Once you step back into an atmosphere you’ve neglected to visit, it will feed a beast you weren’t aware was hungry. Past the walls of the Southbank Centre, a hive of creatives appear en masse to yap, brag, hum, and titter. The best in the industry take to the stage to give a talk they’ve spent days rehearsing in the mirror, and top dog companies hand out free knickknacks like they’re going out of fashion.

D&AD 2024.

It is—to the artistically inclined—an absolute vibe fest.

A bullpen of designers with laptops sprouting from the booths at one side, and an eccentric Adobe stand with free badges and tumblers on the other. From Global Street Art, a real-time mural is being painted on a free-standing wall by talents working diligently. Within three minutes of entry, every attendant is laden with tote bags and coffee table books about D&AD awardees from years gone by. And that’s only the lobby area.

Peter Saville’s conversation with interviewer, Laura Havlin, was one of the highlights over the two-day affair. An icon in British design, renowned in the music industry for designing covers for Joy Division and New Order. He echoed the point of keeping passion at the core of your work. You design for a company, a paycheck, or a good word from your boss, but we began in this profession because of joyful fascination and care. If you lose that, you’ve lost a sense of yourself. He started with little restrictions, and that allowed him a sense of authorship over his work.

One running thread caught in almost every panel was the discussion of AI. It’s undeniably part of the creative future, and no one could ignore that. If it wasn’t about the digital influencers (see @lilmiquela on Instagram) on the rise or deepfakes being created and spread by every other internet troll in the meta-sphere, it fell into the automation of mundane tasks to allow creatives to take on more of the work they enjoy. No more painting out exit signs frame-by-frame or writing a dozen document outlines from scratch. It is something of a silver lining, if my chats with other designers gave me any insight into the general consensus. Is AI coming for our jobs? Perhaps! But only the boring parts (for now…)

Despite the mass of talks ranging from luxury branding to puppet making (not kidding), the standout feature was undeniably, unequivocally the people. Over the course of less than forty-eight hours, I met two men named Tom (one a senior animator, the other a videographer), a design professor from the University of Utrecht, a freelance writer dressed head-to-toe in lemon yellow, and a cheerful producer who knew how to handle a pint. The visual communications we see day-to-day wouldn’t be possible without the people behind them, and the same could be said about D&AD. There is no other crowd I would’ve enjoyed queuing alongside in the rain for an hour with.

If you’ve ever ummed and ahhed over attending D&AD Festival, answer these questions: What keeps you creating? Is it comfortable? Do you feel stretched beyond your self-perceived boundaries? Do you relish getting caught up by the chatter of hundreds of designers milling around at once, or do you stick to your screens with your head down?

(Don’t worry, there are plug sockets and free wifi.)

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