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'What makes a winning design?': lessons from The Drum's Design Awards champions

Detail from WMH's commemorative rug, created for Orchestra St John's to mark Zohra's concerts in the UK

Can creative design give you a competitive edge? What makes a winning design and how important design is for us today? There were some of the questions posed to three of the top winners from The Drum's Design Awards - the awards that recognizes and rewards those doing a great job in the design sector.

As part of The Drum’s Can-Do Festival, chair John Mathers of the British Design Fund and Natasha Chetiyawardana, creative partner and founder Bow & Arrows, sat down with the winners of the Grand Prix, Chair Award and Best Brand Campaign to discuss their awards and the design process from the creative idea to the end result.

Onboard was David Azurdia creative partner at Magpie Studio, Garrick Hamm creative partner at Williams Murray Hamm and Garry Blackburn creative director, Rose. You can watch the design discussion in full here, or glean some insights from the chat below.

Williams Murray Hamm’s pro bono project for the Orchestra St John

Garrick Hamm, creative partner, Williams Murray Hamm (WMH)

Award: Grand Prix-winner, Physical Product Design, Poster Design, Illustration and Design for Good

Work: WMH's pro bono project for the Orchestra St John (OSJ) celebrated a groundbreaking musical event and paid tribute to a hidden artistic tradition. Zohra is the first-ever all-female orchestra in Afghanistan and is run by the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). It is a rarity for the country, which is under the rule of the Taliban. OSJ raised funds to bring the orchestra to Oxford to support their music education. To thank all their supporters, OSJ asked WMH to create a commemorative poster. It went for a traditional handwoven rug, incorporating the apparatus of war to depict the orchestra’s journey.

"As designers, using skills to do good and help people by raising awareness and depicting hardships for people (especially minorities) is arguably never been more important than now. Is there any advice you can give to people to be able to get to the point where you have the bravery and the confidence to be able to put yourself forward?"

"You've got to have an attitude of wanting to help people, I instill it in my designers. We as agencies have a gift and our gift is to help people when we can.

"It's down to individuals, either that or you've got studio head that is brave. We are fiercely brave at WMH. There is not a project that I would not take on, it is part of what I love about what we do is that you're always learning and that is part of the beauty.

"It also comes from our schooling. I remember my lecture at college saying that saying no you're not doing that - you're doing this. And I remember thinking I can't, but the lecturer insisted we're not having that. That's not how it works. That's 30-odd years ago, and it stayed with me. And it's the same now, it's the same with this rug. You could have done a graphic designer's version of it, got it printed, and it all would have looked interesting. But it jumps to another level when you get something made."

Rose's Remembering D-Day at Bletchley Park

Garry Blackburn, creative director, Rose

Award: Brand Campaign

Work: Bletchley Park was the top-secret home of the WWII code-breakers and the birthplace of modern information technology. Rose was asked to create an iconic identity for an immersive D-Day exhibition, which commemorates the vital work the code-breakers did in expediting what was to become D-Day.

Taking inspiration from the coded messages, Rose took the 3 key stages featured in the exhibition – Interception, Intelligence, Invasion – and had each word printed out on the ticker tape. It then folded the tape (inspired by typography from WWII landing craft), to form the letter ‘D’, symbolising Bletchley Park’s role in D-Day.

"Do you have any tips on working with clients?"

"Most of the clients we speak to feel quite intimidated about working in an agency. Part of the problem is years ago, we built these huge, great design cathedrals that intimidate people. I had one client that confessed that before coming to the studio, it takes her two hours to get ready in the morning (when its normally it's 20 minutes) because she was so conscious about the way that she looked in that environment. Making clients feel comfortable is the most important thing first and foremost because they relax.

"The second thing is they need to be able to build trust in you. If you can't actually demonstrate that you want to be able to help them, that you understand and you empathize with what they're trying to do, then it's half the battle."

Magpie Studio's Lift Your Mind & Mood for Senser Spirits

David Azurdia, creative partner, Magpie Studio

Award: Chair Award, Packaging Design and Typography

Work: Senser Spirits is a range of non-alcoholic spirits that are blended to 'uplift' your mood without clouding your mind. To capture the mood-elevating effect of the spirits, Magpie Studio created a playful story that wraps around the bottle.

"How do you create something unique in what is a very crowded market?"

"From a small studio perspective, for me - it starts with just getting brilliant minds. It's getting the right people into the studio. Be it people who are challenging you and doing things in different ways.

"Just having brilliant designers, getting the right personnel and the right bums on seats. What ends up in the studios is as good as the people in it. While it's great to have a guiding ethos to deliver the work, you can't do it without the right people."

The Design winners spoke with The Drum Design Awards' chair John Mathers as part of The Drum's Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Can-Do schedule here.

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