Close-up: The D&AD Annual 2010 fails to get pulses racing

Heavy layout makes the pages of this year's book seem claustrophobic so the content cannot sing, Jonathan Burley says.

It's a subjective bugger, is taste. An example. I stayed at a hotel this weekend past. Beautiful from the outside, 16th century, gabled and ivy-clad to within an inch of its life. Stunning. But the room to which I was overly politely shown looked like somebody had swallowed a past-its-sell-by-date Next home catalogue and projectile-shat the contents all over the floor.

When I got my breath back and with equal over-politeness asked to be moved to another room, the manageress was deeply offended. In a trembling and outraged voice, she tried terribly hard to make me understand that this was their very bestest room and that it had only recently been decorated by the hotel owner herself. Surely Sir found the purple DFS sofas and white leatherette bed the very epitome of tasteful interior design? Sir didn't. But as I told her, it's a subjective bugger, is taste.

All of which is a long-winded and self-indulgent way of me trying to explain that I'm slightly uncomfortable with criticising the new D&AD Annual based on looks alone. Never judge a book etc, even if you're asked to by Campaign. I personally find it overly designed and not a little garish, but that's my problem. I'm sure that there are plenty of ad folk out there who will enjoy the flourish, take it as a welcome break from the slightly po-faced D&AD book designs of recent years. At least it has a personality of sorts (although the weak anagrams that litter the section papers do suggest the kind of personality that I'd want to punch in the throat at an agency party).

The thing that I do feel more comfortable criticising is the presentation of the work itself. After all, this is the actual purpose of the book, is it not? To show the work in its best light, to allow it to sing.

And it is here that the Annual fails. The layout is heavy, and the lack of air around the work makes the pages feel breathless and claustrophobic. My shiny new head of art (Daniel Beckett - now there's a wonderful name, like a rake from Moll Flanders) took a sneaky peek over my shoulder and wasn't wildly impressed. Something to do with type-size and the balance of weight between the headings and sub-headings. Technical head of art stuff. But the mechanics of typography aside, he made a very simple and inarguable point - as a piece of design, the D&AD Annual 2010 wouldn't deserve to make it into the D&AD Annual 2011.

(A footnote - when Campaign sent me the Annual to review, it was wrapped in lead and handcuffed to Chuck Liddell, such would be the anticipation from the industry. They needn't have worried. Despite my most fervent indiscretion, no-one in the office gave much of a monkey's, and the younger teams were especially overcome by ennui. Times change, sadly. D&AD and I must be getting old ...).

- Jonathan Burley is the executive creative director at CHI & Partners


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