At the beginning of the new D&AD Annual, there is an appropriate obituary to the remarkable Alan Fletcher. It's ironic and somewhat fortuitous that he didn't live to see this year's front cover. He would have wept.
The first glance is a let-down. It's yellow and square, the same as last year. Some copy (a few paragraphs of it) on the front and back cover restates D&AD's history and purpose. It is preaching to the unconverted, the rest of the world. D&AD is now global.
I understand the need to repeat the mission statement, but the way it is done lacks a little confidence. One particularly unconfident sentence says that its membership is "made up of the creative A-list". I cringed a bit. If I was a truly creative person, pursuing a truly creative endeavour, for example, Milan Kundera or Paula Rego, I would giggle to myself at this clambering conceit. If you truly are, you never have to say it.
In prime place next to the logo at the head of the cover is the book's title, D&AD Annual 2007. It should have stopped there, but under that reads "D&AD 2007 Annual", which apparently is in a different language. Then under that "Anuario de D&AD de 2007". By now, whatever language you speak, you're kind of having your intelligence underestimated. It goes on, eight languages in all. Which is a shame for a book that is responsible for championing graphic communication and its ability to transcend borders. It certainly misses the opportunity to have done so. Coincidentally, the rest of the Annual is in English.
OK, you've gone global and you want the world to know what a giant, international, A-listing, standard-setting, cutting-edge, leading, creative, championing, inspiring, outstanding, innovating, contribution to creativity stroke registered charity you are (all your words, not mine).
Well, you've done it, but not with any flair, confidence or, more importantly, any creativity. The front cover (the biggest ad D&AD ever gets) is an example of exactly what it shouldn't award. It's the committee's favourite flavour, vanilla.
Open the book and the theme is based on "the flag project". A series of shots taken all over the world of people doing different things with a D&AD flag. We are told that "the result is a collection of images about creativity and about personal and cultural differences, rather than sameness". Sorry, the shots are about neither. They are about nothing at all actually. Their collective effect is just naff.
There is the usual sort of stuff at the front of the book. The president's year and the president's award, which goes to Sir Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the worldwide web. Is it me, or does this stray a little too far into the area of borrowed interest? It just smacks of trying to be different. It's a stretch, admit it. It doesn't so much raise the bar as throw it into oblivion. A bit like your local darts club giving a lifetime achievement award to Yuri Gagarin for his contribution to flight trajectory. And, if he wins one shouldn't Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci or Jimi Hendrix? Berners-Lee certainly didn't embark on his project with the coveted Pencil in mind.
Which sadly, isn't a theme that runs throughout. We will come on to this. There are the past presidents and gold recipients, mostly English and appropriately not printed in any other language. Our foreign friends may have found that a little irritating. There is the advertising review, the design review and the digital review. An outrage, I can hear the committee demanding all sections reviewed in all languages for next year. It's a shame there are no pictures of the judges. For first-time judges to D&AD, it's a proud moment, and good to have your face in there.
Now to the work. Fortunately, this is where this year's Annual gets it absolutely right. It presents the work brilliantly. No-one else's trickery in the way. The pictures of the work are big and the credits read clearly. It's the one thing the Annual should always do well. The work takes pride of place.
I'll let you enjoy the details of the entries, winners and losers for yourselves. Generally, there's a lot of good stuff. Sure, there's the odd "how on Earth could they not have given that one?" and "what on Earth is that doing in there?" It has always been this way.
More broadly, I want to make a few points. First, there is definitely a lot of work here that has been done for awards. It is recognisably too broad, too generic and too simple. It's typical of the type of work we have seen rife at Cannes over the years.
Which brings me to my second point. I feel that the results you get from an international jury inevitably end up as more of a lowest common denominator decision. Predominantly visual work gets a head start and a flying finish. Complex or more interesting strategies and briefs don't get recognised. Generic category claims come to the fore. The outcome is more one-dimensional.
A final point, and this issue isn't just D&AD's but one that contributes to the negation of all international award shows. There is a lot of work that wins, especially TV, which could not have possibly run in this country. When it comes to the legal parameters, all rules across the globe are different. This makes the international awards game unfair.
D&AD has gone global now. It can't turn back. There are a lot of contradictions it has to balance. How does it keep the standards high without putting off the bigger market and the money it needs to exist? How does it objectively embrace the world with such a biased British genetic make-up? Can it own a credible worldwide opinion on the work, being based in the UK? And, ultimately, is it just another small number in the true global and grand finale equation that is The Gunn Report?
This Annual is the result of D&AD's ongoing quest to solve some of these broad issues and I have to say it's a good one. It hasn't got it all right yet, but it's probably the only show well on the way.
- Ed Morris is the executive creative director at Lowe London.