Two members of Signal’s creative department, Matt Higgins (Art Director, Edinburgh) and Aaron McCarthy (Art Director, Cheltenham) won tickets to attend all 3 days of the D&AD Festival last week at the Old Truman Brewery, London.
Having followed their updates on Twitter throughout the event, I was excited to find out more, so I grabbed them on their first day back in the office to ask them all about it.
A big thanks to Matt for sharing his excellent photos and video footage from the event.
First of all, for those who don’t know, what exactly is the D&AD Festival?
Aaron: "I’d say it’s a celebration of creativity - all aspects of it, from filmmaking, to copywriting, to animation, to product design. Everything that somebody has put some blood and sweat and tears into, and put their emotion into it, laid out for people to enjoy.
And then there are talks that back it up and show how different people have different ways to generate ideas - and get them out there into the world."
Matt: "I managed to film some stuff to give you a flavour of what it's all about."
Nice! So what was it like to experience the event for the first time?
Matt: "It was amazing. Working in an agency, you have your successes and inspirations on a day-to-day basis, and then you have all these websites that you go on now and again, where you read about all this great work.
But it makes a massive difference to be there in person and hear about these massive campaigns from the people who worked on them, and to be there with people like you from various other agencies is a lot of fun.
Each talk was roughly 45 minutes to an hour, and when you’re there, it goes incredibly fast. All the speakers have got their own style and attitude, and what everyone’s saying isn’t repetitive either. Everyone’s got a very different approach to how to be successful as a creative, or a designer, or whatever it is you might do.
It’s a lot of very talented people coming together that have contributed in some way to what the D&AD stands for, which in terms of awards is obviously one of the biggest accolades you can get in the creative industry. To get all of that in one big place is so, so inspiring."
Aaron: Being amongst like-minded people was definitely what made it such a great experience for me too. As part of a creative department within a bigger company, you feel like not everyone understands what it is you do day-to-day and how difficult idea/content/creative generation can be.
But being at that event, where everyone is all about creativity and idea generation, and craft, and design, has brought it home to me that everyone has the same struggles and we’re all in it together."
Matt: "Yeah, in agencies the creative department is treated like “you guys go and have fun.” Everyone thinks you’re just walking around having a laugh, but Aaron’s right - when you’re at a thing like the D&AD Festival you realise we don’t actually have it easy. Because as a creative, you torture yourself to come up with good ideas all the time, and you constantly second-guess yourself. You constantly think, “Am I good enough to do this job” - but what people there make you realise, is it’s normal to feel like that, and if you don’t then you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough."
Aaron: "Absolutely - a lot of it was about making mistakes and breaking rules and how that is the way to do it. It’s not about getting it right first time. You can’t be afraid to get things wrong.
I think as creatives, you’re putting yourself out there, every time you come up with an idea and present it to somebody, you’re laying a little piece of yourself down for somebody to rip it apart, and a lot of the D&AD Festival was about realising ‘that’s fine’. You know, let that shredding of an idea happen, and let it help you craft the next one."
So did you get any advice on how to make that easier, or do you just have to expect that as part of the job?
Matt: "I think it was more reassuring you that that’s normal. Because the reality is, our jobs can be fun. It’s what you make of it."
But we’ve also got that other side to it where mentally it’s quite tiring and it can be challenging. And when you’re there at the D&AD and you’re seeing all this great work, you realise what it’s all for. And it just makes you want to try even harder to reach that level."
Aaron: "It was also helpful for me, in giving me more of a drive to be as successful as the people who are giving the talks. I had so much admiration for, not just being up on the stage and giving an awesome presentation, but that I could potentially be in their position if I just applied myself the way they’ve applied themselves."
So what would you say to other creatives who are thinking about attending?
Matt: “I would see that festival as a tool which is going to give me a yearly dose of inspiration, in a big way.
You get inspiration, obviously, at work all the time, especially if you’re looking at work that’s been done all over the world. But when you go and it’s all condensed into that 3 day thing and it’s laid out the way it is, and you’re socialising, you’re going to talks, you’re meeting cool people, many of whom are famous in the industry.
It’s going to recharge your batteries and you’re going to come back to work and it’s going to make you aim for something much higher than you ever have before, which is obviously to win a Pencil."
Aaron: “For me, that is one of my goals, to get a Pencil. The Festival is a massive shot of creative caffeine. So I’m buzzing, coming into work today I’m like, we need to set ourselves up to win awards and do the best work we can for clients.
How will you keep that buzz going throughout the year?
Matt: I think it’s got to come out of your own work now. After you go to something like that, you’ve got to see an improvement yourself, in how you approach a brief, how you deal with problems and of course, having better ideas.
And if you get a hint that you’re improving as a professional creative after something like that, that’s well worth the money. So I think I will see a benefit, and I was already in a meeting this morning and I feel I was definitely a lot more positive and proactive. I was also more aware of other departments and how that work is going to affect them so I could try and solve any potential problems and setbacks."
Aaron: “For me a lot of it was about the fact that as a creative you’re going to be faced with challenges along the line. But if you believe in your idea enough, you’ve got to try and push it through as best you can.
As creatives, I don’t think we shout about what we can do enough, we don’t blow our own trumpets enough. And the best way we can do that is by showing that we believe in our own ideas."
In the second part of this interview, Aaron and Matt share their top 5 highlights from the 3 day event.
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Milo is a content writer and editor for Signal. He spends his days crafting high-calibre content with readers and results in mind.