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"Digital has enabled a lot of amateurs to think they're designers" - David Hillman on why there is no substitute for creative talent and why design is returning to the old ways

David Hillman is a judge at The Drum Design Awards

"Digital needs to be seen as a tool rather than some magic problem solver," according to David Hillman, D&AD’s most awarded designer and judge at this year’s The Drum Design Awards.

Speaking with The Drum ahead of judging the awards, Hillman reveals that packages such as "InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator" have "given a lot of amateurs the idea that they can be a designer". With digital becoming more and more prevalent in the design industry, Hillman reveals that technology is no match for that "core creative talent" with "the idea that design education needs to be put at university level" a particular bug bear.

"I think the design industry as a whole would benefit from bringing back the old art schools where design is independent from the education establishments and students are working in an atmosphere which is solely devoted to the subject they are studying instead of worrying about keeping up with the image of the university," he explained.

A graduate of the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts, Hillman began his career as a designer on the Sunday Times Magazine. In 1968 he was appointed as Nova magazine’s art director. In 2006, after 29 years as a Pentagram partner, Hillman set up eponymous Studio David Hillman, giving Hillman a ringside seat as the design industry has evolved over the last 50 years.

Of the changes to the industry Hillman believes that the biggest transformation is the size and scale of it now, "it’s a thousand times bigger," he said. "When I left the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts in ’62 everyone got a job immediately and only 15 people graduated that year. Now there are about 60 or 70 graduates from each design school fighting for work, and though the choice of roles is greater now I think there are fewer jobs around now than when I started."

In discussing the lack of jobs, Hillman believes the economy has been somewhat to blame, with clients choosing solely on price. He explains: "In the last three or four years because of the number of redundancies made by the larger design companies there are more and more independent designers working from home and their kitchen tables with no overheads and they can undercut everybody. This isn’t the best way for anyone to choose a designer; success in design comes about through the partnership between the client and designer, not just because they were cheap and sounded great on the internet."

Despite undercutting and perhaps too much value being placed on the price, Hillman observes that "things seem to be coming full circle" when it comes to design with an emerging "passion to get back to the old ways," as traditional designers increasingly see digital as more of a gimmick. "People beginning to calm down now and choosing the right way of doing things. At long last the total style driven jobs are going and it’s coming back to being more about ideas and content," he enthused.

As a judge at The Drum Design Awards Hillman’s 50 year tenure in the industry makes him a hard man to please and he warns entrant against submitting "design for designs sake". According to Hillman the best way to impress him will be with work that is "original, is the right solution and understands the brief". He expands: "I’m excited to see to look at things which I think solve the problem at hand as well as something which is new and original. Entrants must understand that simply changing the typeface of an existing job does not make a design solution."

Joining Hillman on the judging panel for The Drum Design Awards are Design Council chief executive, John Mathers; Jill Marshall, managing director at Bloom; SomeOne co-founder, Simon Manchipp; Stuart Radford, creative director at The Partners; and many more. The awards are open for entry until Friday 7 February, with more information on categories - such as App Design, Identity Design, Packaging, etc. - and how to enter available on The Drum Design Awards site.

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