Is there room at the top?

In light of D&AD’s plans to expand its awards next year, Anne Konopelski asks whether an increase in the number of design events is sustainable

Last week, British Design & Art Direction, annual bestower of the creative industries’ coveted Yellow Pencils, unveiled plans for a three-week creative congress to revolve around its May awards ceremony, to be held for the first time at Old Billingsgate Market.

This will be the second full-scale event launched within the creative community in the space of a year. Last September brought the inaugural London Design Festival, which gathered together more than 30 disparate organisations and events, including 100% Design and Designersblock.

While the two events appear to be courting different audiences – the LDF, through its World Creative Forum, seeks to link the country’s creative talent with international clients, while the D&AD Congress will continue the organisation’s mission of educating, rewarding and promoting, through its awards, the design and advertising industries to the UK’s business arena – they have strikingly similar formats.

Like its predecessor, the D&AD Congress proposes to offer workshops, exhibitions, screenings, seminars, lectures, private views and networking events in a ‘pick and mix programme for everyone with a stake in creativity’, including clients, educators and creatives.

Does Britain need more than one big design festival a year? Can it sustain two? A recent article in the Financial Times suggests the there is sufficient potential. According to the newspaper, creative industries generate between £16bn and £20bn for the capital’s economy alone. The Government predicts they will be the fastest-growing source of jobs during the next five years.

The newspaper also asserts that design is the biggest hitter within the creative industries. Some 75 000 people across the country work in the design industry full time, turning over £6.5bn, the article says.

LDF director Ben Evans agrees that the country’s creative industries are enjoying a period of growth. This, combined with a ‘greater awareness within business, the Government and the general public of the breadth’ of homegrown design talent, accounts for the recent proliferation of design events, he says.

And good naturedly, Evans is firmly behind any efforts to ‘do more coherent stuff to promote the UK’s creative community’. ‘We have one of the world’s great creative industries, and at the heart of it is design. It is important that [people] continue to grow in awareness of the contribution design makes,’ he says.

Events such as the LDF – and the proposed D&AD Congress – play a vital part in ‘celebrating excellence, promoting awareness and creating new business opportunities’ here and abroad, Evans says. ‘If [design events] are able to meet those three criteria, they’re worth their weight in gold.’

Francesca Templeman, group manager of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Design and Innovation, agrees that design festivals can give the industry a stronger voice – with Parliament as well as with business. By ‘bringing the best [in design] together’ and representing them in ‘the most unified and positive manner possible’, they can help the sector as a whole ‘communicate effectively with Parliamentarians’, she says.

‘The question to ask is whether [the LDF and the D&AD Congress] provide this opportunity, raising the profile of UK design and celebrating its strength and diversity with the broadest possible audience. The answer in my opinion is yes, absolutely so.’

Templeman adds, ‘The UK needs to shout loudly about the undeniable brilliance and vitality of its design industry. If these festivals enable us to do this, then they [are] a good thing.’

But all of this questions whether Government bodies will be able to provide the overarching funding needed to support two major design events, and whether creatives will pay for it. Though it raises significant money commercially, the LDF currently enjoys substantial backing from the London Development Agency. And D&AD chief executive Michael Hockney says his charitable organisation is also ‘talking to them’ , presumably about obtaining its own slice of the funding pie.

According to Jonathan Sands, Elmwood chairman and director of Networking for Industry, Government departments and agencies such as the LDA ‘split their pots of cash in different ways’. Endorsement, he suggests, may therefore not be a problem.

But given the LDF’s three-year relationship with the LDA, Sands says it is common sense for the D&AD Congress to collaborate, rather than compete with the LDF. ‘It would seem logical to me that they promote each other. The D&AD was involved in [September’s] London Design Festival and should continue to do so. And the London Design Festival should be given a voice in the D&AD Congress,’ he says.

‘What we need in our industry is collaboration rather than competition among our stakeholders. That will give both [events] a chance to live and be successful,’ Sands adds.

Hockney, however, insists that competition between the LDF and D&AD Congress is a non-issue. He says the LDA is ‘sure to take each approach they receive on its merits’. And more broadly speaking, he says he does not ‘see [the D&AD Congress] as being in competition with the World Creative Forum at all. I don’t feel that the World Creative Forum cuts across our mission. What we’re doing is what we’ve been doing for a long time, adding some extra things.’

Indeed, Hockney says new events make up 40 per cent of the D&AD Congress’s itinerary. Some of the more notable events are an exhibition of advertising and design work nominated for awards and ‘sector showcases’, displaying submissions across the automotive, fashion and telecommunications sectors. These, he hopes, will help to cement the UK’s design and advertising communities.

Regardless of whether the growing number of design-focused events complement each other or peck away at one pot of cash, surely it can only be a boon for the UK’s design community – particularly one that is just clambering out of Sir Martin Sorrell’s mythic bath.

D&AD Congress

Duration: 22 days

Location: Old Billingsgate Market

Central event: The D&AD Awards and Student Awards. Known as the design and advertising industries’ ‘Oscars’. Recognise the best creative work across 27 categories, including writing, art direction, architecture, music videos and photography.

Cost: £225 for D&AD Awards ceremony and dinner. Individual events cost up to £300. Congress packages cost between £395 and £695, not including concessions.

London Design Festival Duration: eight days Location: Various locations, to be confirmed

Central event: World Creative Forum. It aims to explore the impact of creativity on business and society. It seeks to establish a ‘dialogue’ between groups and creatives, allowing people to interact with each other, creating opportunities. Festival organisers sought to make it an international event from day one.

Cost: three-day forum, £1250. Individual events cost up to £20, not including concessions.

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