The DBA need to think about the wider impact of the projects they award, not just their financial success.
I was greatly disappointed last week, to learn that the Design Business Association had given the Grand Prix award to design agency Brand42, for its work on the Daily Mail website, at its annual Design Effectiveness Awards.
The Design Effectiveness Awards is an industry staple, giving example after example of design which has delivered real, measurable results for its clients; not just creative work for its own sake. I have followed, and been inspired by the winners my whole career. But for the DBA to hold up this work as the best our industry can do, makes me seriously question the values of our industry's leaders.
MailOnline's strategy unquestionably works. The website's annual revenue was £25 million in 2012. It is the biggest news site in the world, with its combination of writing styles honed to maximise search appearances and its laser-sighted focus on celebrities, delivering skipful after skipful of link bait.
Never Mind The Content
Design Week has published an article praising the design decisions that have allowed for this phenomenon to transpire, which cheerfully brushes aside the site's "frequently justifiable misgivings about [its] journalism" and examines its grid system, colours and typography. It closes with, "You might not want to admit to visiting MailOnline, but you have to acknowledge its success." Sure, it's successful – but should it be something our industry is actually proud of?
When one of the industry's leading bodies, and one of its most well-known publications, both laud the website, one has to wonder whether our industry has any sense of self-respect at all.
Ban This Sick Filth
Let’s just be clear, here. The Daily Mail is a vile, calculated, hosepipe of outrage-filled, lascivious effluent. It regularly publishes misinformation on a variety of subjects, feigning moral superiority, whilst publishing leering articles of young children, describing them using terms such as ‘leggy beauty’. It has its cake and eats it.
Through their work, Brand42 have been extremely effective in maximising ad revenue for MailOnline, by designing a system which channels content that reinforces societal prejudices, objectifies women, and objectifies girls as if they were women.
Now, I’m not saying that every design house should only do work for charidees and socially conscious clients – far from it. Working for Daily Mail is absolutely Brand42’s right, and I have no problem with that. They will have known from the beginning of their relationship with the client what kind of an editorial strategy the Daily Mail operates, and what kind of people run it.
We are better than this
However, the world of design should not be patting itself on the back for designing a system that enables the mass broadcasting of this kind of content. It implies that it is possible to view the design in complete isolation from the content, or the intended use of the thing you are designing. This is not the case. By this logic, if I designed a site which increased BNP membership by 1000%, I should be applauded, because despite frequent, justifiable misgivings about their political views, you would have to acknowledge its success.
Designers are powerful. We have the ability to change opinion, encourage people to buy one thing over another, or vote for a certain political party. Designers can sell these powers to whichever client it chooses, whether what they are doing is deemed good or less good. But I find it very dispiriting that an industry body like DBA are holding up MailOnline as the very best that we can do. I call on DBA, for future awards, to consider the societal impact of their work, not just the impact on clients’ bottom line.
I doubt that any of the judges have had their children photographed without their knowing, only to have the pictures posted online. Still, look at those numbers!