Showcasing creative excellence in advertising and design from around the world, the Design and Art Direction (D&AD) Professional Awards took place in London at the end of April.

Winning a pencil is seen by many as one of the greatest achievements in any creative’s career, and the calibre of the talent on show only confirms that perception.

“What an outstanding year for creativity,” commented D&AD CEO Tim Lindsay. “Five Black Pencils (the highest honour), all hugely deserving of the award. What unites them is a clear desire to create a better world, whether it’s promoting diversity, safety or inclusivity, but what is really fantastic is that they win this coveted award for their craft. Proof that creativity as a force for good lives outside of a single category but has become an all-encompassing theme.”

Humanitarian design was hugely awarded, celebrating creative that has given voices to minorities and the mis-represented across the planet. Projects included the world’s first braille smartwatch, an ad for the Paralympic Games with a cast of 140 disabled people, and a set of emojis designed to empower women (yes, really!).

Reactive creative was also highly awarded, with one of my personal favourites being Spotify’s ‘President of Playlists’, a campaign that triggered 14 million site visits in one week and became the number one trending moment on Twitter. This campaign started from a tiny, insignificant joke that Barack Obama made to the Swedish president about the job following his presidency at Spotify.

More sobering, and in stark contrast, was UNICEF’s film showing the disturbing parallels between a Syrian child refugee and the child refugees of World War II.

All this and more was showcased, with a real focus on advertising and creative that informs, and challenges perceptions.

The project that summarises this ethos for me was Dove’s “Dear Media”. This offshoot of the #MyBeautyMySay campaign challenged sexist commentary of female athletes, and sparked a huge reaction from social media users, with an initial reach of over 321 million, leading on to conversations that sparked over 1.2 billion impressions.

Digital interactive billboards identified real-time sexist quotes in the media using machine-learning, creating an automatic stream of sharable information to the campaign’s website. Viewers could then choose to send these quotes directly back to the offending publication that originally broadcast the comment. Women (and men) could finally take a personal stand on an issue that would otherwise feel impossible to challenge.

Dove gave a voice to those who felt silenced and helpless, allowing them to come together as one. Clean, functional and interactive design was supported by a sturdy foundation of machine-learning, creating a smooth process from start to finish. This careful design allowed the users to make big changes with just one click, effectively harnessing the power of community to make one great stand for women everywhere.

The campaign followed a heartening trend already emerging in many design awards this year – the realisation that good creative and advertising make changes that matter.

As D&AD’s own ethos states:

“you are…helping your industry to a better place. One that has the courage to look outwards and include the currently excluded in its future.”