View from the Jury: Rodney Fitch

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The inaugural Cannes International Advertising Festival that took place in 1954 followed on from the film festival and the Lions were all about honoring cinema advertising. Since then press, radio, digital and the like have been added, and now, 50 odd years later, design is to be included as a category in its own right. This begs two questions: first, why did it take so long, and second, why now?

Rodney Fitch, Design Lions Jury Chair
Rodney Fitch, Design Lions Jury Chair
Perhaps the answer to the first question, lies in the very nature of design itself, in its all embracing pervasive qualities—it's everywhere, in everything, is everything. Maybe because it is so, the advertising industry has tended to take the design component within brand and product communications, and its role in the consumer mindset for granted. For didn't those glittering agencies have their own design departments, creatives and art directors? So that, with the same creative resources, couldn't those same agencies tackle packaging and print and everything in between? Even at a stretch, if they could make award winning TV commercials for a retail client, couldn't they also generate store strategies and design the store itself? Well, sometimes they could, but seldom very well.

But this old world has turned a few times and the tectonic plates of both the communications industry and consumer attitudes toward good and bad design continue to shift. Today, consumer influence lies less with traditional ads and more with the touch, style, feel and experience of things, places and services.

When Joe takes delivery of his new Ford F150 truck in the fall, he may have seen it first as an expensive TV ad. When his frequent flyer wife, Doreen, chooses to fly next year on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, she may have seen some glossy ads from AA, United or Jet Blue. When their son Joe Jr. togs off at Abercrombie and Fitch, he might just have seen one of those soft porn posters. In this sense, advertising and design are complementary, natural bedfellows. But increasingly, Joe, Doreen and Joe Jr.'s attachment is their appreciation of the look, touch, feel and above all, the engagement and experience with the product. The real design engineering of the F150 trumps any water splashing ad; the 787 will deliver a new flying experience that simply can't be captured in an ad; whilst the sexy, funky A&F stores need no shelf wobbling promotional cardboard.

Consumer engagement, across all demographics with design and style, is such that good and bad design can be a maker or breaker of brand success. What things look like really does matter and has become critical. Not a lot of above or below the line activity for Apple is of much importance, but what those laptops, iPods, iPhones and stores look like defines the brand and its community of users. Extrapolate this across our contemporary brand landscape and we have an answer in part to my earlier questions.

But only in part, for above all else it is the role design plays in the human psyche that supplies the rest of the answer. For design is something very close to the human experience of our world. Inside every consumer, there is a designer, not an ad man or media buyer, trying to get out. And because there is, they appreciate the role of design; they experience it for themselves, their families and communities firsthand. They can participate, measure and compare, for design, good and bad, often helps them define and discover themselves whilst shaping their preferences and aspirations.

So finally, here we designers are at Cannes where our work from around the world will be showcased alongside the very best from the established categories. I'm very confident a lot of folk will be both surprised and delighted by what they see and above all, be able to see for themselves that it is not design so much that has come of age, but the communications industry by recognizing the contribution design makes.

Rodney Fitch is chairman and CEO of design company Fitch and the jury chair of the inaugural Cannes Design Lions
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