The judging took place yesterday for Writing for Design at D&AD. There’s still a lot of mystery about how the judging process works, so I thought it would useful to break down how the day went and the different stages we went through. It’s a rigorous process, which I think would reassure anyone forking out for their entry fees.
Some of these timings are a bit rough, but give the general idea.
Arrive at Kensington Olympia. Listen to opening addresses from Tim Lindsay and Rosie Arnold.
The Writing for Design jury starts work – seven judges, with Jim Davies as the foreman, plus Luc Benyon from D&AD giving advice and helping with the practicalities.
9am to 12pm – The initial sweep
There are 74 entries laid out on half a dozen long tables, with a screen at the end showing the six online entries. The idea is to go round and familiarise yourself with each one of them. This is a daunting stage. Some items are posters or packaging with just a few words, but many are books and brochures that need real time and attention. Not much discussion takes place – just lots of reading.
Each judge is given an iPod which lists all the entries, together with the brief and background information that the entrants supply. There was a technical glitch that meant a lot of this information didn’t appear, but it was also available in a printed folder which the judges consulted and read out loud when necessary. There’s an option to vote yes, no, or abstain if you were involved in the job.
‘Involvement’ generally counts as working directly on the job or at the same agency that did the job. If you’re part of the same global network, but not actually at the same agency, it’s OK to vote.
Abstaining: there were three entries I’d had some involvement in, not all of which I knew were going to be entered. Other jurors had similar situations. Whenever that piece of work was up for discussion, the person involved would walk off and be called back by Luc when the discussion was over.
12pm – Longlist voting
By 12pm we’d all cast our initial votes on each piece of work. At this point, you’re not voting for what goes ‘in-book’, but for anything you feel is worth discussing. If a piece gets a ‘yes’ from 50% of the judges (i.e. 4 out of 7), it gets put on the longlist. D&AD then rearrange the tables, with all the longlist work on a couple of tables, and all the rejected work on the other tables.
A note on the longlist voting: There’s some confusion about this terminology and what it means to get on the longlist. On the one hand, it’s an achievement, as it means your work was sufficiently interesting to four of the judges. But the judges are also instructed to be generous at this stage – it’s essentially a conversation starter and you’re not necessarily making a value judgement. Once the longlist is decided, there’s also the opportunity for the judges to look at the rejected work and retrieve anything they think has been unfairly overlooked. Of the 74 entries, I voted for 19 to go on the longlist. Once all the votes were counted up, we ended up with 26 on the longlist in total.
12pm to 1pm – first discussions
The idea now is to go through the longlisted work and discuss each piece before voting on whether it goes in-book – the first big achievement in D&AD. Getting in-book means you’re in the hallowed Annual – the book that documents the best creativity in the world that year.
This was the ‘bloodbath’ hour. We went through the first table of work, discussing each piece, usually with one judge putting the positive case and others raising any objections. And there were lots of objections. It’s at this point you’re really applying the critical filter, imagining that piece of work in the Annual and judging it on that level.
1pm – Lunch at Pizza Express. Bob Gill was there.
2pm-4pm – More discussions and in-book voting
We reconvened and carried on discussing the longlisted work. The next table contained more pieces that were positively received, including one that everyone was purring about. Having reached the end of the longlisted items, we then went through the rejected items and judges had the chance to make their case for any piece of work they thought should be put back in. I argued strongly for one piece – a very straight, corporate annual report that I thought still did a good job in its context – but failed to sway people. When you fail to sway six great writers, they probably have a point. However, one other piece was reinstated, meaning we had a longlist of 27 pieces. As I say, I would really underline the fact there isn’t that big a difference between non-longlisted and longlisted – some non-longlisted work was still seriously considered, and some longlisted work was quickly dismissed once discussions started.
In-book voting: The next stage was to cast our yes/no/abstain votes on the longlisted work. At this point, we’re voting on whether we think it should go in the Annual. Again, a piece needs 50% of the votes to go in.
In some cases, it’s really easy to vote, but there was one I really struggled over. You feel a weight of responsibility. On the one hand, you need to uphold the standards. On the other hand, you don’t want to be the guy who votes no and then realises on the way home he should have said yes.
Of the 27 pieces, I abstained on two and said yes to three. This sounds really low, but it had already become clear in the discussions that the numbers would be low this year.
4pm – In-book voting confirmed
Once the votes had been logged, Luc gave us the chance to check we were happy with the results and there was still an opportunity to argue against work that got through, or for work that got rejected. But it didn’t take too long for the list to be finalised – five pieces in-book.
4pm to 5pm – Nominations voting
The next round involved going through those five pieces and deciding if any were worthy of a nomination. If a piece is nominated, it gets considered for a Yellow Pencil. But a nomination is also a big deal in itself, raising the work above everything else in the Annual.
There was an extended discussion about each of the five pieces, and it became clear that one really stood out. We all voted and that single piece got through.
5pm to 5.30pm Yellow Pencil voting
We’d all spent the previous hour talking enthusiastically about this one piece and why it should be nominated, so we were still in that frame of mind when it came to thinking about the pencil voting. But once again the rigour of the process is admirable. We talked at length about what a Yellow Pencil means, what had won before, what hadn’t won before, what makes something extra special. Then we all cast our votes anonymously and we’ll find out what happened on Thursday.
And that was it, apart from the pub afterwards.
D&AD have published the longlist here and the in-books and one nomination here. Congratulations to Pentagram who got the one nomination with a brilliant piece. I worked on Little Chef with Venture Three and was really pleased to see it go in-book. But then I was also really proud of another job I’d done with Hat-trick which didn’t make it in – shows you never know with these things.
Will talk more about the work itself in another post – the stuff that did well, the things that didn’t, and the reasons for the low entry numbers. This post is about the process itself, which is very good. Kensington Olympia is a brilliant environment in which to judge and the process is scrupulous. It can still lead to strange results occasionally, but so will any process that comes down to human judgement.
One small improvement would be to print out the briefing and background information and display it next to the work, so you don’t have to check on your iPod or look in the folder. And as I suggested above, publishing the longlist still feels misleading, even though D&AD have tried to clarify what it means this year.
That's my opinion anyway. As I discovered yesterday, others are definitely available.