The Adobe Design Achievements Awards: an editor's diary

Greetings from Toronto. I'm here to see the next generation of creative talent crowned at the Adobe Design Achievement Awards (ADAA), an annual celebration of the very best international student design work.

Fabulous Toronto fact number one: Over 150 different languages are in regular use in the city.

Toronto is the capital of the Canadian province of Ontario and a thoroughly modern city of some 2.5 million people. Torontonians pride themselves on the diversity of their city's population - over 40 per cent of inhabitants belong to one of a multitude of ethnic minority groups, most notably Chinese, Jamaican, Korean and Italian.

Despite this cosmopolitan blend, it is the legion of glass-faced skyscrapers that puncture the skyline of Toronto's downtown district that will influence many visitors in forming their first impressions of the city.

Toronto is the commercial capital of Canada and, as with any North American city with a reputation to uphold, the financial institutions have invested heavily in the sky by tattooing it with a bewildering number of high-rise monuments to their own magnificence.

None, however, can compete with the mighty CN Tower, which at a shade over 1,815 feet is not only the world's tallest free-standing building, but even dares to penetrate the clouds with its crowning hypodermic aerial.

Beyond this collection of phallic edifices, the city presents another more cultured and creative face. Toronto is renowned for its thriving design scene and was highlighted as a global design hotspot in issue 121 of Computer Arts. CA regular Derek Lea is based here and keeps good company among a swarm of cutting-edge agencies such as Taxi, Concrete Design, The Grip and Oxygen.

Fabulous Toronto fact number two: Toronto has less crime than Disneyland

Apparently so. The passion of its people for the arts and a laidback disposition makes Toronto a safe and enjoyable place to spend a few days, and this is the first time in the six years of the competition that Adobe has decided to hold it outside the US.

There are nine categories in total (see below) and submissions must be created primarily using Adobe software. A panel of high profile judges, including Diti Katona of Concrete Design, Masamichi Udagawa of Antenna Design and Rodolphe Guenoden of Dreamworks, is responsible for selecting three finalists in each category and each has their travel to the awards ceremony and accommodation paid for by Adobe.

Fame and fortune beckons for one finalist in each category. Not only do they walk away with an award and a healthy dollop of exposure, they also receive $5,000 and a choice of seven Adobe products. But like the best game shows, nobody goes away empty handed.

Each finalist gets to take a studio tour - a day-long excursion to a selection of the city's finest design studios. Here the students can see how a design business runs, find out what studios want from new intakes and potentially make contacts that could land them a job.

The studio tour starts shortly after 9am and I will accompany a group of eight students and several Adobe executives. The schedule is tight, with four studio visits crammed into just seven hours, but spirits are high and new friends excitedly share portfolios and swap business cards on the bus. It's never too early to start networking.

I've joined what must constitute the most talented group of finalists to take in the whole experience - five of the eventual nine winners are present - and I get to chat to UK illustrator Adam Simpson from the Royal College of Art on the bus. His work is both intelligent and technically impressive. I wish him luck for the awards ceremony.

The first stop on our tour is Oxygen Design and Communications, a small consultancy operating from a state-of the-art warehouse conversion and presided over by Marawan El-Asfahani and Alex Wigington. Oxygen specialises in print design projects, brand identity and in-store graphics and there's an opportunity for the students to get the inside track on the agency's work and quiz resident designers about life at the cutting-edge.

Fabulous Toronto fact number three: Toronto is the world's third most important centre of filmmaking and broadcasting after LA and New York

And fittingly animation house Cuppa Coffee is next. The agency is responsible for MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch, numerous advertising spots and motion graphics work for such broadcast giants as the BBC and Cartoon Network. Here we receive a fascinating insight into the painstaking process of stop motion animation, getting to see a top secret floor of the building where a team of hugely talented people is working flat out in small groups to create puppets, clothes and stage sets.

Every member of the group comments on the incredible patience required of animators at least once; I quietly congratulate myself on choosing the simple life of a magazine editor instead of an animator.

We break for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Dundas, where platters of aromatic delicacies come thick and fast and the challenge of preventing sticky sauces from congregating on my shirt ultimately proves too great.

