creative directors, design directors and chief creative officers from renowned companies whom people know about and they want to hear from, but as a young and relatively new designer in the industry it would’ve been great to hear from people at a more attainable and relevant level to myself. Maybe these talks did take place and I didn’t notice because I myself followed the big names but there are scores of great young people in the industry who are doing great things and have interesting opinions and can offer useful insights.
There was no single specific or announced theme of the festival this year, but more three themes: Human Voices, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Owning the Future with most important sub-themes falling under these three quite broad themes. However, the curation of the festival allowed me to think about the overriding message for myself. I saw the festival as the celebration of ideas: how your ideas are important and how they can do something powerful.
Multiple talks focused on how necessary it is to be able to come up with ideas and concepts; ideas are almost like currency in the design industry, they separate the good and the bad, the can-do’s and the cant-do’s.
Thomas Kolster, Creative Director of Goodvertising (and recent speaker at one of VBAT’s C-Word Talks) said at the start of his talk that “today, one idea can change the world”, referring to advancements in technology; this is a bit speculative but there is some truth in his words as with today’s level of communication it is possible for anyone, anywhere to do something and be heard. Caroline Pay, Chief Creative Officer of Grey London explained how when she was starting out in the industry, fresh from university and internships she and her partner would come up with over 20 new ideas a week, something they were able to take to interviews and later to clients to make reality. This level of drive and commitment, I believe, is needed, as someone with a high drive it’s inspiring to hear of the success of this. Nick Eagleton, Creative Partner at Superunion (formerly Creative Director at The Partners) focused his whole talk and workshop titled ‘Ideas, Ideas, Ideas’ on, yes, ideas. Specifically, how to come up with ideas, how to push ideas, how to share ideas, how bad ideas can become good ideas and most importantly how to have fun with ideas in the creative industry.
The talk that stood out for me the most at the festival happened to be the final talk of the final day by the acclaimed graphic designer Craig Oldham called: ‘Oh Sh*t… What Now?: Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers’ (he also has a book with the same title).
Craig’s talk stood out to me as my favourite for a number of reasons. He was brutally honest with his advice and comments, it wasn’t super clean and clinical with long words and fancy slideshow images; just bold and powerful sentences, he isn’t a big-wig at a big design agency; he has his own agency, his talk was the culmination of the festival which changed my perception on everything that came before it, he swore a lot; which to me comes across as sincere, he is relatively young and exciting in the industry and most importantly, we share the same name.
This ‘Honest Advice’ from Craig isn’t superficial but advice and knowledge he has gained through his own first-hand experience as a young designer starting off in the industry, working at big agencies, working at small agencies, teaching, mentoring, developing young talent and setting up his own agency: Office of Craig Oldham. As well as advice he shared his experiences of the reality of the industry: post-university; something that struck with me and I’m sure many other graduates who feel that as fun as university is; the creative freedom to play, explore and learn doesn’t prepare you for life in the industry. It’s like being in a happy box: you like being in that box, tutors like to let you play in that box, you can create some of the most personal work in that box but when you have to leave that box it can feel like you don’t know where to go, what to do or how to transition. However it could be argued that this feeling of uncertainty brings out the best of some people and encourages people, like myself and others in similar entry-level positions, to find out for ourselves how the industry works and what we have to do. Craig’s confirmation of this was great to hear.
Something else which he said was simply and bluntly “don’t stop”. In reference to how some graduates finish university and get that first design job and put their feet up and relax: “This is it, I’ve made it”, which to me, and Craig, is wrong. That first job is your first step on the ladder, the start of a curve which you need to increase and keep producing work. For me, I think it is essential to produce as much personal work as possible, collaborating with people, creating stuff both physically and digitally; not only does it increase the amount of work you can put into your portfolio but technically you learn more. To me, personal work you create in your own time and/or collaboratively will always give a greater insight into you, your personality and your expression rather than any client-led work; this is something we as interns pushed at VBAT through an internal exhibition to celebrate personal work as a way to inspire others.
As painful as some of the realities of design that Craig shared were, it was important and inspiring to hear someone speak so truthfully of the industry. He summarised the festival as not a festival of design but a festival of opinions which was the most accurate thing I heard over the 3 days.
Of course the main attraction, and possibly the reason for the festival to exist, is to present the annual D&AD award pencils to the best projects of the last year across multiple categories: Art Direction, Book Design, Branded Content & Entertainment, Branding, Collaborative, Crafts for Advertising, Crafts for Design, Creativity for Good, Digital Design, Digital Marketing, Direct, Experiential, Film Advertising, Film Advertising Crafts, Graphic Design, Integrated, Magazine & Newspaper Design, Media, Music Videos, Outdoor Advertising, Packaging Design, PR, Press Advertising, Product Design, Radio & Audio, Spatial, Writing for Advertising and Writing for Design. Lots of categories meaning lots of work and therefore, lots of diversity.
