Daring to be different

The new D&AD Annual is a mixed bag to look at but delivers a powerful message about the association's brave vision, Nils Leonard says.

  • D&AD Annual: the president, Laura Jordan Bambach, gave creatives free rein on the presentation of their work

    D&AD Annual: the president, Laura Jordan Bambach, gave creatives free rein on the presentation of their work


This book smells fantastic. The spine is beautiful. The cover features death, reeks of cult and sex, and would sell well on a shelf at Daunt Books to Marylebone mums and typo­graphers alike.

The inside front cover is terrible, like wallpaper in a chain restaurant.

The monochrome graphic After Eights by Seiichi Saito, painstakingly translated from brain-wave frequencies, feels like early Fabric flyers and crawls slowly into the indulgent ringpiece of irrelevance.

Page numeration standard. Descriptor typography functional. Page grid elegant. The stock fantastic and fragrant.

The truth is that some pages are Pizza Express. Some are perfect expression.

This is not the most beautiful D&AD Annual ever made.

But stay with me.

Creatives aren’t born loving D&AD.

They grow into it.

And D&AD grows in them.

Because once you’ve moved past a pay rise or two, once you’ve made a mistake on the Carlton terrace, and once you’ve got some shiny shit on the shelf, you look for more.

You look for something that matters.

The D&AD Annual matters. No other awards show has the like.

It is poncy. Niche, painful and absolutely rewarding.

It’s the one the wife doesn’t understand.

The one the boyfriend makes a rude joke about as he quotes the nights you weren’t there.

And it has become more than a book of names and credits.

It is not just a list of the 15 people clawing their way into each idea of note.

It is the time capsule of what creatively mattered in our industry this year.

So why is the Annual so mixed? Dodgy one page and great the next?

For the first time, the book has prodded at its potential.

The D&AD president, Laura Jordan Bambach, has realised the power the book has to be more than a record of success. And she briefed a global mix of talent on the book’s design, allowing them to publish in their own way, with any message they saw fit.

The end result is mixed aesthetically. But the message is powerful.

It’s the first Annual that realises it is more than a book. It’s a statement.

And a vision of a powerful collective.

D&AD is different.

D&AD markets to the creative, not the client.

And it always has.

This is a book publishing talent, made by talent.

It is unique.

Like it. Lump it. You don’t read D&AD. Or attend it.

You believe in it.

Creatives, it’s easy to hate an institution, but if there is one show that will tear itself apart to celebrate the future, it is this one. If there is one show that isn’t scared to change its mind, it is this one.

It is a mirror for the true creative.

And as we defeat our villains and surpass our heroes, work past the goals we set ourselves, it is the unique hard truth all of us wish we didn’t need.

Win a Lion, you may well get a pay rise.

Win at D&AD and you get something that money can’t buy.

Nils Leonard is the chief creative officer at Grey London