45 years of annual covers


If D&AD had the chance to rewind back through its history it might have approached things differently.

The Gold Award, for example, might have been gold. The Silver Award, silver, little things like that. And the yearly task of producing the D&AD Annual cover? That could have been much simpler. Maybe a blow-up of the year’s killer project, or a big bit of type on a colour, with just the date changing, year after year.

But no, that’s not the way it happened. A little haphazardly at first, but now officially, designing the annual cover has become a kind of award in itself. It’s become a Presidential duty; handing the baton to a perspiring creative who knows only too well that the arrival of the new annual is subjected to fierce critiques in studios the world over.

The brief was once to do ‘˜whatever you want’. It started perfectly simply. The cover for the pamphlet for the first exhibition featured the black portfolio that Alan Fletcher had used only a few years before when hawking his work around America. The newly designed logo was placed on the handle, the shot was taken. Thank you very much, go home.


The first actual annual cover looked like this. Something to do with picking the reddest apple, I presume?


Sadly for much of the rest of the sixties, the covers weren’t much to shout about until Bob Gill’s 1968 pastiche of soap powder vernacular, an early example of designers poking fun at the scheme’s tendency to take itself a little too seriously.


But as art directors struggled with painful metaphors to sum up the scheme (we’ve ‘˜bitten the dangling carrot’, and hit ourselves on the head with a self abusing hammer), some merrily took the loose brief to heart. When briefed ‘˜do whatever he wanted’ Tony Meeuwissen’s reaction in 1973 was to draw an illustration of, well, whatever he wanted. At the time an avid ephemera collector, he developed a visual mΓ©lange of a matchbox, a monkey, a ship, a lighthouse, a seagull and mice. Obviously.


Incidentally, the carrot cover is reputed to be the worst selling D&AD annual of all time – legend has it that 500 copies were sold then the remainder stayed in a warehouse until pulped. If you have a copy, look after it.


The finest ‘˜expression of the time and hang the consequences’ must go to pop artist Allen Jones’ 1972 offering of an archetypically pneumatic girl admiring herself in a yellow glowing mirror. For probably the first time (but definitely not the last), we see D&AD holding a mirror to some of the creative community’s attitudes of the time.


Finally, however, someone cracked. It’s true, 13 years after the scheme’s inception, an art director put a pencil on the cover (in this case his own, hard-fought-for black one because D&AD towers wouldn’t lend him one) with 13 vicious little notches carved out of one edge. Neil Godfrey, the cover’s designer, had in one fell swoop amended the brief for decades to come, by finally including the organization’s most famous prize.


Once the floodgates had opened, for 25 years much of the action focused on the scheme’s wooden ambassador. We’ve had pencil sharpeners (twice), pencils as mountain ranges, pencils as honeycombs (with attendant bees), pencils sawn in half (revealing the scheme’s age in rings), pencils as medallion ribbons, a pencil case, a pencil box, swarms of flying pencils, even pencils as rockets (OK, I made the last one up but it wouldn’t have surprised you, would it?).



Some designers have chosen to make the winning of the pencil the idea itself – Trickett & Webb’s 1978 cover is simply a crowing cockerel – that year’s award winners waking to their golden sunrise, perhaps? Apparently, to crow correctly and raise himself to the right height for the meticulously prepared painted background (this is pre-computer, remember; it had to be done ‘˜in-camera’) our feathered lothario had to be surrounded by the fluffiest and horniest of hens.


Farrow Design’s brief coincided with a President who wanted a book more like a product – enter, stage left a generous sponsor keen to help produce a steel slipcase. But it’s under the steel that the best idea lies; 17,107 tiny pin pricks cover the surface (representing that year’s total entries) of which 36 are silver, and one gold, the brutal statistics of the world’s toughest award scheme meticulously brought to life.


