Cannes Design Lions

Now I have returned to the day job.  I can reflect on an intense and illuminating week as President of The Design Jury at Cannes Lions.

A unique opportunity to consider and reward some of the World’s Best Design and to observe some undercurrents, recurring themes and. . .signals.

A diverse and multidiscipline jury of twenty, drawn from all corners of the world sets about sifting through 2373 entries across 36 categories.  Seven days judging and some late into the night debates. . .

Cannes Lions celebrated its 60th anniversary this year and advertising has long dominated this dazzling date in the industry diary.  Five years ago design was introduced, and is now an established sector.  However advertising spins a halo of glamour over design’s more typically restrained stance.

The advertising, design relationship is interesting to note.  Many of the entries appeared in both disciplines and achieved double wins. Dove ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ would be a good example and the enigmatic work ‘Farmer’s Suicides’.  Two reasons: first, advertising and design have moved to a common ground.  Both seek ‘activation’, both seek craft (yes there is a return to!) and both maximise social media.

In parallel, in many markets design is still finding its industry voice.  In this global context, advertising entries dominated the design category, particularly in posters and digital.

However design did find a way of shining through, and I was reminded positively that design is an enduring medium not a transient one.  Everything in life is ‘by design’. We take it home, we bond with it, we take comfort from it. In short, it’s personal at best, and this aspect of design coloured many winning entries.

So what did we find? That ‘activation’ is in danger of overwhelming ‘brand’.

“Hello, is anyone in there?”  Big brands with big budgets, staging events and experiences which seem to share the same knobs and whistles.

We need to ensure that activation does not drown the voice of the brand.

On the contrary, it must ensure, it speaks more eloquently.

Rigorous relevance still wins the day.

Winning brands such as Heineken have taken heed of this. Their iconic bottle remains central to their activation. When they share the design experience with the consumer, they wisely make sure they hand out the equities first.  They are remembering to build the brand, not just the noise around it.

As a serial winner, let’s salute Coca Cola. What is so impressive is the simplicity of evolving modernity, and respect for design. You really do sense true guardianship, and respect breeds respect.

coca cola-sharing-can

One of my personal favourites ‘The Sharing Can’ brilliantly splits the now iconic packaging through the middle. One for you, one for me. Each half superbly branded!  It could only have worked with a split name. . . . Coca, Cola. A neat observation, and even neater design.  Built from within, not bolted on.

And a worthy Golden Moment for Design.

Concern for the world is generating captivating, original, hard hitting, work. Design is clearly key to making a difference. The Farmer’s Suicides posters, carry an extraordinarily poignent story of desperation following a failed hay harvest. It made the jury return to consider it, again and again, and it rightly picked up Gold in several categories.

The-Times-of-India - FARMERS-SUICIDES

Proving the old adage that you have to tick all the boxes.

In illustration the same campaign won Gold for its remarkable and integral use of the hay itself to form the images, creating a ’hands on’ engagement. The compelling images delivered truth and individuality. Each told their own story simply and economically. The call to action simple to respond to.

In Brazil ‘Crack Consumes’ was equally compelling, demonstrating the devastating destruction of cocaine abuse. A young man’s face engages your attention, slowly but surely live maggots then eat their way through the image.

Crack consumes

Actively, destroying him…

‘Living design’ in the true sense, and a good example of a ‘poster is no longer just a poster!’

World Wild Life Fund resorted to classic graphic design principles, a cleverly edited monotone play with the iconic symbol visually encapsulates the need to conserve trees. In a world of knobs and whistles this was very refreshing.

World Wild Life Fund

Designers, do not forget from whence you came!

Craft is another endangered species, in danger of being seen to return as a ‘trend’. It isn’t. It’s something that we instinctively respond to. We need it and are enriched by it. So felt the jury, who consistently voted for work which was outstanding in its powerful crafting.

Dove scored here. The use of forensic illustration, comparing distorted self image with true image, demonstrated a deep understanding of its market. Somewhat naive pencil drawings deliver impact with unpolished power.


Staedtler, all things pencil, boldly and precisely made its case with super scale pencil drawings brilliantly and studiously executed. Simple and hugely confident.


The brand distilled and dramatised.

Storytelling won hearts too. We all love stories. This example puts them to bespoke use.

What to do on a long flight or indeed a short one? The answer from Qantas…

… Lose yourself in a book. How perceptive to create a ‘brandlibrary’ of “Stories” for every journey. Going to Sydney from Auckland? Reading time 3.20. Here is the book you always wanted to read, in the precious time you have to read it. Beautifully produced, to have and to hold. This winner is a personal favourite.

Nine Suns, an intriguing story of Ten Suns formed the inspiration for stunning identity and packaging. How does a small brand find a voice? Story telling is a good place to start. Brand leaders often surprisingly bereft of stories, have to work harder. Credibility and commercial scale factor in. Cultural connections can be lost in global reach.

Nine Suns Bottle

And cultural connection was also a strong theme. Brands which touch a cultural nerve are well placed. We need to be reminded of a higher order. We are over familiar with façade and desire.

Concern / Culture / Craft are three consistent C’S…

These put particular pressure on brands who have built their image on conspicuous consumption. They struggle to get a fair hearing and there is a learning from that.

So hats off to Absolute. ‘Unique’ a global brand has created individualism on a mass scale. Each bottle is randomly illustrated – by machines, for people!


A courageous move for The Absolut Company and inspirational for other institutionally bound brand owners. You can do it!

Leading brands which try to shrink (small is beautiful) or shine (ethics are good) show their briefs too often. The message here is stay true to what made you.

Evolve and build on it.

In this context, Panasonic was singled out for a brave return to its pioneering past, reminding us of its place in our lives.

And finally heart over head! We responded to design with humanity at core.

The Grand Prix winner The Self Scan Report balanced humanity with technology, placing an app at the heart of the brand.

Auchan - The Self Scan Report

Auchan, spread its message and connected at the very point of purchase. As Auchan shoppers pay for their goods, they connect instantly with products, stories and data of their choice via their receipt. You choose what you want to know, information is changing now not yesterday, and its built into the basic bond, your receipt of purchase.

Add to this a perfectly paced, easy to use, and visually appropriate design, and you have 360° magic.

What all these examples do is demonstrate my own rule thumb when judging work.

First win the eye… then the heart… then the mind…

Winners do all three.

Mary Lewis – President of the Cannes Lions Design Jury 2013

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