Cover Story: The process

Dave Dye describes the evolution of his idea for the cover of the book celebrating D&AD's 50th anniversary.

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To see Dave Dye's full cover click here

Out of entries from 50 creative people, including the likes of Sir Paul Smith, Sir John Hegarty and Rankin, Dye's design was chosen to adorn the commemorative edition.

Being one of 50 people asked to create a cover for the annual celebrating D&AD's 50th anniversary is great for the ego.

For about seven-and-a-half minutes.

Then comes the blank-page anxiety.

What the hell am I going to do?

To further increase anxiety, you've got 49 of the best minds in our business working on the same brief: Sir John Hegarty, Sir Paul Smith ...

Damn, I haven't even got a poxy OBE to my name.

Also, this blank page is even blanker than usual.

The brief: "Creativity."

It's a common misconception that creative people want complete freedom. It's not true - you need something to aim at.

Blue sky is not all it's cracked up to be.

Cigarette advertising became the most creative category only after the government laid down a whole bunch of tricky restrictions.

Having a problem to solve focuses the mind.

Creativity. Where's the problem?

After a few aborted attempts to think of an idea, I called D&AD to try to get more information on the "brief".


They said I could "simply sign a piece of my work if I wanted, and that would be the cover".

Not wanting to look like a pretentious twat, I declined.

(I haven't seen the other 49 covers yet, so apologies to any of you who have simply signed a piece of your work. You probably had a great reason, like you're a product designer, really busy or blind or ... something.)

OK, it is what it is.

The first thing I decided is that I wanted the cover to be very personal. I didn't want to create some beautiful, stylish, minimal thing - I wanted it to be me (whatever that is).

I just wanted it to be honest and revealing. I figured that they hadn't set up this competition to see who would come up with the best solution - they wanted 50 people to expose something of themselves about the way they create.

The younger me would have probably been too concerned about what my cover said about me, as opposed to what was most true of me.

But, as you get on a bit, you realise that worrying about other people inhibits creativity.

I've worked with creatives, very good ones, who would be so selective of which briefs they took on that they ended up making only one or two ads a year, their thinking being that if they produced something substandard, others would think that they were substandard.

I've never thought that. Create stuff, do your best and, if something doesn't turn out great, you probably learnt something and worked with people you wouldn't otherwise have worked with. It's fine.

I digress. What do I put on this cover?

I spent the next month working on it, getting nowhere, then getting annoyed with the open brief.

One fantastically irritating month. I couldn't think of a single bloody idea.

But the brain works in mysterious ways - and I realised that is the idea: a stream of consciousness about me getting irritated by the fact that I can't think of a single bloody idea.

So, over a two-hour period, I wrote whatever came into my head. Occassionally, I would get distracted: I wrote that down too.

I was lucky that I had a thousand words kicking around my cranium that day. It was a good day.

But, to be fair, these words weren't carefully chosen, logically ordered or, in fact, ordered at all - it was just an unedited splurge. I told myself to be uninhibited, to write what's true - I could always edit it later.

Reading it later, I realised that I couldn't really cut anything out; not because it was so good, but because it was true. If I polished and fiddled with it, it might fall apart and not feel real. Its strength was that it was raw and a bit random.

It was full of stuff non-creatives don't usually see - the bad ideas, terrible puns, overt egotism and just plain idiocy.

Which I liked.

But bringing an idea to life is tough.

Woody Allen says that his films are at their best at idea stage; what ends up on the screen is never as good as what was in his head.

Turning scribbles into a finished thing is one long decision-making process. The more you question, the more decisions you will have to make, and the better chance you have of executing something well.

To me, the best ads can't be separated into idea and execution, they are one and the same.

Form follows function is another way of putting it.

But how do you know whether your form is following your function? You break the idea into as many pieces as you can and judge each against the function.

For example, if you have a brief to restore credibility to some bank after it has just mislaid £4 billion of someone else's money, a typeface such as Comic Sans may be less appropriate than a font such as Bodoni.

Pictured are the various versions I went through while breaking down the idea.

In retrospect, it's the polar opposite of the first D&AD annual I designed back in 2004.

That was a spoof (Now That's What I Call Music ...). I enlisted 40 of the fanciest-dan designers to help create section dividers. I used lenticulars. I used grey silk. It was the very opposite of personal.

This one was created with a blank page and a bunch of coloured pencils, and it's better for it.

Dave Dye is the commissioning editor at DHM. D&AD 50 Annual, published by Taschen, is out in mid-November.


Handwriting in black because it looks honest.

Scribbled on like schoolwork because it looks like it has been evaluated.

It's better logic and a better representation of the process.

It also looks very human.


Damn! The Word document is in portrait, the book is landscape?

Sod it - run it in one piece vertically. Columns are too formal; a continuous block looks more like a stream.

More importantly, who's going to be arsed to read a thousand words of 10-point type?

It looks so dull.

Eureka! Colour-code the emotions.


I don't want it to look designed, so I place the coloured bars asymmetrically over the different emotions to look more spontaneous.

It looks cool, like a piece of abstract art, but a little bit chaotic. The words have become secondary.

The words are the idea - who's going to read that?


I make the strips parallel to bring a bit of order.

To offset this, I use handwriting.

I link the D&AD-branded strips with my strips: "I can basically put what the hell I want on the front cover of (their font) THE D&AD 50th ANNUAL."

Handwriting is too hard to read; the words are the idea.


I switch back to a font for legibility.

I choose Pennsylvania Bold because it doesn't look too designed. Being a little condensed means it'll come up big, which will make it more readable and bold because it'll take more colour.

The most readable yet, but who'd want to? It looks as though a computer just spat it out; too clinical.


Handwriting is back to give it more humanity, but coloured.

It's easy to read, but feels fake somehow.

I realise why. It doesn't make sense, like I kept changing pencils all the time ("Ooh, I'm feeling egotistical. Where's that green?")

I know people don't think about it that much, but they can feel when something is not right, a little fake.