“Learning Never Stops”: Award-Winning Creatives Share The Secrets to Success

Posted inDesign News

From emerging talent to industry icons, creatives across the board never stop learning. This life-long process makes us better practitioners and arms us with the tools to tackle the challenges of today, while carving out a more sustainable and inclusive tomorrow. 

Award-winning work inspires new learning, whether it explores diverse ways of learning or confronts the obstacles to creative excellence. 

D&AD Pencil winners from Spotify, Pentagram, COLLINS, and JKR Global recall their experience of winning a D&AD Pencil, what it meant for their careers, and their best advice for industry newcomers.

Alex Bodman — VP, Global Executive Creative Director, Spotify

I remember refreshing my browser about eight years ago to find out I had won a D&AD Pencil for the first time. It was for an Instagram hack my team worked on for Mercedes-Benz. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to win over 20 more— but each one feels truly special.

D&AD Pencils have always cultivated an image of unattainability, but for me, they represent discernment. Scan the winners’ list and you’ll find projects you already admire, but also discover paradigm-shifting innovations that you won’t have seen anywhere else. It’s always a learning experience, and this attention to curation is what makes it so dear to the creative community. 

The design craft category at D&AD is possibly my favorite, and has actually had a huge influence on how our in-house Spotify team works.

Too often, the industry has settled for a model that has led to the best designers working at design agencies and the best conceptual creatives sitting in agencies. At Spotify, we’re all about ensuring that world-class designers and traditional “conceptual” creative teams work collaboratively. It takes mutual respect, emotional intelligence, and compromise. But the results are worth it.

Eddie Opara — Partner, Pentagram 

Apart from working at Imaginary Forces, I worked at the design atelier, 2×4 in New York City at the beginning of my career. Whilst we created exceedingly important, interesting work, they were determined to be outliers and were not in the habit of “chasing” awards. This attitude really rubbed off on me, and is something I carried with me to Pentagram.

Don’t get me wrong— it is not that I do not see the value of outside validation, or want my team to be recognized for their amazing work.

My time at 2×4 simply taught me not to be guided by awards. What I always say to designers still learning their craft is that awards are there to show you what you achieved and elevate you to another level. But it is ultimately just icing. The long-lasting impact of your work— the dialogue created and the lessons learned— is what is truly important. 

Brian Collins — Chief Creative Officer, COLLINS

In 2008, Leland Maschmeyer and I started COLLINS with no clients, two desks, and a point of view: Design is not what we make— design is what we make possible.

We wanted to build a company for gifted misfits, where “cultural fit” (a pernicious term) would be replaced by cultural contribution— by what made you different, unique, and weird. We knew we’d only be as good as the people around us.

When we were awarded D&AD Agency of the Year, it was both bonkers and a gratifying affirmation of our early, insane ambition. Our hope back then has since turned into a home for the 55 remarkable people we get to work with every day at COLLINS.

We made some good choices, we work hard, and remain beyond lucky with damn good clients. Time reveals wisdom. So here’s my advice to designers finding their way:

Surround yourself with people of wildly divergent talents, backgrounds, and perspectives— it keeps you alert. Pursue broad variety in your work— it keeps you open. Feed the silly and the ability to poke fun at yourself— it keeps you thinking. Embrace all bad news as a gift— it keeps you growing.

Remember the peak of one mountain is just the bottom of the next. It keeps you climbing.

Lisa Smith — Executive Creative Director, JKR Global  

You never forget your first D&AD Pencil. For me, it was 2002. I was two years out of college, and a silver Pencil was called graphite back then. I won it for a set of posters I created to launch a publication for a Magnum photographer and a paper manufacturer. It was my first ever commercial job, where I was getting to experiment with materials like I had always hoped to. I just couldn’t have been more dizzily excited.

But while it is fantastic to have your work recognized so early out of college, I learned quickly not to consider this the be-all and end-all. In fact, the most important advice I would give to emerging designers— even those that have already won awards— is that learning never stops.

You can always improve your craft, whether you’ve won one award, or 20. Remember, you’re never going to be an expert in everything. I have worked on everything from book design to exhibition design, hospitality, tech, and everything in-between— and I’ve taken something new from the experience every time. Now I’m the ECD at a global agency, and I still find myself learning something new every day.

The D&AD celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. The annual Awards are a benchmark for creative excellence in design and advertising. This year, the Awards Ceremony will be held over two nights on the 25 and 26 May 2022, and broadcast live at watch parties in a number of locations. Please visit our website for updates.