As the co-founder and CEO of Retrospect, a Black-owned research and design company focused on branding and storytelling, Quinnton Harris is the ideal man to lead the Design jury at the 2023 Cannes Lions Awards. With a portfolio spanning advertising, early-stage technology companies and digital experience design, he’s not only prepared to champion great, impactful work, but able to discern - across the categories - what makes for a strong contender.
So what does this look like? Well, aside from driving intention in a commercially viable way, the work he looks forward to most this year will embrace the category’s future in collaboration, amalgamating new trends like AI and machine learning with traditional streamlined, homogenous, and scaled solutions.
To chat more about his takes on category this year, and how he’s going to approach leading the jury, Quinnton sits down with LBB’s Josh Neufeldt
LBB> What is it about the design category that really excites or interests you?
Quinnton> To me, Design Lions is the ultimate prize for a space like Cannes Lions.
The Cannes Lions Awards celebrate how narrative and emotive thinking fuels the business of advertising. It’s about how you draw people into causes or products that they care about. Design as a category considers both narratives AND applied technologies that go into driving businesses and causes forward. There’s so much more to weigh - the business context, the spend, the intention, the process, the outcome… All of these different things get to be expressed and qualified in judging the entries. What I love about this category is that its uniqueness rests with its versatility; designers focus on bringing the brand experiences to address our needs as humans.
LBB> The industry works best when different specialist businesses collaborate to make the most of their talents and knowledge. How can the industry work better together to ensure brilliance in design?
Quinnton> The future of design is collaboration. We need to be able to take different points of view, reach a harmonious consensus, and then decide on a collective process to bring the project from start to finish. It’s vital, especially in the age of AI and machine learning where we will see more streamlined, homogenous, and scaled solutioning.
For us to work better together, we need shared values rooted in inclusivity. Our own perspectives are important, but we need to be empathetic to others and the line of sight they bring to our work. I believe that we must ruthlessly prioritise harmony - meaning we determine the flow of what we’re making together and execute - not for or in spite of each other - but WITH each other. Equity is also key, so that the foundation is built on how participation is valued, celebrated, and compensated. This type of collaboration must be an exchange and not an exploitation.
LBB> How are you preparing yourself and your jury for the jury room this year? What will you be looking for?
Quinnton> We’ve had several reflective sessions as the jury-at-large to discuss philosophy and trends as we narrow our push toward a shortlist. My first tactic is allowing each juror to come to the table with their perspective heard. They should vote with their heart while also accepting the subjectivity of our charge. My second tactic is helping align philosophically, i.e., making sure the idea is novel, the design craft is of high integrity, the piece is not biased against any groups or communities, and that it ultimately drives commercial and business value.
Beyond this, we are looking for work that can stand on its own from end to end. Questions we’ll ask include: ‘Did it have an impact?’, and ‘Does it help drive its intention in a commercially viable way?’.
Another way we are prepping is by getting to know each other better. The opportunity to commune and understand each other is very important, and I’ve encouraged that. I’m privileged to be a part of a jury that is representative of the entire globe, across Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. For me, it's really all about making sure that everyone has a voice.
LBB> How has design in advertising evolved since Cannes Lions 2022, and why?
Quinnton> Design as a practice hasn’t necessarily evolved, but rather, the mediums and tools we use to craft the narrative have. For example, AI is a big part of design now, along with collaboration in the global community across projects and design. I certainly see the category evolving - it's less about telling a good story for the sake of storytelling. Instead, we see more of a focus that examines the intersection between ideas, technology, and people.
LBB> Given trends of the past year, do you expect to see surges of popularity in certain specific categories? And if so, why?
Quinnton> I think we will see AI being used to create new forms of visualisation and quickly organise visual data. We will also see older tech applications (things that were novel almost 10 years ago) being used in a recent context.
Overall, we expect to see the latest technologies applied in service to real human needs, especially with what is most pressing in society. Particularly in the equity landscape, there's so much to consider (social justice, climate change, democracy, access, disparity), and I think we’ll see a healthy amount of entries that attempt to solve those things across the Design category.
LBB> What are the current big debates within design - or more generally across the industry - that you expect to see coming through in the judging?
Quinnton> We've been debating tech a lot across the design industry. The question that keeps coming up is whether we can fairly hold an AI-generated piece of work next to one that is handcrafted. Is one or the other a better design?
I’ve been encouraging the jury to consider the context for the medium. It matters because we must consider the intention, scale, and business impact required to solve a problem. For instance, sometimes scale requires automation to reach its global impact goals - and that may deserve to be considered. We must be mindful of the context and nuanced problems that design attempts to solve, as well as the process of getting there.
Within design spaces, we sometimes over-emphasise or give too much weight to the output of the artefact. But design is not only output. It’s about process, and the totality of the end-to-end experience. Design is essential in every aspect of what is being created.
LBB> What issue or topic do you think the industry needs to find more alignment and unity on? And how do you hope we will get there together?
Quinnton> As referenced above, we need to mobilise around matters of inclusivity, equity, and access. All the systems of our world have been designed around these issues (or a lack thereof) - whether that's been explicit or implicit. It’s going to take design to dismantle the pieces that are not fair. As an industry, we must agree on the fundamental ideals that will eradicate things that perpetuate harm and don’t serve us anymore. Some designers lead with empathy and are sensitive to these things, but some are not, and we need to prioritise equity across the industry. The way we make things and who we make things with is just as important as what we make.
LBB> Cannes is also a time of celebration. What will you be celebrating this year?
Quinnton> I’ll be celebrating several milestones, actually. This will be my second time attending Cannes, so it will be great to be present in this space again. I'm excited to also share this experience with my friend and Retrospect co-founder, Joy Ekuta, and my wife, Ariel Belgrave Harris who will be travelling with me.
2023 marks Cannes’ 70th year of celebration, and I’m the second Black jury president of Design, which is a historic and symbolic milestone.
Last year, we had a groundswell of Black people from across the diaspora in attendance. It was transformational for me because, like so many other folks who share my identity, or have had non-linear careers in their industries, Cannes Lions continues to be a mystery to some and perceived to have very few people like us in attendance.
I look forward to experiencing that again this year with even more people, and alongside those that I love.