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June 20, 2013

Thoughts on judging D&AD

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Recently, Monique Gamache, our Design Director, was invited to judge the Graphic Design category at the prestigious D&AD awards in London. D&AD, established in 1962, celebrates the very best in advertising and design from around the world. In fact, the only thing tougher than getting into this show may be judging it.

We wanted to share Monique’s thoughts on her experience with D&AD. The good, the bad, and where she sees design headed in the future.

Monique, what was the judging experience like?

It was both exhausting and rewarding. I was one of 200 creatives selected from around the world. The magnitude of that still blows my mind. I served on the Graphic Design jury, one of the largest, oldest and most prestigious categories.

That category includes posters, annual reports, catalogues, motion graphics and brochures. Add it all up and it’s three grueling days of judging. Out of over 1,000 pieces, we selected 100 to be “In Book” for D&AD 2013.

From those 100 pieces, we nominated 12 that were exceptional. From those 12, each judge then voted on the piece that he or she believed was worthy of the Yellow Pencil award. The winners were revealed at the awards ceremony on June 12th.

Overall, the really good work stood out from the rest. Admittedly, at times it was difficult to decide whether something was good enough to be in the show. A lot of work was good, but was it worthy? That’s when I would refer to the D&AD judging criteria:

1. Is the idea original and inspiring?

2. Is it exceptionally well executed?

3. Is it relevant to its context?

Then there was a fourth criteria, which I added:

4. Do I really wish I had done it?

After the first round, all of the work that received 50% of the jury vote was spread out on the tables. At that point, it got tougher to decide which work should stay and which should go.

Though the judging process was occasionally a bit contentious, being involved in these conversations was the best part of the process for me. It was refreshing to hear the similarities and variations in how different designers thought.

And, occasionally, it was heartbreaking to have to see something I loved go.

What surprised you about the work?

I was genuinely surprised by how close some of the ideas were. I appreciate that creating original work is tremendously difficult. I struggle with it myself. But there was a lot of work that just felt “the same”.

Did you have a favourite piece?

Easy. The Zumtobel Group Annual Report.

This book was so beautiful that it made it difficult to look at everything else. 

It was made up of two separate books. The first contained simple but immaculately crafted financials. The second was developed by artist Anish Kapoor. It visually showed the effects of light and its capability to change – in intensity, colour and beam spread. I would love to have been in the room when the concept was presented, and I would have loved to have been the one presenting it. I was incredibly jealous.

What trends did you see?

There were a few things I noticed:

1. Legibility and the understanding that you shouldn’t have to struggle to read – good design demands it.

In all of the work, the typography was so well crafted. Complex information systems were made easy to read and understand while being absolutely beautiful at the same time. It was refreshing. I used to think that only highly conceptual things made it into award shows. I am proud – in a very geeky, type-lover way – that I was part of a jury that acknowledged typographic excellence.

2. Craft can mean a lot of different things.

The Louis Vuitton billboard for the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the ”˜Life is Electric’ digital spots for Panasonic couldn’t have been more different. The Louis Vuitton piece was highly detailed and almost over-designed, but in a good way, while the Panasonic piece had a rudimentary, almost handcrafted feel. But to me, they were both extremely well-crafted pieces of communication. It was something I really appreciated.

3. The Japanese are producing some really amazing work.

About half of the posters selected to be in book at D&AD were produced in Japan. There was a reason – in all of the Japanese pieces we selected, you could see that every detail was considered. Paper. Ink. How the ink sat on the paper or on other inks. Size. Production techniques. It was all taken into account, and it was all on the page.

What can Calgary clients and agencies learn from what’s happening elsewhere?

The importance of typography, craft, and bravery.

I say typography and craft because there were so many things with a really strong idea that were left on the table because the typography was weak or because the design and imagery were poor.

I say bravery because in all of the really amazing work that my jury nominated, it was clear that both the client and the agency had taken risks to make the work truly exceptional. The agency was brave enough to do something inspired in the category and the client was brave enough to say yes. It’s not an easy thing to do but, then again, nothing worth doing is.

Final thoughts?

Spending three days with a group of designers who shared my passion for design was an incredible experience. I have always loved beautifully crafted things and believed that craft is one of the things that has set the work we try to do at WAX apart from others in the Calgary market. This experience has reinforced that belief. It makes all the extra effort that we take to hire the right photographer, illustrator, typographer or printer for each job worthwhile.

I also have an official secret designer crush on David Hillman. His love of, and critical eye for, typography has made me want to work even harder in my quest to raise the bar in everything we do at WAX.

I will know that I have succeeded when he shares his newfound love of centered typography with me.