Award wins are only one way to measure creativity. But judging by the number of entries the key schemes attract – the 1999 Design Week awards scored about 1000 entries, while the design sections of the D&AD Awards registered almost 4000 contenders – they matter very much.
Awards are a friendly jostle among peers that allows each to evaluate its own rating. Winning them can build a reputation, not just with clients, but also within the business and can help attract the best staff.
But this year’s creative survey throws up the unfortunate tendency for small groups such as the chart-topping Johnson Banks and Frost Design, which excel in creative awards, to shun business accolades such as the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards and a ranking in the Design Week Top 100 charts. They simply don’t enter, believing the business side is not what it’s about.
Key financial players such as WPP Group corporate identity star Enterprise IG, meanwhile, don’t often rank high – if at all – in creative league tables. Either they’re too grand, they believe, to be judged by their peers, or, worse, they don’t see design as important enough to be celebrated.
There are exceptions. The Partners, Pentagram and identity rivals Interbrand Newell and Sorrell and Wolff Olins, for example, have set themselves both business and creative targets, and they’re pretty good at achieving their goals. Would that more followed their lead.
It’s really a question of how you judge creativity. Is it just manifested in visual work, is it about business efficiency or is it in a consultancy’s intellectual approach? Obviously, a balance of all three gets the best results. But too many consultancies allow themselves to be pigeon-holed as “business-ey” or “creative” agencies.
It’s a question of culture, and creativity and commerce can sit comfortably together within a consultancy with great success. Lewis Moberly’s creative prowess in packaging and branding is, for example, beyond doubt. Yet not many years ago it won the DBA Design Effectiveness Grand Prix, making a solid commercial case for its Boots tights packaging. It also continues to make a healthy showing in the upper half of the DW Top 100 charts.
A rare occurrence, but if more of the so-called creative groups followed suit, lesser talents would find new role models and groups focusing on the business side would have to think again. Design might even earn a reputation with clients, the Government and the media as an exemplar of how business should be done in the 21st century.