Does life really begin at 40 or is 40 just the new 30? Which clichÃ© would you apply as British Design & Art Direction – that bastion of creativity – enters into its fifth decade with a celebratory bang? (See feature, page 17.)
D&AD provokes mixed emotions in design – Callum Lumsden’s assessment of the situation is spot on. Everyone aspires to be part of it, but many see it as elitist. Many also perceive it as biased towards advertising, despite bids by the likes of former D&AD presidents Mary Lewis and Richard Seymour and president-elect Michael Johnson to make it more inclusive. Yet its first president was a designer, the legendary Michael Wolff, and many eminent members of the design profession have followed in his wake.
As our commentators suggest, D&AD has developed enviable strengths in recent years, from which ‘pure’ design industry bodies such as the Design Business Association and Chartered Society of Designers can learn. Its success is really down to three things: clarity, nerve and people.
It has a clear mission to promote creative excellence – a phrase it probably invented – and, as an educational charity, to facilitate learning in its broadest sense. It weathered its own financial traumas in the early 1990s and through dogged persistence has built sponsorship and broadened interest across Europe to steer its big earner, the D&AD Awards, through potential failure following the recent crash in US advertising – previously a tour de force in the awards. Nor is it afraid to call in favours from members and ‘friends’, the payback being the prestige attached to working with D&AD.
Above all, for the past ten years – its golden age – it has enjoyed outstanding leadership from chairman Anthony Simonds-Gooding and David Kester, its chief executive officer since 1994. Kester, in turn, has recruited great people for the small executive team, who have helped give D&AD a prominence and global reach unrivalled by other industry bodies.
Of course, Kester and friends haven’t cracked everything. This year they struck a collaborative deal with the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, but have yet to make similar inroads into design – though a collaboration with the DBA is on the agenda. The jury is meanwhile out on D&AD’s Workout courses for designers, initiated last month to complement the sessions for ad creatives. I would also argue that the D&AD Awards, though highly prized, haven’t the reach into design of the Design Week Awards, particularly into 3D design.
But none of this detracts from D&AD’s energy and sense of fun. Whether you consider it to be ten years old or 40, it certainly isn’t showing its age.