Malcolm Gaskin’s marvellous 1984 ‘˜blow-up’ cover included a valve that allowed the blind embossed, heat sealed, translucent dust jacket to be inflated, so the purchaser could at least play with their own air-filled friend (perhaps in the absence of the real thing?). Little did unwitting inflators know, the jacket had a non-return valve – once inflated, it stayed that way. This dust jacket also tended to be stolen, so many creatives went through college thinking of this cover as ‘˜the one with the boring yellow printed cover’, not realising what they had been missing.


My copy of Gaskin’s idea may be starting to show its age, but it was still healthy enough a decade ago to inspire me to think that perhaps replacing the cover itself with yellow pencil case material would work. It was only a hop and a skip to the brown cloth and zip that completed the transformation (but only when we discovered that the printer had found some yellow souwester material did we know it would actually go through).


Sometimes, the core colours of D&AD have been enough – in 1981 Minale Tattersfield simply superimposed two pantone colour chips and that was enough to say ‘˜D&AD’ – an early example of how the organisation’s colours had become ingrained in the collective psyche of the then UK’s, and now world’s, creative community.


In 1996 Tony Kaye only had to place the thinnest of yellow slivers behind the forbidding blank white page of an unused pad to sum up the feelings of many starting a new project – ‘˜Will this be the one that wins? Am I good enough? Help!’ By 2002, Gregory Bonner Hale simply created a ‘˜duster jacket’ from acres of yellow duster material (with the help of a Bangladeshi T-shirt manufacturer) and it was still pretty clear whose book this was on the bookshelves of the world.



Give that many nickname the annual ‘˜The Book’, it’s unsurprising that some cover designers have picked up on the Bible analogy, some more successfully than others. (A bible cover composed of two pencils as a cross famously failed to get through the committee once). In 1985 Roger Pearce placed a few simple lines of gold embossed capitals onto maroon leatherette, a subtle piece of anti-packaging for many people’s bible of creative thinking. And actually one of my personal favourites, but I’m forever being asked what the ‘˜real’ cover was, because people assume there was once a dust jacket that had either got lost or been discarded (missing the point entirely).


Mother’s 2002 entry to the annual cover hall of fame took Pearce’s idea one stage further by creating a journey into the bizarre, not for D&AD but its Victorian cousin, Dulverton & Asquith-Drake. Just to confuse potential purchasers even more, we were told these are ‘˜the unfortunate findings of the collective for the abolition of reason’ on the spine. Time has dulled the effect of this, but this annual still takes the prize for the most imaginative jury photos, meticulously comped onto old victorian snapshots.



Mother’s side-stepping of the brief reveals one of the new difficulties of this project – designing the cover gets progressively harder and harder. Today’s recipient of the cover brief is now expected to produce something that shows what a modern, more grown-up, enter-on-line D&AD stands for, booms out of bookshelves and becomes an instant talking point. I’m not sure that some of the old ones would have stood up to that kind of scrutiny (but then that’s probably part of their pre-strategy, pre-marketing charm, isn’t it?).

The last few years have seen varying attempts to deal with this. Sometimes a president’s agenda has to be dealt with – Spin’s reaction to a ‘˜charity’ brief in 2005 was to produce an annual in plain book boards with arty ‘˜day in the life’ images for dividers.


Nick Crosbie was a late stand-in for Jonathan Ive (whose idea proved un-doable), but Crosbie’s sucker cover certainly sticks in the memory, as well as to every desk it ever gets put on.


More recently, D&AD has been experimenting with non-London creatives, firstly Design Project from the north of England and this year Fabrica, who designed the much discussed ‘˜flag’ route. Time will tell whether the flags will endure but Fabrica certainly get the chutzpah prize by managing to print their credit on the front cover of the annual. Sneaky.


My sources tell me that the designer of the 2008 annual has already been chosen, so good luck to them. As a very well known US based designer quipped to me once (having refused the invitation to design it), he couldn’t see the point in ‘˜doing something that had been done well 40 times already’.

And he had a point. Mind you, that won’t stop London’s pushy creatives emailing Garrick Hamm, president elect, and suggesting themselves as recipients of the yellow baton for 2009.

By Michael Johnson

This is an update of a piece originally published to coincide with the Rewind project that celebrated the organisation’s 40th birthday.