13 June 2019

D&AD Top 5 tips to move beyond mediocrity to design greatness

Day one of the D&AD festival has expectedly provided a great celebration of the design craft with a mix of visual and verbal inspiration from Rosie Arnold and even some brilliantly and entertainingly delivered strategic education for us all from the charismatic and brilliant Uri Baruchin.

Obviously the creative in me was drawn to Rosie Arnold’s masterclass talk on how to take creativity beyond the mediocre. Why? Well, it mirrored a lot of my own thoughts on creativity and the daily battle to push through great work. I was sitting like a middle-aged nodding dog and I’m not ashamed to say that.

So, what did she say that stood out? Well, a lot to be fair, but before I embarrassingly profess my undying love for her here’s 5 key take outs with a few of my own thoughts for good measure. They may also seem obvious but I fear we all need reminding of them from time to time.

1. Great brief = great work. Simple.

Obviously it’s never that simple to create an award winner every time, but if we’re armed with something that has pin sharp clarity, free of fluff and dare I say ‘bullshit’ that nobody truly understands, we have a bloody good chance of getting there! A solid brief is critical in so many ways. It’s what our work is marked against and rightly so.

For me, if the brief isn’t right, push back, question and interrogate the client. A brief should never hit a creative team until it’s nailed. Find out what the business/brand problem is. The more you know what the key problem is you can then see how you can approach it from a new angle. The more you know, the more can draw upon to build ideas that excite. Which leads me to my next take out.

2. Find a fresh new insight

If you dig deep enough and think smart enough you can uncover something truly ground breaking and brand transforming. A great example of this was the controversial Libresse ‘Red fit’ campaign in 2016 which bravely set out to break taboos that hold women back. Definitely a marked change from blue liquid and women jumping out of planes. By tackling the fact that society had made women feel uncomfortable with their periods and normalising it in our collective consciousness we can build a world where periods are 100% normal and rightly so!

Bodyform has continued with it’s ‘blood normal’ campaign with equally powerful effect. You can see the original commercial here.

3. Avoid the Buckaroo effect at all costs

Maybe I’m showing my age (and for those who don’t know what Buckaroo is, click here) but I think Rosie’s analogy summed it up brilliantly. All the little client tweaks and ‘could you just’ requests or ‘what about’ suggestions do nothing more than add too much load to a great idea so that it no longer works and bucks under the pressure. Essentially, you’re in a design by committee situation where nobody wins.

4. Be brave. Be up for the fight.

So if you find yourself in the above ‘Buckaroo’ situation how do you get around it?

Keeping a strong core team which is united on a goal helps. Failing that, push back. Whether you push back with charm and logic, or argue your point frankly is neither here nor there, as long as you fight to retain the integrity of a great solution. You risk killing an idea if you let go of little things that you think may not matter. It’s the little details that you retain that make something truly great.

I can say hand on heart that after 25 years in the industry I’ve had my fair share of bloody noses but it’s never stopped me getting up and going again. You win, you lose, but never let your ideas go without a fight!

5. If you can't find simple, tip the problem on its head.

Yes, ‘keep it simple’ is the mantra of many a creative but you can’t put enough emphasis on the effectiveness of a “I wish I’d thought of that’” idea simply executed. The sad thing is, uncovering that much coveted simplicity is tough! However, done well, simplicity of thought can make us want to pick up a catalogue in a digitally dominated world. Take a look here.

As I mentioned earlier, finding a new insight and literally turning a problem on its head can be equally effective. The advertising legend Dave Trott likes to refer to this as ‘street smarts’. Tipping a problem on its head and attacking it from a completely different angle can help us change the World. A great example here from AMV BBDO demonstrates not just great thinking but sheer tenacity in getting an idea out there.

To sum up, if we take on the above in terms of D&AD award winning the maths seem simple.

Great brief + brave client + great work = Pencil(s)


Good luck!