Heading in the right direction

Mary Lewis faces a challenging task at the D&AD helm, but is undaunted and full of ideas, reports Bhavna Mistry

SBHD: Mary Lewis faces a challenging task at the D&AD helm, but is undaunted and full of ideas, reports Bhavna Mistry

That much-coveted pencil. In design and advertising, the yellow or black Design and Art Direction pencil which symbolises creative excellence and commercial viability is the ultimate accolade, the one to win.

But D&AD has been through troubled times, and echoes of the criticisms it faced a few years ago – of being a self-congratulatory, self-centred organisation which was resting on its laurels – still resound. Designers have long felt that D&AD is more interested in the ad world. Pledges from past presidents, culled from the design world every other year (almost), seem to have made little difference to the neglect of design within the organisation.

So how will Mary Lewis, creative director of design group Lewis Moberly – and incidentally D&AD’s first ever woman president – redress the balance?

“My priority is to address the specific needs of designers who continue to feel short-changed. I will be fighting their corner,” says Lewis, who believes she is taking the helm at a time when the organisation is in “very good shape”. Certainly D&AD’s membership is up by 10 per cent on 1993, and the organisation currently has 950 full members and 200 associate members. But although the number of design members has increased since The Partners founder Aziz Cami’s presidency in 1993, designers still make up only a quarter of the membership.

Lewis, who reportedly stood unopposed in the election, says the role of the president has changed. “D&AD is now a brand. The president is a brand guardian.” Hands on and sleeves up is Lewis’s style, and she stresses her involvement will go beyond that of a figurehead “as in the past”. Lewis is visibly excited by her role and is making changes at a fundamental level within the organisation. She has altered the way the awards jury is being organised and is continuing the organisation’s aim of encompassing a broader role, both in raising D&AD’s profile within the client and public arena and also widening its appeal to young creatives.

Speakers for the President’s Lectures, now an established forum for D&AD, but “perhaps too introspective”, will be opened out… Peter Blake, Javier Mariscal and Saul Bass are among those in the 1995 line-up.

The Festival – to be held at the Saatchi Gallery and organised by theatre producer Di Robson, who has been appointed festival director – will become a higher profile three-week event, “projecting D&AD into the public domain”. A two-day business conference, public lectures and exhibitions form part of what Lewis describes as “our most important event for the client community. The Festival’s focus will link creative excellence with strategic precision.”

Other initiatives include an education programme aimed at helping those already in employment as well as those looking for a job. The student awards, which attract more than 900 entries each year, have received ú50 000 in sponsorship this year.

More appositely for designers, Lewis has pinpointed what she sees as the reasons for the industry’s dissatisfaction with D&AD and the design/advertising relationship.

“Design, unlike advertising, is a highly fragmented industry. It spans large groups, one-man bands, problem-solvers and stylists. By comparison, advertising is a more homogenous body, it has a more singular view of D&AD and through its focus – and it has to be said, its funds – it seemingly dominates,” acknowledges Lewis.

Part of tempting designers to the D&AD fold then is to address the problems thrown up by the “design difference” and create “dedicated solutions”. Lewis has started with the awards jury.

The 1995 D&AD jury will consist of three groups of eight judges who will ” judge `families’ of categories which share common parameters”, says Lewis. Of the 24 jurors, 12 have not judged before and all have been chosen for their “ability to cross the categories and – equally important – to be interested in all of them”, adds Lewis. The choice of jurors, which includes Vince Frost of Big Magazines and Dave Carson of Ray Gun, reflects the need to get more “young creatives” involved in the organisation.

“I recognise the need to throw the creative net wide,” says Lewis. “It is vital that our young designers relate to D&AD. Last year 17 advertising awards were given against nine for design. I want to see this change, giving designers a greater sense of their worth and equal status.”

Lewis maintains also that the awards ceremony itself has not been designer friendly. The event is justifiably dubbed “ad man’s night out”. “Few [designers] attend and those who do are disappointed. There are practical issues – design is often detailed and involved. The stills we show alongside commercials are inadequate. This year we plan to film the winning design work, giving it dimension and life.” Ruby Wax as presenter should certainly bring life to the event.

The figures are beginning to show that D&AD is indeed on the mend. Its policy of continuity, brought to the organisation by the three-year stint which members of the nine-strong committee now have to serve, is paying off. With its long-term policy finally beginning to reap results, the details haven’t been forgotten. Lewis is addressing the visual faces of D&AD’s fragmented image, with a review of all literature and publications. Lewis states: “A focused, confident organisation needs a corresponding image.”

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