A good year for design hits and the odd myth

Looking back to last week’s Design Week Awards, now that the results have sunk in, it is interesting to consider the themes that emerged from what is essentially a snapshot of the industry’s creative output over the past year.

The first observation is that small is still very beautiful in terms of the size of consultancies creating the best work and independence seemingly helps. Johnson Banks’ outstanding success, winning Best of Show for its interactive Royal Mail stamps is testimony to this, as is the continued success of Manchester group Love with its work for the local Youth Justice Trust, the double win for A2-Graphics/SW/HK and the winning interiors created by the likes of Universal Design Studio and Bisset Adams.

But small is no longer the only route to creativity. It was, for example, interesting to see Enterprise IG boss Dave Allen walking up to collect the Branded Packaging prize for his New Zealand colleagues at Designworks Enterprise IG. Its WPP Group stablemate The Partners won an award for the De Beers symbol, while The Partners, Enterprise IG and Coley Porter Bell were among the big ‘owned’ groups on the shortlists.

In the interiors categories, Aukett, Building Design Partnership and Foster & Partners are hardly small concerns, though all came away from the event amply awarded for their talent.

Second, the myth just about holds that creativity blossoms when groups are doing their own work – or for charities or in education where creative freedom is deemed to be greater than with a corporate client. Richardson Smith’s own award-winning website, A2-Graphics/SW/HK’s posters for Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College and the Love work support this view. But this year fewer examples were to be found on the shortlists.

We have argued for years that designers ought to demonstrate the same creative strength and sheer nerve to all clients. Though times are tough, there is evidence that that is beginning to happen – but some highly commercial areas such as packaging need a lot more work.

Third, any lingering idea that in-house design is not as good as work generated by external consultancies is dispelled by the two special awards given by the judges this year. Apple Industrial Design’s consistent quality in terms of styling, innovation and attention to detail and BBC Post Production’s brilliance in its execution of the Collision Course special effects and titles are an example to all.

We hope to see more of the same in next year’s awards – and, more importantly, the high standards demonstrated this year creating a benchmark for all creative work over the next 12 months.

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