Judges at Cannes Wednesday announced the winners in the 7th year of the Design Lions category, with 28 of the 69 awards going to Asian agencies, and 17 of those going to Japan.
The Grand Prix, however, was not one of them. That award went to agency Anti Bergen’s for its brilliant work on the identity and integrated design campaign for the Bergen International Festival (pictured). It’s a classic, complex brand-identity project that gives the obscure Nordic music festival a ‘strong visual profile that symbolizes the true essence of music and performance’, to quote the designers. Based on the equation of a single pixel with a single note, the identity system is mathematically configured—infinitely multiplying and reconfiguring to form new patterns for every touchpoint. It blurs the lines between music, graphic design and mathematics. It’s beautiful, contemplative, and engaging. There’s even an interactive app, inviting people to make music and, as they do, create new riffs on the identity. What a neat graphic metaphor.
What else? There’s a lot of beautiful Japanese craftsmanship, and lots to be proud of in Asia. There’s the quintessentially Japanese craftsmanship of Dentsu’s Beautiful Black List (Gold Lion) with its enchanting and baffling whale motif; the inventive styling of MR Design’s posters for Tama Art University, (Gold Lion) (why is there so much black and white?), and the ‘Mother Book’ (Gold), again by Dentsu.
There were some great big, simple, ballsy ideas too, like the Adidas Jump Store by TBWA/London, the Mandela Poster project by Interbrand, and the pop-up Michelin restaurant Dill to promote value supermarket Lidl, by INGO Stockholm, all Gold Lions winners.
Finally, of course, there was design for good: Colgate’s ‘education in a box’ imaginatively leveraged the brand’s growing distribution network and its mountain of cardboard outer packaging to take an education message to impoverished rural schools in Myanmar, whilst M&C Saatchi’s Street Store in Cape Town gave dignity back to homeless people through a simple pop-up store made of card posters.
There were also a fair number of questionable entries in this category. The Penguin Navi app for the Sunshine Aquarium in Japan is effective and endearing, but why is it entered in Design, not Mobile? Lola Madrid’s work for Kiss, with its ‘music videos without music’ might have been effective (if not entirely original), but entered under the ‘sound design’ category, the definitions of design start to feel somewhat diluted. I guess that’s what makes the Grand Prix winner so deserving: It’s unquestionably a design project—imaginative, inventive, and engaging.
So what does ‘design’ mean anyway? The Cannes organisation defines it as “the celebration of the use of design as an aid in communication and experience to inform brand ethos and product messages”, which deftly sidesteps any definition of design at all. And although it feels like the sub-categories in design are unparalleled in their eclecticism and the definitions more nebulous than in any other category, the award is attracting some remarkable, game-changing ideas.
The fact that so much of this work defies conventional classification is not a bad thing. What it suggests is that design is not static, or just aesthetic, or a monologue to be either heard or ignored. It can be interactive, engaging, complex and nuanced—it can be the visual glue that joins a brand together, it can be deeply personal and it can be a force for good. Those new definitions can only be a good thing for the design industry.