Award books are funny old things. Some people love ’em, others act as if they have been fashioned from fresh marmoset droppings.
When I was a junior I read an article by Peter Souter that suggested any aspiring creative ought to read all the D&ADs until he knew them off by heart. He said that the creatives at Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow and Johnson (it was the best agency of the early nineties, for those of you who were born then) used to play a game where one of them would name a headline, the next person would have to name the copywriter, the next would have to name the year and so on until some poor sod had to name the page number (if Mr. M. Denton Esq. is reading this, perhaps he can tell us whether or not it’s true).
Many other brilliant creatives I’ve met over the years have also sworn by this method of improvement, as it provides an excellent schooling in what it takes to be the best of the best.
However, other people eschew the award book devotion because they think it means your influences are the ideas, work and styles of two years ago (by the time an annual come out, the work inside can often be that old). And anyway, you shouldn’t look for influences in other people’s old ads, you should instead get out in the fresh air and take your inspiration from clouds, rainbows and camembert.
I think there’s something to be said for both sides, although I believe there’s another reason why award books are A GOOD THING: if you flick through a good one, you’ll find all sorts of subjects to send you off in all sorts of directions. You might see a dog, China, old people, clocks, teeth, bananas, doilies, sailing, kippers etc. and that can freshen up your train of thought no end.
So rather than using them as a style reference, why not make the most of their eclectic content? You never know where it might lead.
Also, they are a good place to find directors/designers/typographers that you might not be aware of. Nobody can be expected to keep tabs on all the good stuff happening from every craftsman in every part of the world, so an award annual can act as a fine digest for this information. If any one argues that this information would be out of date, remind them that people can, in some instances, actually produce excellent work in more than one year.
At the very least, having them around makes it look as if you care about good work and that can hardly be a bad thing, even in this day and age.