Design Lions 2008: 'But Is It A Lion?'

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As a first event it was enjoyable and a great success and clearly showed that creativity is thriving right across the globe. But, I think it is important to voice the fact that the design jury discovered a few issues with the way design was categorized, and that some grey areas muddied the picture. I hope my comments below will be seen as constructive criticism.

It may be stating the obvious but a design festival needs to be about design. That said, it was the first year that the design categories appeared and although the ad agencies have got their own – and very successful – Lions, the judges did have something of a tricky time trying to separate a creative idea using design from design. The poster entries – quite frequently advertising posters— particularly exemplified this and made it difficult to reward on merit when we had to be clear that our focus was not about beautiful art direction but about compelling design. Almost as a direct reaction to the plethora of ad posters, we selected for an award the beautiful tree protection posters, by Jung von Matt of Stuttgart, which had abstract images created from calligraphic pens attached to the moving branches of trees.

Unlike other successfully established awards such as D&AD that simply specify, for example, Poster Advertising, the festival categorization probably did further compound and confuse as to how advertising and design was being split and rewarded. Of the other two categories, Packaging Design could have been more logically segmented and not just split into product categories. And whilst it is very apposite and forward-thinking to make the third category Environmental Design, where was Web Design? The call for entries was somewhat naively worded and intimated that web design entries could form part of the overall three categories but maybe short-sighted to not recognize web design in its own right.

I have already mentioned D&AD. The annual D&AD Awards and the ubiquitous pencil are revered the world over. At the last count, the 2008 awards boasted some 32 categories, distinctly splitting out not just design and advertising but graphic design, packaging design, book design, websites...simple but precise. In this business, we learn from each other all the time and the Design Lions could maybe take a few pointers from D&AD et al.

I think promotion may also have a part to play. Many design companies may not be aware of the reputation of the Cannes Lions and so possibly overlooked the existence of this year's design categories or simply just know this event to be an advertising festival. Moving forward, we need to make sure that the event is profiled as an advertising and design festival or as an all-embracing creative festival.

Every member of the inaugural jury is passionate about design and about how design is recognized and rewarded, which is why we wanted to take the time to suggest a few steps to make future festivals not just easier to judge but more valid. So this is a call to action to both the organizers and the whole industry to look at the value we place on design and to support and guide the Design Lions to maximize their potential – the very real potential to become THE benchmark of international design creativity.

Designers the world over look at their work and ask 'But is it a pencil? Wouldn't it be great to get to a place where we could ask 'But is it a Lion?'...

Jonathan Ford is Creative Partner of Pearlfisher and was a member of the first Design Lions jury at Cannes.

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