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The Story Behind The D&AD Pencil

At a time when advertising awards are so plentiful that their value is often debased, the status and integrity of a D&AD Pencil has never been in doubt.

While many other awards organisers tend to ensure every category has a winner, D&AD Pencils are never handed out unless the work is good enough.

Win one and according to one industry observer, your bragging rights are both massive and eternal. A D&AD Pencil, he adds, is the equivalent of a "career knighthood".

The origins of this object of desire go back to 1966, three years after the launch of the then Designers & Art Directors Association of London.

Up until then, D&AD winners were presented with actual-size black pencils in an ebony case designed by Marcello Minale.

They came in two varieties, the pencils having gold and silver leads produced by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

The problem was that the trophies were too costly to produce and too fragile.

The solution was provided by Lou Klein, a newly appointed D&AD committee member who volunteered to come up with an alternative. His answer was the all-wood black and yellow D&AD Pencils.

Klein was an American who had come to London at the invitation of his fellow countryman Bob Gill, one of D&AD’s founding fathers, whom he replaced as an art director at the agency Charles Hobson.

Klein and Gill were among a number of US creatives to cross the Atlantic at that time and who – in the words of one industry historian – "shook up the moribund British advertising and design scene with a splash of US graphic swagger". Klein, who also worked as a creative director at Grey, later founded Klein Peters with Michael Peters, the godfather of British design.

Designed by GBH, this painting features the eight original founders of D&AD in 1962 – Derek Birdsall, John Commander, Colin Millward, Colin Forbes, Bob Gill, Malcolm Hart, Bob Brooks and Alan Fletcher.

The iconic D&AD Pencil family grew, coming to include a miniature set for the D&AD New Blood Awards, and in 2014, a D&AD Pencil for each respective D&AD Next Award.

Up until 2015, work that received In-book or a Nomination were awarded a D&AD Slice. This system worked well for a while, but it was clear that these awards were often undervalued or just plain misunderstood. We’re all aware of the difficulty in winning a D&AD Yellow Pencil, and to be Nominated to receive one is a serious accolade too.

So we set out to rectify this, but without handing out more awards and without compromising the Yellow and Black D&AD Pencils. In their place, we introduced two brand new D&AD Pencils: a D&AD Wood Pencil (equivalent to bronze) and a D&AD Graphite Pencil (equivalent to silver). To keep things simple, all historical awards are now referred to using the new system. D&AD Slices replaced by the new D&AD Pencils were no longer available from 2015 onwards.

After being given its own category ‘Creativity for Good’ in 2013, D&AD decided that a new Awards scheme that championed the D&AD White Pencil was the obvious next step in its evolution.

So, in April 2016, D&AD joined forces with Advertising Week to launch D&AD Impact, a new awards scheme that celebrates the power of creativity to stimulate positive change. D&AD Impact seeks to identify and celebrate great, transformative, creative ideas that have had real impact and, ultimately, contribute towards a better, fairer and more sustainable future for all.

Learn how you can go about winning a D&AD Pencil of your own and enter the D&AD Awards or, if you want to hear more about the D&AD Pencil’s themselves, follow the links below.  

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