Surrealism, augmentation and a steady rise of AI among D&AD’s trends for 2023

In its first ever Annual Trend Report, D&AD analyses what its pencil-winning works say about the industry at large, identifying seven trends.

2 October 2023


For a little context on how the D&AD Awards runs, each year it looks through thousands of entries on the hunt for the best in advertising and design – 12,000 entries in 2023; 11,726 the year before. This pool of projects was narrowed down to a final 69 Yellow Pencil winners in 2023 by over 300 industry professionals. It’s this process that has made D&AD Awards well equipped to dive into trend reporting. Its very first report distils “the catalogue of insights gathered from the jury rooms” alongside the wider creative context.

According to D&AD, right now we’re all looking to escape – “into surreal experiences, into gaming,” and away from the everyday. The first trend, joyful surrealism, emerges from projects that play on multi-sensory experiences to transport viewers, like Squarespace’s The Singularity, an advert which played with trippy repetition and modular synths to enhance the sensory effect. There’s also Pharrell’s music video Cash in Cash Out, in which director François Rousselet wanted audiences to question whether the animation was real or not. D&AD says the “goose-bump-inducing” feeling is a key part of this trend.

When it came to design, jurors said there is actually less “experimentation and creative bravery” than in previous years. “We’re seeing a shift away from graphic design as something that expresses content, to something that delivers content [...] So brands move more and more towards activation and away from personality,” designer, typographer and art director Neville Brody said onstage at D&AD 2023.

However, many design projects are trying to create a “distinctive” experience by building on recognisable brand assets – examples include the observing E logo by the Eames Institute of Infinite Curiosity and Leibniz’s heritage-based rebrand. It’s not an easy task to be iconic though. D&AD points to the Be Distinctive report by JKR Global and Ipsos, which says that only 15 per cent of all brand assets are “truly distinctive”.


D&AD Annual Trend Report 2023 (Copyright © D&AD, 2023)

In advertising, open-source casting is on the rise. “The ‘TikTokification’ of social media means audiences now expect real-life, unfiltered content online. So it’s no wonder that street casting is penetrating advertising,” says D&AD. It’s something we’ve been spotting more of this year too, like in this excellent guerrilla-style campaign for Ganni and Ace & Tate.

The report also identifies the importance of cultural preservation in creative projects this year, which is particularly prominent in the digital realm. Here, creativity acts as “the problem-solver to remember and capture our history and heritage in order to shape the future,” the report explains. Examples include Missing Matoaka which hijacks Disney’s Pocahontas with original audio content from Indigenous writers, correcting the character’s story.

Elsewhere, future-driven creative work came to the fore, as did AI’s potential to disrupt the design industry. Augmentation was another major trend. While D&AD acknowledges that the Metaverse might not have lived up to the hype of 2022, Bloomberg Intelligence still says it could generate up to 200 billion dollars through concerts and sports events by 2024. Exciting projects in this space include E-nterpreters, an AI bot that translates sign language conversations that occur in Discord in real time, and Beyond Hearing from Chun-Te Ho, AR glasses that display the location and type of sound to help hard-of-hearing people understand where sounds are coming from. Audiences can read the full report and see featured projects here.

GalleryD&AD Annual Trend Report 2023 (Copyright © D&AD, 2023)

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D&AD Annual Trend Report 2023 (Copyright © D&AD, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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