Cannes Design Lions: The good, the bad and the brilliant

Coley Porter Bell’s Stephen Bell reports back from the annual creative jamboree.

I have just had the privilege of attending the Cannes Lions Festival and Awards.  As well as seeing some excellent seminars, having a chance to talk to industry peers and yes, consume the odd glass of rosé or three, it was a wonderful opportunity to see some excellent creative work. Not just in design but in many communication categories.

That said, what about the design category, where only two UK agencies won Lions this year? Well, the Cannes Design Lions in my view is a bit like the town of Cannes itself – fabulously aspirational and not really very much to do with the real world.

What I mean by that is that the winners this year, while displaying some amazing creativity, ingenious in some cases, are largely for small, niche and one-off projects that few people will ever come into contact with. This alongside an awful lot of ‘design for good’ entries for charitable causes.  There is a distinct lack of work for big brands – although those present are great.

This could be an indication of a couple of things. Either the Design Lions jury is becoming somewhat elitist and rarefied in its choices, or big brands are failing to harness brilliant design.  In truth I suspect a bit of both is at play. 

That said, there is much to be admired in the winners. Particular highlights for me include the Grand Prix winner – a 360° brand and identity experience for the Bergen International Festival created by Norwegian consultancy Anti Bergen. It is beautiful, intelligent, unexpected and the attention to craft and detail is sublime.

Another amazing piece is the ‘Mother Book’, designed by Dentsu Nagoya, which won a Gold Lion for book design. It is described as ‘a book that grows with expecting mothers’ and is a stunning piece of work that was clearly a labour of love (excuse the pun)’.

Of the many ‘design for good’ winners, my favourite is the cleft awareness identity for Operation Smile India, by Ogilvy and Mather India which won a gold for large-scale logo.  With very little budget, they have created a ‘type-able’ logo that can be created and tweeted by anyone and symbolises the transformation from a cleft to a smile. It is design at its very best. A genius concept that is truly practical to implement and can reach many people.

One thing that was disappointing was the actual exhibition of the Design winners itself.  For some reason, this year the exhibition was relegated to an upper floor in the Palais, away from the majority of the other categories and out of sight to most attendees. 

Not only that, but unlike previous years, only a limited number of winners were on display, with the majority catalogued on iPads.  I can look on an iPad at home!  It is far more impactful, easy and indeed pleasurable to walk around an exhibition with all work on display. Let’s hope this changes next year.

Stephen Bell is executive creative director at Coley Porter Bell.

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