The big winners at the awards were the big campaigns throughout the year which gained big media attention such as The Fearless Girl statue in New York (13 pencils), the Palau Pledge national branding project (8 pencils) and It’s a Tide ad campaign (5 pencils) all 3 of these projects each being awarded a coveted Black Pencil by their juries.
As good as these and other multi-award winning projects are though, (other than the Palau Pledge) they are generally big budget jobs for big clients; at the exhibition I found 3 pieces of work that I found way more inspiring as they were on a smaller, a more realistic and a more affordable scale. All 3 of these were awarded Wood Pencils for their respective categories, all 3 are also tangible, print-based projects:
Firstly by Build for the paper company Arjowiggins , the beautifully designed paper/print sample/notebook: Paper Wraps Stone. The purpose of this book is to showcase 20 creative papers by Arjowiggins but through intelligent writing from Nick Asbury interspersed throughout, about the theme of paper as a physical medium for creativity and ideas, the book feels like a cut-up piece of poetry. The design by Build is quintessential of the agency employing a modernist and minimalist style through a simple application of typography and diagrams. I admired this project for turning a seemingly boring block of paper samples into a highly desirable piece of printed ephemera, I’m still trying to get my hand on a copy of this for myself.
Wood Pencil for Writing for Design/Writing for Printed Materials & Graphic Communications.
Secondly by the typographic duo MuirMcNeil, the Eye Magazine #94 cover design. This cover design or designs or even design system symbolises the ethos of the pair of Hamish Muir and Paul McNeil, as MuirMcNeil they “aim to explore parametric design methods to generate appropriate solutions to visual communication problems”. The cover design is a actually a huge typographic image that has been tiled 8000 times to produce as many unique cover compositions; the result being a diverse range of squares, circles, lines, letters and shapes all as colourful as the next. The process was made possible through variable data digital printing and utilises their TwoPoint and TwoPlus typefaces. This stood out for me as I am a fan of their experimental and expressive typographic work, they are producing something unique which has its roots in traditional graphic design techniques. Thankfully when this magazine came out in 2017 I was able to get a copy.
Wood Pencil for Magazine & Newspaper Design/Magazine Front Covers.
Finally a project which I had previously only seen online on Instagram and design blogs, the Integrated 2017 Conference identity by the Belgian agency Mirror Mirror. The Integrated conference explored the ambiguous space between market and state. With the dilemma of no real budget they created the concept of a ‘post-real’ poster by creating fake in-situ mock-ups using their bold red spray paint over letters in order to gain attention and distribute their messages. These ‘post-real’ posters eventually became real printed posters with overlapping contradictory and juxtaposing statements such as ART/LOL, DESIGN/IGNORE, VOTE/HACK & FAKE/NEWS. Later applied to a magnitude of carriers, programmes, stage design, motion video and merchandise I think that the design is unlike anything else that I have ever seen especially the contrast that exists across the design. I think I will try and get some of these (real) posters for my own collection.
Wood Pencil for Graphic Design/Integrated (lol) Graphics.
Amongst all of the talks, sessions, workshops and the award exhibition work was a number of smaller exhibitions and exhibitors here to showcase their work, projects and agencies but also probably here to provide stuff for people to do in-between talks. The one of these that I loved and have been following for a while now since its inception in 2017 (the day Article 50 was triggered) is the ME&EU project: a post-Brexit postcard exhibition by Nathan Smith & Sam T Smith; both designers at GBH London who produced this project as a side project which was later recognised by D&AD as part of their New Blood Side Hustle endorsement.
The project is a collection of postcards written and designed by UK-based creatives which where then sent across Europe as a way to reconnect the UK with the EU post-Brexit. At the festival they were presenting the recently nominated (Beazley Designs of the Year: Graphics Category) project whilst also inviting and encouraging visitors to contribute to the project there and then.
Speaking to Nathan and Sam it was clear that they were passionate about the project, they themselves had previously lived and worked in Europe making the project sincere and meaningful to them and as someone currently living and working in Europe I too had a connection to their project and I presented to them a series of images I made myself around the same theme to add to their project.
My iteration using Emojis, and cleverly titled (at least I think) EUMOJI, explored the idea of the negative aspect of leaving Europe by using opposite emojis. The opposite emoji is the odd one out in each scenario whilst using the EU ring symbol: sunny & rainy, love & death, old & new and at the most basic level: happy & sad.
Interestingly, the book which showcases these postcards was published by the aforementioned Craig Oldham’s independent publishing company Common Practices. This kind of book and others which explore culture, politics and communities are published commonly (pardon the pun) by them.
