Field Notes:
D&AD in London

Date: 22 Jun 2024
Location: London, England
By: Felix Ng (Anonymous)
The last time I was in London was in 2012, when I was also a judge at the D&AD Awards. When the invitation came to judge again this year, I was excited to return to see how the city had changed, how designers were pushing the discipline forward, and to reconnect with the global creative community.

Me and Big Ben. Photo by Astrid Stavro.

The category I was to judge was Newspaper and Magazine design. Our diverse jury consisted of seven designers from seven countries, each with different disciplines and backgrounds: Astrid Stavro (Spain/UK), Alex Breuer (UK), Melanie Kraxner (Austria), Satoshi Machiguchi (Japan), Alyssa Walker (US), Eva Wendel (Germany), and myself from Singapore.

Newspapers and magazines of all shapes, sizes, and forms were entered into the awards, from independent magazines like Neutral Colors and Notebook to heavyweights such as The New York Times and The Guardian. Nearly 200 entries from all over the world were submitted this year. Physical copies of the submissions were spread out across four tables, each measuring 10 metres long. Each judge was provided with an iPad to enter their votes. The first half of the day was dedicated to voting for the shortlist: work that demonstrated merit and earned a place in the D&AD annual. For an entry to be considered for a pencil, it first needed to be shortlisted.

After all judges voted, we would sit in a semi-circle facing a large screen to deliberate each shortlisted entry. At this stage, any judge could advocate for an entry to be removed or added back into the shortlist. Out of the 200 entries, fewer than 15% (27 entries) made it into the shortlist for the next round.

Each category's jury is led by a president, and we were fortunate to have Astrid Stavro in that role. A highly celebrated and seasoned designer based in London, Astrid had been a judge for multiple awards. She excelled as president, always listening and asking questions to each jury member rather than pushing her own opinions. Occasionally, she and I would take breaks outside the venue for a quick smoke, during which she would ask if I already had an entry in mind that was worthy of a yellow pencil. Her way of speaking individually with each judge and privately gauging their thoughts made everyone feel heard. In award juries, some judges are more outspoken than others. Being able to collect everyone's thoughts, especially from the less outspoken ones, allowed every judge to feel heard and allowed the jury president to gather insights that might otherwise be missed in a group setting.

After lunch, we began awarding pencils for the shortlisted entries. Entries would move progressively up from Shortlist to Wood, Wood to Graphite, and Graphite to Yellow. From a shortlist of 27 entries, 17 were selected for Wood. From the 17 Wood Pencils, 5 were selected for Graphite, and eventually, 1 Yellow Pencil was awarded.

Yellow Pencil: The Daily Issue by Innocean Australia for White Ribbon

This voting process was the same in 2012 when I judged Graphic Design and still felt the most fair. For an entry to receive a higher award, the judges needed to believe it was worthy of each subsequent award category. Besides voting individually on iPads, judges were encouraged to fight for or against any entry they felt strongly about. The deliberation process was my favourite part of the awards. It involved discussing and debating creative ideas objectively while learning what makes a piece of work good and what could have made it outstanding. Whether you practise design in your own studio, individually, or in a large agency, it's rare to find a chance to debate creative work with industry peers objectively. Awards, especially those with live in-person judging, are among the most enjoyable moments in my 20 years as a designer.

Another great aspect of events like these is the chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

Breaking bread with Theseus at Skylon. Photo courtesy of D&AD.

Theseus Chan, a legendary graphic designer and artist from Singapore, and I had our first proper conversation when I first judged D&AD awards in 2012. We had been office neighbours in the same creative space in Singapore but had only ever waved hello to each other. This time, we met at the judges' dinner, and over a meal, Theseus shared about his current work in Germany with Steidl on a new book. He has embraced the life of an independent artist, unperturbed by commercial requirements, wholly focused on pushing his craft and the print medium in unexpected ways. Theseus was the jury president this year for the Book Design category.

