Last year D&AD was an exhibition. We walked through lofty sun-draped halls, respectfully appreciating the magic of creativity. This year, it’s a raucous circus.
My first impression on entering the Old Truman Brewery and grabbing a beautifully designed festival programme was of being utterly and breathlessly overwhelmed. There’s simply so much going on. It crashes over you, a wave, again and again. You want to be in ten different places as once. What was once ‘Judging Week’, an affair with a certain degree of solemnity and thoughtful appreciation, has been transformed into an absolute festival in the truest sense of the word. A quick Wiktionary search reveals that festival comes from ‘fēstus’ – of feasts. And it is a feast, an all-you-can-eat buffet of speakers across multiple stages, exhibitions, training workshops, exhibitors, secret hubs in hidden corners and a ‘Fringe Festival’ taking place at agencies all across London. It’s Judging Week dialed up to 11; young people stream around the building alongside throngs of agency staffers and experienced judges. It’s a carnival. It’s a maze. It’s a whole new beast.
Those more familiar with music festivals will recognise the format - one of prioritisation. With so much going on, you simply can’t see everything, and pick your favourites. There are two main stages here, the Adobe Stage and the Brewery Stage, but it’s not a binary decision, with many, many more talks, workshops and fringe events all happening simultaneously. How do you choose between Designing for President Obama and Chineasy; Rethinking Chinese Language. It’s a series of tough calls, but what’s most impressive is the breadth and variety of speakers from across the fields of design, advertising and marketing. Once my head stopped spinning, I find myself bouncing from ‘headliner’ talks to ‘insight hubs’ always feeling one step behind, but excited to hear, to take in new ideas and be inspired.
After a talk by Kevin Allocca, Head of Culture and Trends at YouTube, I approach him with the toughest question I can think of. How would he respond to the accusation that YouTube isn’t doing enough to prevent ‘Freebooting’ - stealing and reuploading content. He doesn’t miss a beat. “We’ve built a system specifically to stop that happening - Content ID,” he tells me. “YouTube is on the cutting edge of making sure content creators can stop that – can you imagine the volume we search through every day? It’s a data challenge.” But he’s passionate about YouTube empowering content creators and changing the world. “Programming was defined by who had access to infostructure. The gatekeepers are gone now. People are becoming willing participants in our entertainment media. The very first video uploaded to YouTube was called ‘my day at the zoo’. We were capturing our reality. Web video has always been about sharing daily experiences. If you are passionate about something there’s an opportunity for you on YouTube to find your audience and share your individual ingenuity.”
There’s a real sense of openness here: speakers stick around to answer questions and anyone can ask what’s on their mind. Last year, D&AD Judging Week felt open, but in a different way: it was open like a cathedral - refined and hushed. This year, it’s open like a field; anyone can pitch up. And unlike most advertising events, the tickets are inexpensive. With student passes at £55, the next generation of potential talent can afford to be here for the same price as a night out on the town. With so much happening, if you can get over the Fear of Missing Out, you’re in for an unmissable couple of days.