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Cannes Lions

Inside the First-Ever Product Design Jury at Cannes: Dan Formosa

Smart Design Co-Founder Talks About the Challenges of a New Category

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Dan Formosa
Dan Formosa

At Cannes, everyone focuses on the winners -- which campaign, which agency, and how your own country did. But before there's a winner, there's a jury. Ad Age is taking you inside the voting room at the Palais des Festivals through exit interviews with jurors from different categories. Here it's Smart Design co-founder Dan Formosa, who was on the first-ever product design jury this year.

What surprised you? Gathering at the hotel the night before, something seemed surprising -- all nine judges were male. I'm not sure how or why that happened, but with judging sessions taking place the next morning (which would be Sunday, bright and early) there was no turning back. There was a lot of conversation at dinner about how that might possibly influence the award selections.

Since it was the first year for this jury, was it difficult setting ground rules for how to choose award winners? Although this was the first Product Design jury at the festival, my personal involvement began six months earlier. In January, I started correspondence with Rhys Parker (on the Cannes Lions team) about the program and the criteria that should be used for the category. By the time of the event, the ground rules were clear, with the official description instructing the jury to focus on, "visual impact as well as the use and experience of the brand's values through design."

Each entry would be subject to a rating scale, evaluating aesthetics, function, innovation and relevance to the brand. But while that sounds rather straightforward, when it comes to each specific design being it breaks down quickly. For instance, a tennis racquet used sensors to record the number of swings and many other metrics about technique or the game, beaming data to a smart phone. The sensors were built into (as you would expect) a tennis racquet. Evaluating the physical design spurred lots of discussion, since the racquet itself clearly wasn't anything new. But it was perfectly appropriate.

What kind of work should be retired? Any entries submitted purely in the hopes of being used for marketing purposes, with no new design value for people or brands. Many entries clearly did nothing to advance the state of design.

Any funny stories about your time sequestered in the jury room? After evaluating a project that serves urgent needs of children in distressed countries, what do you do with an entry for a cat collar that claims to be able to interpret the tone of a cat's "meow" and translate it into various sentences in English through a miniature speaker? Or the internet-connected "tail wag indicator" for dogs, to check happiness when you're away. Want to hear about the automatic love-sensor bra strap release?

What did you eat? What did you drink? French things, followed by lots of wine. Food was no problem.

What is your advice for next year? My advice is really for the people entering projects. The jurors are trying hard to select exceptional products, those that portray high levels of design excellence and show real meaning to both people and businesses, as good design should always do. That means we need to understand the relevance, background research, the products in use, and any other information that will provide confidence. Most of the entries in this competition simply provided us with marketing materials -- and most of those claims unsubstantiated.

Disagreements were less the result of differences of opinions, more the result of poorly written or documented entries. It's surprising to me how many entries take that sales approach, advertising the project instead of explaining it.

It's a good idea to show us not just what the entrant came up with, but how they got there. For instance, if you are developing a product that will assist blind people, show us someone who is blind using the product! We don't need a photo of the product sitting on a table. And we don't need to see a slick marketing video. It doesn't help us make a decision. An informal point-and-shoot camera's video could be much more effective. (In the case of the tennis racquet, maybe we should have been shown a video of a person on playing tennis and getting results). My advice therefore to the jurors -- keep that thought in mind. Most debates about an entry are based on what the jurors do not see -- that is, information that's missing. It's not a good idea when a person submitting the product award entry cannot tell the jury what's relevant - and perhaps, more importantly, why.

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