The talks though were the main focus of the festival, they were why most people were there and I attended as many of these talks as I could; there were also some great talks which I had to miss because other talks sounded better on paper. This being said it would be too much to write in-depth about every talk and session that I attended at the festival, they were all inspiring but the things I wrote about above are what I felt most passionate about and which connected with me the most. Although, I do want to share what I did and what I learnt; so here is a recap of the sessions I did attend with a small paragraph explaining the context of each talk and some imagery or video content to strengthen each point.
Cal Al-Jorani and Thierry Albert, Creative Directors of Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam explained how they forewent the traditional big budget advert for Instagram Stories and instead chose a lo-fi community campaign which suits the platform better.
The author and experienced advertising geezer Dave Trott showed some classic examples of how advertising once agencies did what they weren’t allowed to do, pushing the limits of the rules and in some cases, breaking the law. He explained how it’s important to be controversial in advertising as a way to get people talking about your campaign. He used some iconic 70s and 80s cigarette and tv adverts as case studies for this.
The Dutch artists Lernert and Sander invited a clairvoyant and an illustrator on stage to explore their future as a collaborative pair but also as separate entities. Lernert & Sander also presented a small number of their projects, chosen by chance by the clairvoyant as stimulus for her role. This well known example was shared.
The festival identity tool by HATO I mentioned earlier was on display at the festival in a space with multiple tablets and screens to allow visitors to create their own marks there and then. Over the 3 days there were around 3000 submissions at the festival. The tool is still accessible via the D&AD website link below:
Tea Uglow from Google Creative Lab along with a panel discussed the important topic of diversity in the creative industry, topics ranged the recent gender pay-gap to how we can encourage and provide for more ethnic minorities into the creative industry; the term BAME (Black, Asian & Ethnic Minorities) was used a lot here.
Adam & Eve/DDB Creative Director, Ben Priest explained how important it is to get things utterly and completely wrong, in doing so you can learn from your mistakes and grow. One example is how he thought the idea of a penguin for this John Lewis ad was stupid and killed it off until someone less senior fought him and brought it back to make one of the most memorable adverts in recent time.
Instagram was one of the creative partners of the festival and as such their representatives gave a number of talks and live demonstrations. This example, showing how Instagram stories can be highly creative and fun whilst also providing you a platform for millions of monthly users on the platform.
Federico Gaggio, Brand Consultant from Do & Co. shared some examples of “ideas that do and ideas that don’t”, as a way to tell purpose from bullshit and explained how brands should properly communicate their values to consumers and how we as creatives can inform this process. He used this Danish TV advert as a good example.
Mother London hosted their ‘Not For Sale’ exhibition and party at their studio in Shoreditch, outside of the festival area as a fringe event. Showcasing and celebrating 21 years of their non-commercial projects: a love letter to creativity, free from commercial constraint. Mother explore the balance between advertising and art and aren’t afraid to do something different or unconventional.
Overall the festival was a great experience and something which I fully enjoyed. It was highly informative, inspiring and insightful for many different reasons, as a new designer in the creative industry it was great to be immersed in this celebration of the industry and all that it encompasses. Not that I had any doubts, but it re-assured me that I am in the right industry and doing what I want to do. It also gave me a new level of respect for advertising. Advertising is sometimes seen as a dirty word in graphic design and I didn’t take much interest in advertising beforehand but at the festival there was a greater focus on advertising and it opened my eyes to the level of creativity in advertising, especially the playfulness of it and how a simple idea can become something truly special. That being said, the talks, exhibitions and awarded work I liked the most did focus on graphic design and especially that of the tangible graphic design: books, magazines, leaflets etc.
I would recommend the D&AD festival to anybody who is in the creative industry from students and juniors all the way to chief creative officers and creative directors; there is something for all ages and all levels to learn. However, I’m not sure if there is actually going to be a D&AD festival in 2019 but maybe something else as it was announced recently that a new festival from D&AD, together with the Guardian Media Group, will be established as a “global festival to celebrate the power of creativity and explore how it shapes culture, intersects with business and builds a positive future. Hosted in London, the festival will bring together business leaders with the world’s foremost thinkers, practitioners and emerging talent from across the creative and cultural sectors –including design, film, advertising, gaming, music, fashion and architecture. The festival will launch in 2019 with the aim of becoming a destination for curious, creative minds. With global debates increasingly dominated by the opportunities and risks created by automation and data, the festival will be an opportunity to recognise, celebrate and learn about how the uniquely human quality of creativity can help industries and businesses to innovate and grow in the face of disruption.”
Thanks to VBAT for giving me the opportunity and resources as well as allowing me the time to attend the D&AD festival in London, it was an inspiring and memorable experience and what I learnt will certainly feed into my own practice and hopefully there is something here you as a reader can take away.