Populist design is absent from D&AD

Nowhere is the uneasy relationship between designers and the ad community more obvious than at that orgy of self-congratulation known as the D&AD Awards ceremony.

No sooner do examples of designers' award-winning work hit the big screen above the podium, then agency types either disparage or ignore it. Doubtless the attention span of many designers matches that of a goldfish when the best of the ad industry's output goes on show.

This disconnect is easy to understand. Winners in the design categories can often seem self-indulgent and obsessed with niche products few people ever encounter. They seem to lack the relevance of mainstream ad campaigns such as John Smith's and Audi, whose credibility and relevance is built through driving sales. The "luvviness" and insularity which bedevilled D&AD for so long - but now thankfully dissipated - seems to be the main reason for this. Nevertheless, it remains hard to take some D&AD judgments seriously when a redesign for a small Japanese clothes shop gets a Pencil.

Against that background, the decision to bestow the D&AD President's Award on Wally Olins and Michael Wolff for their "outstanding contribution" to the design industry is significant. The pair were pioneers of the movement to bring design to the heart of the communication business. To them, design has never been an indulgence but a business aid. Without their pioneering approach it's questionable whether some of the most notable joint initiatives between designers and agencies - VCCP and Lambie Nairn for O2, WCRS and Wolff Olins for Orange - would ever have happened.

Yet these co-operations belie a lingering climate of mistrust with a significant number of ad people either fearful or disdainful of designers' contributions. As one leading design industry figure says: "Some agencies still think of us as the 'designer johnnies' who sit in the corner and do the logo." Such "head in the sand" attitudes are very dangerous. Companies such as Wolff Olins proved very successful in convincing clients that a brand can't be successfully advertised until its personality has been defined.

The more enlightened agencies realise that the most effective communications will invariably be a perfect fusion of the advertising and design disciplines. Particularly as the number of global campaigns increases the need for highly visual work.

By working together, both have the opportunity to move much further upstream with clients and reap the rewards.