Behind the Cover: BMF Australia champions the QR code’s comeback

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 3 December 2020

This first appeared in the AdNews Annual 2020. Check out the digital version of the magazine here or subscribe here to get your print copy.

The creative contingent of adland is the beating heart of the industry. To fully embrace this, and with a mission to create awesome and inspiring covers, each month AdNews hand-picks an agency to work its magic.

What were your initial thoughts on The Annual brief at hand?
Summing up 2020 felt incredibly daunting. After everything that’s happened during this . . . unprecedented year, how could we encapsulate the enormous highs and lows we’ve all experienced in a single cover?

Post first brief chat, what went through your mind(s) and what were the next steps you took as a team?
After that initial ‘WTF’ moment, we gave ourselves the time and space to just chat (remotely) and bounce around ideas.

We thought a lot about tone. Did we want to be dark, uplifting, funny, or somewhere in between? We also looked at some of the symbols and the moments that had the most impact on us in 2020, and that have become intrinsically linked to the year we’ve just lived.

How did you know you’d landed on the best concept?
Toying with QR codes was one of the first things we jotted down. We liked the simplicity and the fact it could also have some utility beyond the cover. When we mentioned our ideas to other creatives around BMF it was their favourite thought as well.

The QR code is one of the best comeback stories of the year. This incredibly naff technology that’s now become part of our daily lives, and has been absolutely crucial in the world opening up to us again. It’s undeniably uplifting, and for us it signals that there’s hope for the future without being preachy or saccharine. We knew it would also give us the platform to bring to life a visually interesting and arresting front cover.

Who from the team was largely involved and what were their roles?
Once we had the idea and the moments from 2020 we wanted to show, it became very much a job for Matty Hughes, one of our senior designers. He’s incredible at what he does, and he chipped away at it for weeks, steadily crafting and refining.

We also worked with Nico, our head of content, to make sure we actually could make the cover a functional QR code. Lu Borges, our comms director, and our CCO Alex provided fresh eyes when we’d been staring at it too long.

What were the biggest hurdles to making this a reality? Any challenges?
When we were figuring out how the QR code would actually work on the cover, we thought it might become quite expensive. But we ended up with a budget friendly solution that still brings the creative idea to life.

At times it was also tricky to balance the tone of the overall design - we didn’t want to be too dark and negative, but we also didn’t want to avoid the uncomfortable moments from 2020. Yet it was also important to ensure we weren’t trivialising those difficult moments either.

Tell us about the actual creation techniques. How did it come together?
Again, it really was all about working with Matty and bringing it to life, from illustration style to colour palette. We wanted to develop an illustration style that was really clean and simple, as there are so many elements to it, and we wanted them to be instantly recognisable and icons and symbols people would remember from the year.

We kept googling recaps of 2020 to make sure we’d covered all the big moments.

Biggest challenges with the whole process? Did anything keep you up at night?
The biggest challenge was probably the ideation stage. This year has been a lot of things for a lot of people, both inside and outside of advertising. We didn’t want to lecture or preach or tell people how to feel, when for many of us it could be a long time before we even know how to feel about 2020. Yet we knew we needed to acknowledge the unmitigated shitstorm that it’s been.

Once we had the idea down, the process was quite smooth. Because we didn’t need to shoot, we didn’t have to wrangle studios and COVID restrictions, etc.

Best bit about the process?
While it was an overwhelming prospect at the beginning, this cover was actually a great opportunity. It’s not often these days you get such a pure print brief with so few guardrails, and watching it come together was really fun.

We hope everyone can engage with it!

The Annual 2020Scan the QR code to hear perspectives from our 2020 Emerging Leaders on how they see the industry shaping up in 2021.

Creative Agency: BMF
Copywriter: Lisa Down
Art Director: Jane Tjokrowidjaja
Senior Designer & Illustrator: Matthew Hughes
Head of Content Creation: Nico Engelbrecht
Group Communications Director: Lu Borges

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