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A Year of New Imagination

D&AD president Naresh Ramchandani looks forward to the year ahead and asks creative industry professionals to imagine what is possible when we give opportunities to the next creative generation

In the early hours of 1 January, three different friends messaged me to thank God or something more profane that the worst year in living memory was over. After a bruising 10 months in which too many died and nearly everyone suffered, we all desperately need a better 2021.

Sure, we need some of our old life reinstated – to see our friends, hug our relatives, be secure in our employment, send our young to school, care safely for our elderly, lose ourselves in crowds and enjoy what all of that feels like again – but we also need a lot of our old life reimagined. 

Let’s remember that before the pandemic, things were a long way from rosy. We were accelerating towards an irreversible climate crisis and the fifth mass extinction of our planet’s natural life. And living through a time of ever-widening social inequality, when white people still needed to be told that Black Lives Matter. Going forwards, we’ll need a wide scale change in values and behaviours to balance global inequalities and reset our world for a carbon-positive future. 

Here, the creative industry can play an important role. True, we’re not the philosophers or economists who can model new versions of society. But we’re designers, storytellers, speechwriters and imagemakers with the powers of persuasion in our hands. We can call out villains, elevate heroes and make new behaviours understandable and desirable - and with all that, we can bring new social models to bear.

“Going forwards, we’ll need a wide scale change in values and behaviours”

And our work makes a difference. A previous generation of creative talent persuaded society it could consume its way to happiness. Now a new generation of creative talent needs to help us imagine and live a good life that’s less harmful for the environment and take us towards a truly inclusive society.

That’s why 2021 must be a year of new talent in the creative industry, and the new imagination it will bring. Trouble is, new talent is finding it hard to get employed right now. For graduates, the stats make for grim reading: thanks to the pandemic, creative industry job prospects are at their lowest since the 2008 recession - and Brexit’s unlikely to help. The doors that must open to new voices and perspectives are currently slamming shut.
For the sake of its own health and relevance, this is something the creative industry needs to fix, and fast. Although our income has been hit by shrinking markets and budgets, we must invest in the next generation. Where humanly possible, with jobs. And if not jobs, with meaningful apprenticeships and internships - openly recruited so they don’t favour those with similar perspectives, and fairly compensated so they don’t advantage those who can afford to be underpaid. We must invest in creating pathways into the industry for young creative talent of all identities.
As well as money, we must invest time. Even when we’re in survival mode and struggling with intense to-do lists, we must find time to engage with schools and universities, partner with next-gen creative programmes and show both the courtesy and curiosity to see the new talent knocking on our doors. And if we’ve given an internship or apprenticeship, we must invest time to provide good briefs and mentor the best responses. It’s no longer enough to throw a young person into a work environment and expect them to “pick things up” - especially when they’re sitting in a Zoom not a room.

“We must ask the next generation the most important questions and be ready to listen to their answers”

We must ask the next generation the most important questions and be ready to listen to their answers. For example, what does the space between consumption and activism look like and feel like - the space where the B-Corps naturally play? How do you create as much desire for new behaviours such as sharing and fixing as there’s always been for buying? How do you create brands that aren’t homogeneously white, male and straight? While art schools encourage much of this exploration, not all creatives come through the art school system and questioning mustn’t stop when work starts.

And we must give a platform to the next generation’s work. As D&AD does with its New Blood programme, celebrating the best work of emerging talent as loudly as it celebrates the industry’s greatest achievements. And as we do so often at environmental non-profit Do The Green Thing, collaborating with younger talents whenever we can. Where possible, we must give our channels and conversations to those making the future.

Of course, we shouldn’t discount older generations. Ideas that further a progressive agenda can and will come from more established creatives. But judging by the lack of black people in our industry or surging global CO2 emissions, those ideas aren’t coming in thick or fast enough. 

That’s why we need nothing less than a creative revolution - and a revolution will always be spearheaded by the next generation. In this tough year for job prospects, let’s invest the time, money and space to give this generation its chance.

D&AD’s 2021 focus on New Talent includes New Blood Awards, New Blood Academy, New Blood Shift in multiple cities across the world, a digital-first New Blood Festival and the online D&AD annual for young creatives everywhere to access free of charge.

As part of his Presidency, Naresh Ramchandani has committed to visit a different college every month, support the New Blood Shift programme, speak at the New Blood Festival, facilitate three roundtables on subjects important to young creative people and reboot the President’s Lectures with next-gen talent in mind.

Illustration: Lauren Morsley

A version of this article was published by The Independent on 17 January, 2021.

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