My last post about the judging process at D&AD ended with a promise to write more about the winning work. It turns out there’s no need, as the other judges have already done a fine job of summarising it. If you haven’t read them already, here are the links:
For me, the biggest talking point to arise from Writing for Design this year is to do with the category itself. I’ve wondered before whether it might be broadened into ‘Writing for Branding’ or ‘Brand writing’ to cover interesting forms of writing that don't involve a collaboration with design. There have also been murmurings about merging it with Writing for Advertising to create one overarching writing category, which could command a bigger profile. (John Weich makes that argument in his post.)
My understanding of the history is that D&AD has recognised copywriting for many years, since at least the late 1960s (not sure if it was there at the beginning in 1962). But it's always been advertising copywriting – radio, posters and the classic long-copy press ads. Writing for Design only came along in 1999, reflecting the way language was being used as a brand-building tool in areas that went beyond traditional advertising media – packaging, corporate literature, websites and so on. This coincided with the rise of tone-of-voice guidelines and a general heightening of awareness of writing as part of the branding process (although plenty of good people had been aware of it before that).
I’m not sure how the entry numbers have varied over the years, but I believe Writing for Design averages around 70-80 entries, and Writing for Advertising gets roughly twice that. So Writing for Design remains the smaller category.
Writing for Design
As a counterpart to Writing for Advertising, Writing for Design seems a logical enough category title. It’s always been slightly problematic, in that it implies a subordinate role for writing. Writing with Design would be more accurate, but it has the air of political correctness about it. There's also been an enduring confusion about exactly what's being awarded – is it just the writing, or does the design have to be good as well? But that confusion has probably faded over the years – people generally get that it’s about recognising the craft of writing, albeit in the context of a good, well-designed piece. Design Week has recently added a Writing for Design category to its awards, which is a sign that the term has become more widely accepted. Maybe now would be the wrong time to drop it.
Writing for Branding
That said, there’s an argument that Writing for Design has become too restrictive as a category title. Lots of interesting commercial writing now happens in various corners of social media, without involving a collaboration with a designer. Twitter accounts like @WStonesOxfordSt and @betfairpoker are high-profile examples of effective brand writing that is demonstrably popular with a wider public. Is it wrong for them to be ineligible for awards, while a direct mail piece can get recognised?
The idea of expanding the category comes with some practical problems – how do you judge a year’s worth of tweets? – but there could be ways to manage this. The trickier issue is whether you’re losing something important by cutting out the ‘design’ word from the category. The advantage of ‘Writing for Design’ is that it recognises the writing is taking place as part of a bigger creative process. Although the award is primarily a recognition of the craft of writing, that craft is being applied as part of a collaborative effort – the idea and the design have to be good too. When all those things come together into one great piece of work, it’s arguably a greater achievement than a writer working in isolation on a stream of amusing tweets or a snappy email. Can you evaluate the two alongside each other?
Writing, full stop
There’s also the argument that, if you expand Writing for Design into Writing for Branding, you might as well go the whole way and include advertising too – after all, isn’t it all just brand writing these days? An all-inclusive category would reflect the reality of a world in which plenty of design companies now work on advertising projects, and plenty of advertising companies work on big rebrands. There would still be scope for separate subdivisions within the category – design, advertising, branding, direct mail and so on. But they would be judged by a single jury made up of writers from all backgrounds – advertising as well as design.
This would be an interesting development and could shake things up a bit, but it would bring some risks. Advertising and design writing remain distinct worlds, with not much professional overlap. Many advertising writers cheerfully admit to a lack of interest in writing as such – they are essentially ideas people who work in headlines and concepts. Equally, design writers usually come from a more literary mindset and aren't necessarily the best judges of conceptual, short-copy work. (Plenty of exceptions to this on both sides.)
As the junior partner in terms of entry numbers, there is also the risk that design writing might get overshadowed by advertising writing, in the way it was before Writing for Design came along. (On a slight tangent, it’s interesting that the recently updated and re-released D&AD Copy Book overlooks design writing completely – the book as a whole feels like a celebration of the dying art of long copy advertising, but it might have felt different had they included a few Innocent packs to show how long copy has found a new home. But that’s another blog post.)
Does it matter?
Of course, it’s possible to get too hung up on categorisation. If someone were to enter a brilliant Twitter account under the current writing categories, the chances are the judges would find a way to recognise it. But categories do matter in terms of the signals they send out. The introduction of Writing for Design in D&AD has been a contributing factor in the rising appreciation of writing as part of the branding process. Is it best not to fiddle and let the category mature naturally? Should it be broadened into brand writing? Should it be merged into one Writing category with a single jury, albeit with advertising and design as distinct subcategories? I’d be interested to hear what anyone else thinks.
(Image taken from D&AD Flickr archive)