Awards schemes can help profile fresh talent

Design awards always throw up surprises and though projects such as the Science Museum’s Wellcome Wing, a winner in this year’s Design Week Awards, are naturals for prizes, a few in this year’s crop make you stop and think.

Digit’s Best of Show win with channel idents for MTV2 On Air, for example, suggests screen graphics is going from strength to strength creatively, while some other sectors are stuck in a rut. Williams Murray Hamm’s success in corporate identity with its branding for organic retailer Here! meanwhile shows how much the barriers are breaking down between traditional design disciplines.

But while schemes such as Design Week’s and the D&AD Awards honour great work, they’re a good way of spotting new creative talent. Take Thomas Heatherwick, who shot from nowhere in 1998 to win D&AD Gold for his Harvey Nichols windows and this year scoops a Design Week Award for Glasgow show Identity Crisis. We’ve also seen Manchester consultancy Tucker Clarke-Williams rise to fame through awards success.

But when it comes to identifying who from the new generation will lead design forward, you have to dig deeper. It takes sound business sense and solid clients, as well as great work, to make a real mark these days. These elements can exist in combination – take digital media star Deepend and its parent Deep Group. You can also find groups with vision – this week, we see digital media group AMX and product design consultancy Priestman Goode acclaimed for their visionary approach. But these instances are rare.

Most consultancies are let down by the quality of the work. It’s not bad, but, among mainstream players, it is rarely ground-breaking. Maybe clients have the upper hand, the industry is short of good senior designers, or creativity is being channelled into other areas of the business, but it means the succession is uncertain should the supergroups decide to bow out.

We do, however, have a wealth of experienced talents rethinking their lives. By these I mean the stalwarts of seminal groups such as The Partners – now owned by WPP Group – The Identica Partnership, Wolff Olins and others who are working on succession plans. These designers were the bright creative sparks of a previous generation. Their energy has gone into business in recent years, but they’re still highly creative.

Imagine Aziz Cami and veteran ad man Tim Delaney coming together with Imagination’s Gary Withers, or Michael Peters joining up with Mary Lewis and Ideo’s Bill Moggridge. Great things might ensue, giving design a new leadership strain. Not a bad thought.

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