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Creativity in the Time of Coronavirus


Jonathan Kneebone of The Glue Society on this year’s D&AD winners

Creativity in the Time of Coronavirus

The Glue Society's Jonathan Kneebone reflects on the winners of this years D&AD awards. 

“What a difference a year makes.” (With apologies to Ms. Dinah Washington).

We’ve gone from a profession that prides itself on turning up late to meetings to one which arrives bang on time. From an industry that forces people to work ungodly hours at the office to one that forces people to work ungodly hours at home. And from a business that jealously slags each other off daily to one that now does it with far less regularity – thanks to becoming rather less productive.

But we are learning to live with a virus.

Something that if left to its own devices would kill us off in increasingly large numbers and leave our economy in greater tatters, our nerves in worse shreds and our own devices worn out from even more overuse. If such a thing were possible.

We are learning to work out that some things are important. And learning that some things are not. And perhaps that some things never should have been.

We’re working out who we actually like, what we like doing, who we want to stay in touch with and who we really can’t live without touching.

We are learning what’s essential, what’s irrelevant, what’s invaluable, what’s worthwhile, what’s helpful and what’s redundant - hoping that in this last case that it’s not our industry or indeed us.

We are working out that we can work from wherever, and work with whoever we want wherever they are. Without stepping foot on a plane or having to reset our watches.

We are working out that ideas play a vital role in keeping us inspired and interested. And that people who have ideas and make things are actually invaluable.

We are learning new things. We are surprising ourselves with what we are capable of. And we are slowly – very slowly – taking back some control of our lives, our livelihoods and in some respects, our future selves.

Of course, we’re currently doing this through gritted teeth, itchy face masks and steamed up glasses.

And we can only hope that at some point these things become unnecessary for the vast majority of us again.

Speaking of which - in amongst the unnecessary advertising gumpf which feels like it’s just treading water or doing something because it feels like we should be doing something – a few things have emerged to give us hope that we can and should exist.

To remind us that communication can make a difference and that it can bring about change for the better.

The New York Times’ “Life Needs Truth” film is a case in point. “The Whole Working At Home Thing” from Apple too. The Facebook “Never Lost” ad that launched a thousand shit versions. IKEA’s “Tortoise And Hare” prequel – a lesson in how to educate and entertain if ever there was one. “Britain Get Talking” from ITV. Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us”. Libresse “Wombstories”.  

There has been some seriously wonderful stuff emerge from our bubbles. (And that’s not something one might have said with such a straight face a year ago.)

Yes, we are learning to live with a virus.

Even if at times, it means learning to live with bouts of creative jealousy or personal re-evaluation. In fact, the fact that jealousy is starting to return is probably a sign of recovery.

And today – almost ironically on the day that we Australians are encouraged to ask each other “Are you ok?”, D&AD went and published the 2020 Black Pencil winners.

And it appears, this year – in spite of everything – Australia is ok. Perhaps better than ok – because we came in 9th in the rankings. (With New Zealand 12th).

But it’s hard to suggest we’re great.

So while there were no Grahams or Dumb Ways or Palau Pledges for us this year (although this last campaign was voted Best Design Black Pencil from the last decade by the D&Ad Members) there were two yellows, nine graphites and fifteen wood pencils for Australia and New Zealand.

With a year as tough as 2020, this is still very much a cause for celebration though. And the winners deserve a socially-distanced pat on the back. If such a thing were remotely possible.

The jury members who gathered on Zoom at ungodly hours to judge each category will tell you, winning anything at D&Ad is no mean feat. Pencils do not grow on trees – despite being made of them.

The voting system is such that nothing gets through that doesn’t reach a certain standard or surpass the most detailed of scrutiny. D&Ad is the definition of tough. And as such we should be judging ourselves against it. Rather than getting over excited about winning Eurobests, AdStars or other such nonsense.

In 2020, four pieces of work managed to achieve the extraordinary standard required to be recognised with a black pencil.

The “Moldy Whopper” for PR, “The Gun Violence History Book” design work, the inventive “Black and Abroad” digital campaign and the adaptable “Universal Sans” typeface.

I doubt anyone would suggest this a vintage year.

And in some ways, I’m personally surprised that these projects did receive the ultimate in recognition.

There is a familiarity to all of them – and if not that, then sufficient flaws, question marks or oversights to warrant a call to the bunker for a slow motion replay of the case study at least.

(And if they’re good enough…then I personally think IKEA’s “Silence The Critics” should be in there alongside them.)

But in a year when we are looking for rays of hope and positivity, these pieces arguably do deserve more than second best.

And in some ways, they showcase what can be done with a clear head, a brave client, a passion for craft and a collaborative effort.

In light of the year we’ve been having, it is hard not to have softened our judgement of what is exceptional.

But that said, having an almost impossible goal to aim for is really what keeps us trying our best. It’s important and it matters. And it’s why people who haven’t won a black pencil will say it’s the true benchmark of creativity just as much as those who have got one.

In a year when anything seems possible, setting our sights on what seems impossible is something that feels truer and more meaningful and more relevant today than ever.

It’s why we strive for a vaccine. It’s why we demand black lives matter. It’s why we hope people vote.

Let’s hope 2021 brings some relief, some warmth, some recovery and a burst of optimism and creativity.

Because I suspect the world is looking to Australia and New Zealand to put a smile on their faces as never before.

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Revolver, Fri, 11 Sep 2020 06:57:47 GMT