Week 3: Challenge – D&AD Award Winners

Studio Practice + Written Task

Explore the categories of the D&AD award winners 2019 and consider how this impacts on your views of design terminology, consider the overlaps and points of change, difference and similarity.

  • Write a short 500-word synopsis on your blog then upload the link to the ideas wall. Your blog should also demonstrate further reflection and examples of practice viewed.
  • Design and layout your chosen categories and your synopsis, as an editorial review to be seen in print or on screen

The categories and scope of the D&AD Awards have widened since its conception in 1962: in the 1980s categories were added for Photography, Retail Design, Music Videos and Product Design, the first digital categories were added in 1997 and in 2008, the categories Broadcast Innovations and Mobile Marketing were introduced.

The broadening of the categories steadily seems to echo the widening perceptions of graphic design. Interestingly in 1986 and 1987, the Awards were separated into advertising and design awards, due to the size of the venue. This split caused controversy because an issue of spatial practicality became enforced categorisation of what was design and what was advertising and had wider implications for the industry.

The categories have grown to thirty-four (1, see footnote) (with numerous subdivisions) but D&AD have retained their original credo that while “other awards organisers tend to ensure every category has a winner, D&AD Pencils are never handed out unless the work is good enough” (D&AD). In the first year, sixteen pencils were awarded from 2,500 entries (0.64% entries awarded), and this year, 718 pencils were awarded to 26,000 entries (2.76% entries).

Why are there so many categories? Is it a reflection of how the industry has constantly sought to create new nuances, to break down borders and sit in the space between them? For example, Viva la Vulva won accolades for nine categories, spanning Creativity for Good to Animation, and Project 84 for ten categories, showing that the separate juries value these projects in multiple disciplines.

Categorisation is useful for drawing together similarities between projects, yet highlights why they are different the others around them. How, for example, is a project that fits into the retail experiential category different to a project that fits into the public environments project? It isn’t the answer that is important, but rather the opportunity to question the difference and to deepen our understanding of the context in which each project was created.

Joe said in my tutorial that what we produce (e.g. book, animation, campaign) is distinct to our roles, which can be (but not to limit to): curator, musician, photographer, writer, producer, illustrator, director, cinematographer, dreamer, editor, entertainer, narrator, player, ethnographer, strategist, communicator, societal mirror, satirist, hustler, distiller, diplomat, geographer, ecologist, empowerer, mediator, listener, way-finder; all of which are a categorisation separate from the D&AD Awards.

D&AD identifies over-arching trends from the entries and produce a yearly Insight report about the research they have conducted. For 2019, the report found three key trends:

  1. What it means to be human
  2. The impact of increasingly fractured societies
  3. How technology is changing the way we access and share information,

Separately, the projects make their impact on the world, and drawn together we can see how society is changing and how creatives are responding to that. Compared to last year, the report found that “the design of assistive products that enable all people to reach their potential lags behind”, even though normalising what it means to be human is a strong theme.

Further to highlighting themes, the report continues to suggest new nuances, because “changes, threats and new developments in technology offer a world of creative opportunities for those willing to put in the work” (Dave Birss, author of the D&AD Insights Report). D&AD does not recommend these suggestions as a “crystal ball”, but as a way to inspire creatives to blur the line between categories and disciplines further to help shape education and initiatives.

In conclusion, at its worst, categorisation can be divisive and draw lines between projects where none exist. In other, more positive ways, categorisation can be used to compare similarities between projects and disciplines and draw out conclusions of the industry’s reaction to contemporary times while raising questions about why we create divisions at all.


  1. One category, new for this year, that caught my attention, was the Side Hustle, which is already divided into two “start-up” or “scale-up”. These categories resonate with me because they recognise that designers self-initiate their own projects. They take up time, mental space and finances and the categories identify that these “side hustles” can be at different stages of development and financial sustainability.