Pull No Punches: Brand & Communication Design Judging

By Brett McKenzie Posted on Mar 22, 2018

Gesina Roters and Rich Tu on judging ADC's Brand & Communication Design discipline

Final judging for both the ADC 97th Annual Awards and The One Show 2018 is officially underway! Over the next three weeks, more than 200 esteemed creatives from all corners of the globe and across a multitude of disciplines will be selecting who will take home a coveted Cube or Pencil this May at Creative Week.

The talented men and women who have been judging the ADC  Brand & Communication Design discipline have certainly been one of the liveliest juries this year, with the level of debate as high as their spirits. We had a chance to talk with two of them: Gesina Roters, Creative Partner and Co-Founder of DAY in Amsterdam; and Rich Tu, VP of Design for MTV in New York City. Gesina and Rich open up about the good, the bad and the trendy from behind the judging room doors.

The first stage of judging the Brand Communications Design discipline took place online, and now you're judging the work in person. What has been the maybe not-so-obvious differences between the two styles of judging?

Rich: When you judge design work online, you get to see all of the strategy and case study videos, and those help guide your thinking. But I find that most of that is quickly forgotten once you experience the tactile sensation, the physicality of judging in-person. Those thoughts and opinions stick with you much longer.

Gesina: When it comes to things like posters, it's definitely important to experience the work in-person, in order to experience the craft behind the pieces through tactility. On the other hand, I feel that things like corporate identity work better on a computer screen, when looking at the entire breadth of a project. Sometimes its impact is lost if it's printed and posted on a board.

Are there any trends that you are noticing in the branding world, both within the confines of the judging room and beyond?

Gesina: It seems to me that the hipster-like crafted corporate identity is going away, in place of a more minimalist look, but one not as rigid as before. Gone are the days of "you have to put the ball in this corner". It's much more freeing and I like it.

Rich: I feel the same way. A lot of the corporate brandmarks are warmer and more approachable than before, especially amongst everyday lifestyle brands, as opposed to haute couture and luxury brands. There's more of a "design for everybody" feeling, and that's very nice to see.

Gesina: I'm not sure if you feel the same way, Rich, but I get the idea that logos are being downplayed, like they are becoming less important to the overall branding. I'm seeing some great standalone logos amongst the entries, of course, but more emphasis is being placed on the overall package identity.

Rich: I totally agree. I believe that designers are taking a much more multi-platform approach, and when dealing with so many touchpoints, the logo is taking a backseat to the content, the message of the communication.

Now not everything that was entered into the show is worthy of an ADC Cube. What were some of the things that you were seeing that made you say "ugh!"?

Gesina: I saw a lot of work that was very similar, where it looked like one piece of banding looked like it was copying another — and in a way it brings both pieces down, because we can't determine who did what first. It turns a 'good' piece of brand identity into merely 'nice' because it no longer feels original.

Rich: For me, there were a number of submissions that I feel went overboard. Like there would be an entry that would've been incredible if there were only two or three elements, but then they started adding more pieces, almost checking off a list, and some of those elements aren't as good as the others. So an entry that would've scored an 8 or a 9 in initial judging ends up being a 5 or a 6. In a nutshell: curate your entries. You don't get bonus points for showing every single piece if some of those pieces prevent the best elements from shining.

"In a nutshell: curate your entries. You don't get bonus points for showing every single piece if some of those pieces prevent the best elements from shining."

Gesina: If I could give one piece of advice to the design students of the world after looking at these entries, it would be to once again dive into typography. It's truly worth your time to spend as much time on your typographic choices as your illustrations. Sometimes it seems like the text is an afterthought. Do people under 40 even know about kerning these days? (laughs)

Rich: (laughs) Not to throw too much shade, but there was a poster series that I felt could've been an automatic Gold Cube, were it not for really bad type choices. Everything else about the submission was incredible, but the type made me sad.

This year the ADC Annual Awards introduced tiered pricing, allowing individuals and smaller design shops to submit with reduced fees. Did you notice this in the quality of the entries?

Gesina: To be honest, I can't say that I noticed. That said, I do think that it's a really important step for ADC to make, and the design world needs to know about this. With shows like Cannes, smaller shops really can't afford to enter multiple pieces across multiple categories, which is what it seems to take to even have a chance at winning — even if you're exceptionally good. So I applaud your efforts, and I hope even more smaller design studios enter next year!

Rich: Well you could surmise that the bigger the client on display, the bigger the entrant. That was probably the only way to tell the difference between the work of a small shop and a big one. The quality itself was no different, which is probably the point — great design can come from anywhere. I will also say that I was truly surprised by the amount of international work that we saw. I don't know if the pricing structure encouraged more entries from other parts of the globe, but it was extremely refreshing to see work that challenged my Western design sensibilities.

It's been a great honor and experience to judge this show. To my fellow designers: if you get the chance to judge the ADC Annual Awards, do so. If you're thinking about entering, even if you're a small shop, do so. You'll be able to stand alongside the big guys — especially if their kerning is shitty.


Judging for both the ADC 97th Annual Awards and The One Show 2018 continue through to April. All winners will be unveiled during Creative Week, May 7–11



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