D&AD: killing off 'The Book'
D&AD: killing off 'The Book'
A view from Hugh Todd

A moment’s silence please for the passing of the D&AD Annual in print

The D&AD Annual is dead: 1963 - 2020.

Black and yellow armbands all round.

Fifty-seven editions covering the great and the good and the black Pencil brilliance of our industry are to be your lot.

There will be no more. Annual 58 will be digital.

Evolution? Or sacrilege?

It depends on a few things: your age, how much pleasure you get from printed materials and possibly the strength of your bookshelves.

What is irrefutable is that by going digital, there will be big savings on materials – good for the planet and savings on postage – good for my postman’s knees. 

We’re told: "The Digital Annual will be freely accessible for the global creative community." Which begs the question what does my D&AD membership actually give me now? Awaiting an official response on that one.

But there’ll be no more: "Can I have a look at your D&AD after you’ve finished weeping at why you never got a mention in the Art Direction category please." 

Instead, the world’s greatest advertising and design will be just a click away, more eyeballs on more work, inspiring the next generation to even greater heights.

But still, losing the Annual. Really? 

We call it "The Book" for a reason, because there is no other. It’s the only one we go to.

At Watford College Tony Cullingham told us to seek out the Annuals at any cost. So we took him at his word and went to the library where my mate Jonny Trunk would throw them out of the window to us, before we legged it home to pore over the likes of Trotty and Saatchi in their pomp.

Just last year, a team asked to borrow one of mine (paid for this time). They found a quiet corner and turned the pages with enormous care, like it was the Domesday Book, before suddenly screaming: “How did that get in?”

The covers are as hotly contested as the work inside. Surely one of the toughest briefs of all time: "Create an idea for the cover of a book forensically studied by the most critical people on the planet."

Alan Fletcher’s portfolio adorned the first cover in 1963. Nice idea, but not exactly groundbreaking. 

Thereafter, there was little direction, with many surreal and slightly bonkers efforts (I’m looking at you matchbox-munching monkey, 1973). Thankfully, Neil Godfrey cracked it in 1975 and did the thing that should’ve been happening all along. He put a Pencil on the cover. His very own black one with notches down the side. 

A defining moment that unleashed pencils in every imaginable guise – as beehives, rockets, medallion ribbons, baked-beans containers and more. 

And then it went all 3D&AD and the book had its "special build" moment with the inflatable one (1983), the pencil case one (1994) and the suckers one (2003).

The yellow pencil case is possibly the most loved, purely because behind the stunty design, there was still a rock solid idea. Plus it was just fucking cool.

Michael Johnson, designer of the pencil case and former president, says: "It was an honour to design the squishy pencil case, commission the ‘suckers’ and design and co-ordinate the fiftieth in 2012. Yet, if pushed, I must admit I still love the ‘inflatable’ cover designed by Malcolm Gaskin in 1983, with its non-return valve, the most."

But it’s not just the covers.

It’s the gold, silver and bronze inside. 

Although gold is actually black, there is no bronze, and silver is yellow. Answers on a postcard please. 

So how will the move from paper to pixels affect "The D&AD 57" – those spoddy individuals who own an entire collection of all 57 Annuals. I sense a sharp rise in value the minute the digital Annual goes live. 

Elliot Harris, global partner at Havas, finally completed the full set this year, 25 years after acquiring his first, strangely enough while working at D&AD. “My collection sits in a bespoke bit of furniture custom made for Annuals (pictured above)," he says.

"They are on show but my five kids and Doberman are under a strict 'do not touch' policy. I can look at work online, but it's nothing like sitting with the Annual, when you can make new discoveries while looking for something else. This would never happen online.

"I was a fan of the 3D covers, but have veered towards the classics, I really like 1985. Apparently, Paul Arden turned up to D&AD with a small sample of the red leather, laid it down on the table and said, 'I want it covered in this and de-bossed in gold type' and walked out.”

With more than 300 entries, Sir John Hegarty is comfortably the name printed most often in the book, and he isn’t keen on losing it. “I think it’s an absolute tragedy," he tells me. "This book is a record of our industry that can be handed down to each generation. Reducing it to a digital-only version diminishes its importance.

"And, of course, as technology evolves, how do we ensure we’ll always be able to access the work? VHS anyone? I can still see The Book of Kells at Trinity in Dublin, it’s a thousand years old. It’s always there.”

So maybe a campaign to persuade D&AD to change its mind? Or is this merely evolution. The organisation champions all things new and forward-thinking, so maybe embracing a digital Annual is a good thing.

One of the industry’s newest and smartest teams – Alastair Milne and Paloma Gardiner – now on placement at Isobel after starting up their own agency on leaving Watford College, aren’t convinced. Gardiner says: “Part of our creative process is stumbling across inspiring ideas. It’s harder to do that on the website because it’s poorly organised. You have to know exactly what you’re looking for. Having the Annuals to hand is so much more engaging than looking at a screen.”

As we come to the end, I flick to the index.

No images or headlines or cool techniques, just the names of Pencil winners in cold black and white. This is the page of reckoning and where most people head towards. Because, secretly, we all want to know who’s in. And who’s out.

And it fills me with sadness to think the D&AD Annual is now out, gone to the great iCloud in the sky.

Hugh Todd is a writer, creative director and podcaster. And is currently 13 Annuals short of a complete D&AD collection.