The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

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D&AD Presidential talks

By The Drum, Administrator

April 17, 2008 | 5 min read


“My appointment was significant,” he explains. “Not because of me – people will probably be wondering if Waterfall is a made up name – but because of what I represent as the D&AD’s first president to come from the digital sector. The decision to do that shows the organisation has a good understanding of the industry and where it is at the moment.”

Waterfall has been a creative director since he was sixteen. While still at school, his company wrote the first computer games for Commodore 64 and Amigas.

After studying his Masters in Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art in 1994, he co-founded Deepend Design, which grew as the industry embraced digital. It blossomed to 350 staff in nine offices round the world and became a leading light in the creative digital sector.

In 2001, he set up Poke with five partners, which was a vehicle to challenge everything that they had learned, practised and preached. It is still set on defining and making the web better – no small task for its two studios in London and New York.

Talking to colleagues, it appears his impact on D&AD and its awards has been immense. The organisation’s membership has almost doubled since Waterfall arrived and digital entries are up significantly on last year.

Digital installation, for instance, is up by 75 per cent, while online advertising and website entries have increased by 34 and 18 per cent, respectively.

It’s at the judging for the awards that The Drum is sitting with Waterfall, who is looking around the room in a ‘have we really achieved all this?’ kind of way.

They have. Submissions are up by five per cent overall and the 25,000 pieces of work on display at the ExCel in London makes for impressive viewing. Creatives from 21 countries have flown in for a week of judging, which will start the process that will identify which work will appear in the D&AD Annual, which (if any) deserve a Yellow Pencil and the rarest of items that warrant the Black Pencil.

Heart and soul

“If you’ve put your heart and soul into a piece of work and you’re convinced it’s the best work you can do, then you have to enter it,” insists Waterfall. “You have to put it forward to be judged against the best work produced in the world that year. Only then will you know how good the work is.

“Also, there are some real legends here [among the judges]. Getting your work in front of them is a real achievement and an honour. We’re talking about guys who, if there’s a fire in their house, it’s the pencil and a picture of their mum that they grab before running out.”

The high regard and tight clutch in which creatives hold their pencil is the reason why Waterfall believes the accolade’s standard has never dropped.

“These judges have won pencils in their career, so if they were to hand them out liberally to work that was just the best of the year, they’d be devaluing their own award. Every time they looked at it, they’d realise they’d sold the family silver.

“So, when they’re judging a piece of work and considering whether it’s good enough for a pencil, they have a benchmark in their head with which to compare it. There’s also a benchmark for the book and so no judge will ever let something get in that doesn’t deserve to be there.”

The serious approach that the 300-plus judges bring to the process also means that any cheeky scamps hoping to pass off a “scam” piece of work – an entry designed purely to win awards and that may never have run – are quickly identified by the judges. However, identifying whether it actually is a scam is the responsibility of the D&AD and Waterfall has a solution to solve it.

“If we come across a scam ad, we should just send it up to you guys for the Chip Shops,” he says before a wave of enthusiasm pushes out the words: “I fucking love the Chip Shop Awards”.

So what advice does the president have for producing pencil-worthy work?

“The currency of creativity is failure,” imparts Waterfall, “Creatives shouldn’t be trying to win awards, they should be trying to fuck it up instead, that’s where great work comes from. When you’re willing to risk failure, that’s when you can produce great work that can win awards.

“It’s not about good advertising, good branding or good digital - it’s all about good communications.”

Not taking lightly

How a president is remembered can rest upon a number of factors. One of the most important is the selection of the coveted D&AD President’s Award – a decision Waterfall’s not taking lightly.

“I’ve got real trouble, there,” he says, looking into the distance for inspiration. “It’s a lifetime achievement award. You look at the names that have won it in the past and it shows how important an award it is. What I will say is that the people I’m considering giving it to are actually judging this year.”

And if the decision isn’t enough to carve out a legacy... “I guess I’ll be remembered as the loud, sweary president.”

The nominations will be posted at the D&AD website –


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