There is a widely held view that no printed item could ever scoop top prize in one of the major design competitions. Best-in-show awards and D&AD Black Pencils tend to go to the latest product from Apple or some other techno wizardry from the digital realm. Hardly surprising, I suppose. After all, print is dead, isn’t it?
Well, not quite. Awards-watchers will have noted that the printed literature produced by a small faith-based charity in Leeds – St George’s Crypt – regularly appears in lists of award-winners. And this year it’s done the unthinkable and won Best in Show at the Design Week 2010 Awards with a striking printed document called Annual Report and Six Accounts.
Looking at St George’s Crypt’s publications, it’s easy to see why its material snags the attention of design juries. There’s something elemental and daringly honest about everything it publishes. And remarkably, it is doing it at a time when many charities are turning themselves into McCharities and adopting the bland, smooth-edged strategies of high street commerce.
The smooth approach holds little appeal for the crypt’s fundraising and public relations director, Martin Patterson. ’We want to inform the reader about the real issues which affect our service-users in their lives,’ he says, ’and we want to ensure that this message gets across, sometimes in unexpected ways.’
To achieve his objectives, Patterson works with designer Lee Bradley of Leeds-based B&W Studio. ’We respect each other’s viewpoints,’ he says, ’and we recognise that our skills truly complement each other.’
The fruits of their relationship can be seen in the charity’s annual report. Life-sized portraits of half-a-dozen people helped by the charity, each shot in merciless close up, hit you with the force of the wind that sweeps off the Yorkshire moors. The text is matter-of-fact and unapologetic.
The art direction and typography is sophisticated and direct. The unbound pages are the size of a small blanket that a rough sleeper might use. As foreman of the Design Week Awards graphics jury, it was my job to present this document to the combined juries for consideration for Best in Show. Its impact was immediate – it commanded respect, and it got it.
I asked Patterson why he had chosen unswerving realism for his annual report, rather than the feel-good imagery and the tropes of consumer advertising adopted by so many other charities. ’The work of the crypt is becoming ever more complex and challenging,’ he says. ’We wanted to identify a key part of that challenge.
Alcohol-dependency is such a major part of the issues confronting so many of our service-users that it seemed an obvious theme. We wanted to showcase six case studies – and it was important to present a selection of “outcomes” in the cases presented. This is important as there is, sadly, no monopoly on success in this field.’
In fact, one of the six subjects died shortly after his story was written. It’s an affecting tale that few readers will fail to recognise as a hellish path down which any of us might stumble given the right (or, should I say, wrong) circumstances.
Of course, charities do not exist to provide graphic designers with opportunities to do award-winning work. We give them our money to enable them to help others, and we don’t want it spent on lavish brochures or slick direct-mail campaigns. Patterson is aware of the need to avoid excess.
’We are determined that the balance between well-produced material and the need to develop this material cost-effectively is maintained,’ Patterson says. ’Our designer and photographer only charge for materials and expenses; and printing and paper costs are scrutinised carefully to achieve best value. All documents are produced in a simple way, with no lavish finishes or binding techniques.’
We should be glad that charities like St George’s Crypt exist. First, because it helps people who desperately need help, but also because it communicates its activities – and its need for funds – with the honesty that makes giving to charity feel like a privilege, rather than just another bit of consumerist behaviour.