Johnson Banks gold is more than just a graphic

It’s great to see Johnson Banks striking D&AD gold with the Royal Mail interactive stamps (see News, page 6). Not only is it the first project to score a double whammy, also winning the prestigious Best of Show prize in the Design Week Awards this year, it is the first graphics project to win a top accolade at D&AD in years, sharing the honour with German entry Ship of Ideas by Atelier Markgraph.

The London consultancy’s success comes in a year when D&AD’s advertising heartland was not so fruitful, yielding no golds. Nor was product design as strong as it has been in recent years, despite Pearson Lloyd’s silver win for the outstanding Virgin Atlantic First Class seat. Even Apple Computer had to content itself with a silver after a run of gold awards.

The black pencil awarded for a gold win must hold particular significance for Johnson Banks founder and creative director Michael Johnson, whose stint as D&AD president ended in January. There’s nothing like living up to the standards of creativity you uphold for the industry and we need role models of his calibre.

One of the great things about the Johnson Banks stamps is that there is a story behind them. It’s not just a case of great design winning through, but of the persistence of a creative team hell bent on getting the right design accepted. It took five years to persuade the powers that be at the Royal Mail that you can allow people to have fun with a stamp and personalise their letters.

The stamps also win points for social responsibility. Conceived partly to encourage kids to write more letters in an era dominated by text messaging and e-mail, they aim to fulfill an educational function – though whether or not they have achieved this remains to be seen. The stamps should also boost the Royal Mail coffers by attracting new correspondents to the service.

It’s very rare that a graphics project touches all points in this way. Apple consistently sets the standard for product design by combining aesthetic and function with brand to create commercial success. And blazing a trail in the public sector, the joint venture between the Azumis and furniture manufacturer Keen aims to produce a flexible school desk and chair at low cost. But graphics is so often just associated with marketing and, having a limited life for both client and consumer, can only expect to bring a moment’s joy or a powerful communication.

The interactivity of the stamps is already inspiring young designers – look out for the contenders for the D&AD Student Awards at the D&AD Congress. Let’s hope that it is more than their visual qualities that are picked up as the year unfolds.

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