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Camouflage for the digital age and viral pyjamas — how graphic designers continue to surprise with what the medium can do

Judges discuss how graphic design is embracing new roles and opportunities, as well as different viewpoints

Riya Patel, freelance design writer, led this discussion with panellists from the Graphic Design Jury. She was joined by Benny Au, Design Director at Amazing Angle Design; Samuel Mensah-Bonsu, Creative Director at Creators Supply; Emma Barratt, Global Executive Chief Director at Wolff Olins; and Maija Rozenfelde, Chief of Design at NORD ID Riga

They discussed the changing role of the graphic designer, and how this year’s Pencil winners reflect that, as well as design’s ability to reach out to people using a visual language they can relate to. 

It’s a multilayered thing

Graphic design isn’t just book covers and posters, as shown by Zak Group’s Prada FW 2022 Menswear invitation — which came in the form of a pair of crisp, white, cotton pyjamas, emblazoned with the show details. Samuel Mensah-Bonsu, Creative Director at Creators Supply, chose the project as a personal favourite for the way it reflected how the pandemic encouraged designers to become more “ingenious and intuitive”.

“They took something that’s meant to be 2D and traditional and very expected in terms of an invitation,” he said. “You expect nice fonts, some nice paper stock, but that’s about it — the ingenuity and innovation stops there. Here, they took it to the next level to bring a whole new layer of meaning, of context of the times, and a whole new layer of execution and quality as well.”

Brilliant design can make an old idea new

Novelty is often seductive, but there’s a certain brilliance in reimagining ‘old’ ideas and techniques. This is what Dentsu did in Camouflage Against the Machines — a set of camo patterns that can prevent AI from recognising clothing. Emma Barratt, Global Executive Creative Director at Wolff Olins, praised this project, saying, “there were no words to describe how cool this piece of work was … all of us wanted to steal it”.

“It stood out for me [because of its] incredible craft, so beautifully executed and tackling this real-world problem,” she explained. “And also, camouflage isn’t new. It’s been around for a long time — they used it in boats to avoid radar and in the Army, but this was using camouflage in an original way.”

Step away from the Swiss typeface

For Maija Rozenfelde, Chief of Design at NORD ID Riga, Ogilvy Africa’s Lesso Lessons was a reminder that great design speaks to the local community using its own visual language. She commended the project — which printed postnatal nutrition guides on lessos (the vividly patterned cloth wraps Kenywan mothers wrap their babies in) — for conveying critical information in a clear and accessible way.

“In this context, with the illustration that was inspired by the local community, together with the colours and the craft of the traditional culture, everything came together,” she said.

Why so serious

As well as helping to educate people, graphic design can provide a much-needed moment of playfulness. Benny Au, Design Director at Amazing Angle Design, said he’s still thinking about Seachange Studio’s Think Packaging — Cardboard Engineers campaign, which turned people into half-box, half-humans, to advertise the services of the packaging agency. He described the project as “simple, direct and interesting”, adding that it made him smile. 

“It reminded me we need to have fun, and joy and humour to face the problems today,” he explained.

Testing the boundaries of graphics

A recurring theme in this year’s entries was the sheer potential of graphic design, with many of them pushing the limits of what’s traditionally conceived as ‘graphics’. As Barratt pointed out, many of the winners moved away from the classic realm of graphic design and into “new roles and definitions” that are questioning what role the discipline might play in the future. 

For Mensah-Bonsu, we’re entering an era that could see the “unsung” field of graphic design become more celebrated, particularly in the world of fashion, where many labels are embracing a “strong graphic background”. “I think it’s great we’re finally beginning to see the key role that graphic design plays in fashion as well,” he said. “I look forward to seeing how that evolves and continues to be celebrated as we go on.”

This is from our series of Insight Sessions.  D&AD jurors unpack more work that captured, provoked and entertained them here

Production: 90 Seconds

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