Like Good Advertising, Winning Design Cuts Through the Clutter

Turner Duckworth's Grand Prix Work for Coke Helped 'Simplify and Clarify' an Iconic Brand

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"It was the unclear made clear."

That was how Rodney Fitch, head of the jury for Cannes' inaugural design Lions, summed up the grand-prize-winning entry. That entry, as you read last week, was Turner Duckworth's brand-identity work for Coca-Cola. It's a classic (sorry) pick for the first design gong at the world's foremost celebration of advertising.

The jury served the fledgling prize well by choosing an entry that was firmly about, well, design. As expected, most of the design Lions winners were nods to a design element or ethic in an ad-based item (several of the winners were posters or outdoor executions). The winner also represented a massive, multinational brand with a strong design heritage -- so full points for difficulty.

The Coke pick perfectly represents the transcendent importance of design to a brand. Especially now, as it becomes more and more difficult to craft a unified communications message, design is the core emotional bridge. If you're going to have a zillion categories, design is a great choice to bring together disciplines that, for all the integrated talk, are still fairly separate.

Though other entries contended for the Grand Prix, the jury was unequivocal on the choice of TD's Coke brand refresh. "Good work among designers is hardly subjective," said Fitch (who is chairman-CEO of design company Fitch) at the design Lions press conference. "We know when we see something that's great." He said the jurors applied a short list of criteria to picking the winner: the sheer quality of the work, consumer engagement, and originality and innovation.

So what did Turner Duckworth make clear?

The San Francisco- and London-based design firm undertook the Coca-Cola brand-identity project to "simplify and clarify" an iconic brand that was getting drowned out by design noise. TD overhauled the complete brand look for Coke Classic and Zero. "I felt like it had lost its way," Turner Duckworth co-founder Bruce Duckworth said of the Coke brand. "When you go see Coke in Atlanta, everyone wants to buy the T-shirts. But when you saw the packaging and brand identity, it didn't reflect the thing that everyone loved about Coke -- the real thing, if you like."

The shop stripped away everything from the brand look that was not essential Coke. "Our objective was to clarify right down to every single element of the design," says Duckworth. Fulfilling that mission entailed the removal of things such as additional graphics, extraneous lines and droplets. Coke "was playing the same game as everyone else. It makes the brand look un-unique. By simplifying it down to what was distinct, we ended up with this identity that applied to everything, from bottles to delivery trucks to point of sale to how graphics were used in Coke ads."

Overall, a great result for year one of the Cannes design Lions. Next up: adding some key categories to make the event a more well-rounded citation of design (product design, for instance, will likely be added in the near future) and more actual design entries. Fitch acknowledged that "there was not enough truly design-oriented work" this year, as the festival isn't top of mind for the design community. That's sure to change.

But for now, the presence of any designers and design work at Cannes is a positive step in broadening the industry's perspective on brand creativity.

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and
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