Kotoko Koya, the D&AD representative for Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia, was another familiar face. The last time we met was in the spring of 2023 when we had dinner together in Tokyo with Koichiro Tanaka, the founder of Projector. On the day of judging, while walking to the venue, I bumped into Kotoko. She had caught a bug and wasn't feeling 100%, yet she was tirelessly working during the D&AD event, connecting jury members and helping to interpret for judges from Japan. Although I've only met Kotoko 3-4 times in my entire career, every conversation feels like we've known each other for a lifetime. She shared about her life in Kamakura and her experience travelling to Indonesia to open a new chapter for D&AD. I shared about the design community in Southeast Asia and encouraged her to visit and witness the growth in Vietnam, which I believe has the greatest potential for creative work in the coming decades.

Chris Lee, founder of Asylum, and Yah-Leng Yu, co-founder of Foreign Policy, were also at the awards as jury president for Spatial Design and jury member for Branding, respectively. We met during breakfast at County Hall, the venue for all the judging. We caught up on life, how the industry was changing since the pandemic, and future plans. Our modern lives are so filled with work, family, and personal commitments that it's great for an event like D&AD to offer a chance to reconnect with friends.

I also met designers I had only interacted with online: Ken-tsai Lee from Taiwan and Andi Rahmat from Indonesia, both on the typography jury.

Another was artist and designer Sarah Boris from the UK. Sarah invited me for lunch and a tour of Shoreditch, where her studio was. We visited Nelly Duff, a gallery where her print works were sold, and met the co-owner, Cassius Colman. Places like this are much needed, where you can see creative work up close and appreciate the difference that printing and framing make. Over coffee, Sarah and I had a long chat about work and life in London and Bangkok. She stressed the importance of organisations like D&AD not just championing creative excellence through awards and festivals but also serving as a connection between creative professionals. I thought this was increasingly necessary, as the path of a creator can feel remote, isolated, and disconnected, making one feel like the only way to succeed is to multitask, hustle, and bulldoze through the noise to gain attention for your work all by yourself.

The D&AD event spanned three days, and I extended my trip to spend more time observing the city. Despite the challenges of the past decade, including economic blowback and the exodus of people and companies due to Brexit, London felt optimistic. I saw people from all walks of life in every part of the city I visited. Along the canal of the Bankside, joggers young and old could be seen every morning. Families, friends, and kids from the UK, Europe, America, East and South Asia, and Africa gathered in the free-access parks and museums, high street, the suburbs, on buses and trains. Everywhere I went, there was a humming backdrop of different languages and accents. London felt like home. Singapore, as a former British colony, has retained the administrative rule and British English language from the UK, and embraced multiculturalism and multiracialism for over 50 years. It has been said that Singaporeans feel close-knit when they visit the UK because of our history, and I finally understood it. Modern yet traditional. Efficient public transport. Comfortable with technology. Polite and open. And most importantly, multicultural.

A week in London lifted my spirit, which had felt pushed down since the pandemic. It felt like being part of a global community again. Surrounded by open-minded, optimistic, and hardworking people, all with a common goal of earning a better quality of life and contributing meaningfully to the world. Where walls and borders didn’t matter. Where your origin, language, or beliefs were secondary to what you could bring to the table. An equal opportunity and meritocratic community supporting each other while also competing professionally. Was I looking at London with rose-tinted glasses? Perhaps. An imaginary utopia? Probably. But my week and a half in the city, being part of the D&AD jury, meeting old and new friends, walking the cobbled pavements, observing how people lived, and interacting with locals and travellers, reminded me of the need for more collaboration. A world worth imagining and being part of creating for the future.

Spotted at Maltby Street Market. Artist unknown.

To make the world feel smaller, more connected, friendlier, and more open to our differences—that's what makes life more interesting and livable.

Much has been said about how social media has failed to bring people closer and more connected, instead making us more isolated, less open, more envious, and divisive. We need to break down mental borders and imaginary boundaries. Events like the D&AD awards and cities like London are great examples of how it could be, even with its challenges. Where people and communities are kind and open to one another, generous in sharing ideas and insights, and collectively working towards a common good—to make great things.

Judging for the D&AD Awards 2024 was held from 19-21 May in London. You can see all the winners for Newspaper and Magazine Design here and for all categories here.