Cannes Lions: Product Design
and the Lucky Iron Fish

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I was thrilled to have served as jury president last month in the newly-formed Product Design category at Cannes Lions. First I need to thank the jury members, who were absolutely great to work and hang out with: Defne Koz, (Italy/USA), Gen Suzuki (Japan ), Jonas Pettersson (Sweden), Leonardo Massarelli (Brazil),  Priscilla Shunmugam (Singapore), Ruth Berktold (Germany), Samuel Wilkinson (UK) and Tobias van Schneider (USA). If you ever get a chance to choose members for a design award program, choose them!

The Cannes Lions event is more than 60 years old, historically celebrating the best in advertising. The product design category was initiated last year (I was a jury member last year.) As such, the event seems to be a well kept secret among product designers – but that will no doubt change over time. We had approximately 280 entries this year, most coming from ad or marketing agencies more familiar with Cannes Lions. Winning a Gold Lion Award at the event means a lot in that industry, and even more so winning the Grand Prix, for which there is just one awarded per category. Because of that the entrants tend to submit a single, unchanged entry into multiple categories, hoping to win at least one. This severely affects our ability to properly judge an entry in the product design category. The jury got a marketing pitch, but not the design story. In fact, we were certain in some cases that the entrants in the product design category never even consulted with the designers. Doing so would have helped us (and them) a lot. The entrants are kept secret from the jury, to prevent any bias in the judging, so while we don’t know for sure, it was extremely obvious from the lack of design-relevant information that they provided.

The entry we ultimately chose for the Grand Prix was a surprise even to the jury I think, although we were unanimous in the decision. In the midst of an event that showcases the latest technology in film, video and digital, we chose something as low-tech as can be imagined. We selected the Lucky Iron Fish, a cast iron fish that is having proven success in alleviating the iron deficiency in the diet of the people of Cambodia. The prominent metal for cooking vessels in Cambodia is aluminum. Encouraging people to add a block of cast iron to the pot while cooking had limited effect – they didn’t do it. However, casting it into the shape of a fish, a symbol of luck, changed that. We feel this is an outstanding example of the power of design to affect behavior and improve people’s lives.

Credit for the award goes to Gavin Armstrong (CEO) and Lucky Iron Fish. A misdirected credit to Geometry Global, in Dubai, the marketing group that entered the Cannes Lions submission, caused a bit of a stir on the internet, although it was unintentional on their part and the credit was resolved the next day. A video providing more information is here:  Lucky Iron Fish: A Simple Solution to a Global Problem