As we eat, I talk to Janina Boesch, a German student who has been studying in New York. Although graduating just a few weeks ago, she has already managed to land a job with Pentagram. Impressive stuff. I make a mental note to seek out her work at the awards ceremony.

Back on the bus for our next stop: a trip to advertising agency The Grip. The Grip is a collective of 12 creative directors who are all partners and who work together on broadcast and print briefs for clients such as Cadbury Adams, Bell, Honda and Labatt.

The Grip's studio is a designer's dream: slick, metallic, futuristic and with a slide to help its creative geniuses get quickly from floor to floor. With a pool in the relaxation area and a boardroom designed like a freezer it's like a cross between something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey and a children's playground.

Our final destination is the offices of Interbrand, a global corporate design agency. We've already been told what to expect by several of the other agencies and our intelligence proves accurate when we're greeted by bespectacled creatives dressed in black. This is the face that design agencies must present when working for clients in the business sector.

After being talked through branding projects undertaken for a Canadian Bank and the province of Manitoba, a troupe of weary students climbs gingerly onto the bus and heads for the hotel to prepare for the evening awards ceremony.

Fabulous Toronto fact number four: Toronto is the third most polite city in the world

Although the fact that Toronto came in behind New York seems unlikely. New Yorkers may be friendly, but they're often in a rush. Torontonians are altogether more easygoing and their friendliness to outsiders is refreshing. I reflect on this as the barman at the Royal Ontario Museum (aka The ROM) enthusiastically thrusts a bottle of Niagara's Best Blonde into my hand.

I'm at the exhibition that precedes the award ceremony and I've finally got an opportunity to examine the work of the finalists. I'm delighted when the first piece of work I encounter is from Amy Wang, a New Yorker from the School of Visual Arts and someone I'd been chatting with on the studio tour.

Amy's graphic design project is a tongue-in-cheek plea for fellow Americans to embrace the metric system and is beautifully executed. This would win any design award; I hope the judges agree.

Elsewhere I am impressed by the Interactive Design category and discover why Pentagram offered Janina Boesch a job: her work is exemplary in what is a strong category. Indeed, the overall quality of the finalists is very high and there are some categories where I hesitate in guessing the likely winner. Illustration is perhaps the closest - Adam Simpson has a fight on his hands.

I then bump into the second of the UK's finalists in the shape of Matthew Murdoch from the Royal College of Art. Matthew is one of the finalists in the Live Action category for his touching short film about a boy experiencing alienation at school. I discover that he supports the same third-rate football team, chuckle and wish him luck.

I also meet UK graduate Matthias Peters. Every student who receives an honourable mention from the judges is invited to attend the awards ceremony, but only the finalists in each category have their expenses paid. Until now this has resulted in a grand total of zero honourable mentionees travelling, but this year Matthias, formerly of Ravensbourne College, became the first to pay his own way.

So impressed was Adobe by his commitment that Matthias was taken on the student tour and effectively adopted by Adobe's UK PR team, who compensated for the relative lack of luxury in his lodgings by taking him out on the town and on a trip to Niagara Falls.

Matthias informs me that he has been featured in Computer Arts (issue 116), but to my great embarrassment I am unable to recall his skilled motion graphics work and make a mental note to check back as soon as I return to the UK. The ceremony is about to begin.

After an opening address from Adobe marketing boss Eugene Lee, local creatives Scott Christie and Dominic Ayre take over to compere the ceremony. Keeping the audience entertained with anecdotes about appalling clients between handing out each award award, the pair hold the power to thrill and disappoint in equal measure.

Janina Boesch and Amy Wang both take deserved awards, as do three other students from the studio tour I joined. For UK entrants Adam Simpson and Matthew Murdoch, however, it simply wasn't to be. But there are no disappointed faces and the night is young. We head out into a summer evening to sample the delights of Toronto's nightlife and celebrate into the small hours€¦

You can find out more about the Adobe Design Achievement Awards and see the the winners and their work at

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began back in 2012. The current website team consists of eight full-time members of staff: Editor Georgia Coggan, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Deals Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Digital Arts and Design Editor Ian Dean, Tech Reviews Editor Erlingur Einarsson and Ecommerce Writer Beth Nicholls and Staff Writer Natalie Fear, as well as a roster of freelancers from around the world. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.