D&AD: What Did We Learn?

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The D&AD (Design and Art Direction) Awards are a showcase of the year's best and brightest creatives from all over the world. With projects from every commercial design practice imaginable, they are an insight into the challenges and opportunities the creative industry faces, as well as the innovative solutions and reflections from its practitioners.

Our creative team were lucky enough to attend, gathering nuggets of wisdom from some of the highest performing designers and creative studios in the world. 

Looking at the overall themes of this year, we noticed many were a counter reaction to the rise of generative AI and the industrialisation of design as a craft.

Many of the insights and learnings we heard are founded on retaining a sense of humanity in an increasingly digital world. They could help us change our definition of digital from something synthetic to a new medium of what it means to be human. 

Digital Democratisation:
The New Frontier Of Traditional Creativity

Until recently, the definition of creativity and craft was defined by a strong sense of industry and tradition. Being ‘creative’ was possessively protected by a privileged few - the creatives themselves. ‘There's a sense that there is a creative business and there is a business over here that is not creative’, as Deloitte Digital UK CCO Andrew Sandoz said in his talk, ‘Creativity and the corporate beast’. But automation and lowered accessibility thresholds for design tools has started to fracture the divide. Creativity is now being democratised beyond the creative industry itself, demanding to be redefined in the digital realms in particular.


Generative AI X Globality

A huge theme in the reflections of ‘what is creative’ was of course generative AI. Touched on in every discussion of the day, its merits and flaws in the design process were approached and inspected through the lenses of various design processes and industries.

There were several design studios like Rehab Agency who have not just dipped their toe in the pond, but completely thrown themselves into it - honing it into its own creative tool that they argue enhances the emotional intelligence and collaborative partnership of brand narratives and creative solutions.

But many panellists and jurors voiced concerns on the ethics of generative AI - not only on the use of it, but the very ethics applied by the tool itself.

In the same way that its supporters highlight its ability to enhance and simplify, Generative AI often exposes the previously invisible lens of globality and cultural biases in our creative practices.

What one human culture defines as beauty is vastly different to others, yet generative AI promises all users one enhanced, simplified answer. As one Design panellist noted, ‘there’s lots of work to do’. 


Old X New = Familiar Originality 

However, while the generative AI exposes our societal biases, it can also offer deeper insights into cultural creativity and its preservation. Traditions are being mixed with modern media to bring non-digital cultures and their practices to the global forum.

Yellow pencil winners EK Type brought this to life in their development of the Nepalese Ranjana script, a culturally rich script that had limited digital representation due to its complexity.

Digitising over thousands of symbols, EK Type contemporised the ancient script while ensuring its survival in the future and widening accessibility to the language. Preserving the past and renewing it for the future is creating new creative perspectives and ideas, while keeping a key cornerstone of the human experience - culture - intact within the digital world.


The Digital Qualities Of Connection:
Tactility And Customisability

With digital experiences now a creative frontier, traditional design industries have had to ask themselves: how do we make physical connections in a digital space? Digital design can be seamless and sophisticated, but it can lack the human connection that previous generations of design seemed to intrinsically possess.

It was something confronted and discussed with particular substance in the Luxury Design Panel discussion, an industry built on the reputation of authenticity, physicality and craft excellence - all things digital traditionally struggles with. They seemed to have some form of an answer - intimacy through customizability. Along with nuance and desire, it is a core characteristic of the luxury industry. One they have used to be at the forefront of a particular area of digital design - user experience.

Digital experiences are now being developed to be as customised for every individual’s tastes and preferences as any high fashion store. ‘Everything should be wrapped up nicely without a word being said’ as one panellist said. 

Another process of humanising digital has been the element of tactility. Textural imprints of paint and brushes, organic finishings and random asymmetry - they help design break through the smoothness of digital mediums, giving digital the quality of connection. 

Those interested in more insights can be ready to find a treasure trove of them in the upcoming D&AD Annual Trend Report - last year’s is just as good a read if you haven’t already.