The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Where’s the D in D&AD?

– May 20th, 2008 –

A D&AD Yellow PencilOn the 15th May, the winners of this year’s D&AD awards were announced. This year, there were only two nominations for graphic design, neither of which won an award. There were many more website nominations, and one was even awarded a yellow pencil. Although, typically, it’s a flash-based, motion-based ‘microsite’ masquerading as a website. Now, that aside, why did the graphic design category not produce any winners this year?

That very question has got me thinking about industry awards in general and why graphic design, and its application to websites, no longer has a place in the D&AD.

When I was in university, the annual D&AD reference book was eagerly awaited by the entire year. True, it was more sought after by the students keen on Advertising and product design, but, for me, there was particular interest in the typographic and graphic design awards. The D&AD winners represented the pinnacle of our craft. If it was in The Annual, then, frankly, you’ve made it.

Of course, this was in a time when there was no web to speak of. Design companies could not self-publish their works. No, they had to pay an entry fee to the D&AD for work they deemed ‘good enough’. The D&AD then published those works. Aside from having the yellow (or even the black) pencil award, your work was distributed and packaged as the very best in the craft. That alone was worth the application fee. But now, I think things are different.

Live and die by awards

Awards are incredibly important for advertisers. They are the industry benchmark. Way back when, I was an intern at an ad agency. I was also an Art Director at a large web shop with a heavy advertising bias. Throughout my time there, it was obvious that many creatives saw winning an award (like the D&AD) was more important than solving the client’s problem. There was an unhealthy emphasis on industry navel-gazing. I’ve been in production meetings where the number one topic on the agenda was which awards was the agency chasing this year.

Just right

Thankfully, that mentality has largely escaped our industry. Yes, there are awards such as The Webbys, SXSW Web Awards, to name a couple. But, they certainly don’t have the industry weight as the D&AD awards.

I think it comes down to validation. Maybe, industry-wide, this year, graphic designers don’t feel the need to validate their work beyond it fulfilling the brief. Let’s not forget that design is a commercial practice. We do stuff, for clients, for money. And that’s where I think the web design industry has got it just right. Largely, we’re focussed on solving problems for our clients. Our business models are based on that, not on winning awards. And we certainly don’t need the D&AD, or anybody else, to tell us we’re doing a great job thank you very much.

Filed in: design.

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