Season of strange choices yields interesting winners

It seems to be the season for odd choices. No one doubts, for example, the outstanding contribution that Michael Wolff and Wally Olins have made to the design industry, separately and together. But it does seem a little strange that British Design and Art Direction president Michael Johnson should honour both with the President’s Award at last week’s D&AD dinner (see News).

It is many years since Wolff and Olins worked together – and since Johnson did his ‘apprenticeship’ at the consultancy they founded. They had a phenomenal influence on corporate design in the 1980s, but neither now has any involvement in Wolff Olins, owned by US marketing services conglomerate and Interbrand parent Omnicom. And there is very little of the old Wolff Olins in the current group – the Omnicom acquisition and Olins’ departure two years ago marked a major shift.

Now with Olins involved in various high-profile, socially aware projects, partly through Madrid-based group Saffron, and Wolff doing his own thing, there seems little reason to link their names. What is odd is that that they haven’t been honoured before.

Meanwhile, across the Channel strange choices were made by British design groups, none of which entered the Pan European Brand Design Association’s Golden Mermaid Awards. Nor, apart from Big Idea Brand Management’s Bill Wallsgrove, did any UK design folk attend the PDA’s congress in Barcelona last week – organised, ironically, by London company Design Events and chaired by Shan Preddy of The Preddy Consultancy.

If anyone loses by this non-European stance it is the UK design community. This is because, conference content apart, in an increasingly global business, organisations such as the PDA offer the chance to meet potential allies and rivals from elsewhere – from as far afield as Moscow in that instance – and understand their markets.

So congratulations to Golden Mermaid winners, FutureBrand’s Dutch office (Grand Prix), Swiss group ARD Graphic, Germany’s Brand Central Station and Dutch group Mountain Design. Hopefully, next year British designers will also rise to the challenge.

Finally, congratulations to Apple Computer’s Jonathan Ive and the judging panel that voted him the Design Museum’s first Designer of the Year (see News). This is a great choice, bucking the trend of the season, but it was surely the only one.

The other Design Museum contenders, Rockstar Games, Tord Boontje and Solange Azagury-Partridge, are all highly talented designers, worthy of recognition. But given that Terence Conran founded the museum as a showcase of industrial design, it is fitting that it should stay on brief in the award’s first year.

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