New Blood 2014

Craig4

The results of the D&AD New Blood Awards were announced last night – essentially the 'student' awards, but open to any young person who wants to have a go. The awards take the form of a series of briefs which entrants from all over the world can choose to tackle. I was a judge on the Sky copywriting brief and was bumped up to Foreman when someone had to drop out.

I’ve been involved in professional judging before, but in some ways the responsibility feels bigger here, as you’re aware how much is riding on it for the entrants. An award can be a major boost at the beginning of a career, and having a brilliant piece of work unfairly overlooked can be a real downer that lingers with you for years.

Our brief boiled down to ‘create a copy-led campaign promoting the Sky brand’ – a tricky but interesting challenge for what is, on the face of it, a visual brand. There were 12 in-books, of which four were ‘nominated’ (a big achievement) and of those four, two won a pencil.

Telescopic1

Telescopic2

The first was Telescopic Nostalgia by Adam Newby and Will Wells from School of Communication Arts 2.0. It's an interestingly heritage-based route for a technology/media brand – appropriate when you realise Sky has been around for 25 years. Each execution relates various Sky breakthroughs to the cultural context of the times, using an interactive device called ‘telescopic text’, so that a short version of each line expands into a longer version when you swipe it. The device is borrowed from telescopictext.com but the execution is skilful and feels right for a screen-based brand.

Colour1

Colour2

The second pencil went to The Colour of Entertainment by Lyle Martin and Viloshan Appasamy of the Vega School of Brand Communications, Cape Town. The idea is a verbal extension of Sky’s visual brand, where the colour spectrum is a key element. Each execution takes a colour from the spectrum and relates it to the full range of Sky’s programming using a series of evocative phrases.

The posters ignored one of the few ‘mandatories’ in the brief, which was to include Sky’s ‘Believe in better’ brand line as a sign-off. After some debate, the feeling was that it was so firmly rooted in the Sky brand in other respects that it earned the right to drop the line. But it highlights a paradox in the judging generally, where on the one hand you’re looking for evidence that people can follow a brief professionally, but on the other hand encouraging bravery and rule-breaking. In the end, what matters is whether the work is any good.

It would take too long to talk about all the other entries in detail, but I was a big fan of ‘You're better off watching it’ – by Alvaro Palma Tara, Juan Álvarez Porto and Kike Garran of the Miami Ad School, Madrid – in which people humorously fail to describe brilliant TV moments. It’s edited with a comedian’s sense of timing and it plays into a key truth about why people subscribe to Sky – that fear you have as a consumer of missing out on stuff that everyone else is talking about.

I was also involved in the Black Pencil judging, where the best entries from each category compete for the highest award.

Three

The first winner was Three for XL recordings, by Anna Barton, Louise Delves and Sam Smith from Kingston University – a beautifully crafted interactive poster where sections are torn off and played through a punch paper music box.

And the other Black Pencil went to The Green Switch by Paul J. de Ridder and Yme Gorter of Edinburgh Napier University. The (ambitious) brief was to create an idea to fight climate change on a large scale. This solution proposed modifying Google's search algorithm to take sustainability into account, so that eco-friendly companies and products are rewarded with higher search results. You can argue about the feasibility, but it's exactly the right kind of thinking – a systemic change that could have a big effect without people having to do much.

While it didn’t get a Black Pencil, this campaign for the National Trust deserves singling out (by Robert Sewell and Vytautas Busma, University of Gloucestershire). It owes a lot to Adam Buxton and it’s stupid and over the top, but I love the way it reinvents a brand in a way you can almost see working. The entrants had the nerve to release it as a ‘leaked advert’ on YouTube, where it went viral and won coverage in the national press, subsequently attracting positive attention from the National Trust themselves. It’s exactly the type of irreverent, boundary-pushing work students should be doing.

For those who didn’t get in-book, I would say a lot of the work showed flashes of skill and talent – many of the entrants clearly knew how to write a decent headline and will probably go on to have brilliant careers, regardless of whether they happened to impress a particular group of judges on a particular day. (I would even say sometimes it’s better to be Will Young than Gareth Gates, but I’ve worked out most of the entrants would have been about six years old when that happened.)

Craig1

The exhibition graphics and branding by The Office of Craig Oldham also deserve a mention – a strong, humorous voice carried through into every element. The hoardings around the exhibition space in Spitalfields Market had a real presence – I can imagine a lot of members of the public being engaged and entertained by it. It was good to see some of the work recognised in Writing for Design in the D&AD Professional Awards.

Cf
And before leaving the subject of awards, I was pleased to be involved in a project for Cystic Fibrosis that made it in-book in Writing for Design this year. The idea for a writing-led identity was down to Johnson Banks and I helped with some of the executions. But I think it’s a nice example of a writing-based identity that does a serious long-term job for a client.

This post took ages to write.

More on the New Blood Awards here.

Awards ramblings 2013

Owemoney

The D&AD Writing for Design shortlist came out last month, with the winners announced on 12 June. Probably the most useful thing about the awards is the conversation that springs up around them every year, so this is my contribution.

Disappointments
On a personal note, there was some great news – a nomination for Disappointments Diary. Neville Brody picks it out as one of his favourite projects here, and it’s been shortlisted in the Design Week awards, with the winners announced on 4 June. I also had a few other projects entered into D&AD that didn’t get anywhere, so disappointments all round.

GOV.UK


Gov.uk1.jpg_0

There were three nominations in D&AD Writing for Design this year. Alongside the diary, the second was GOV.UK, which won the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award and has been written about extensively elsewhere, including praise from two of the judges Mike Reed and Joe Weir. It’s notable that, while it’s been widely hailed as one of the landmark creative projects of the year, it didn’t get recognised in the digital design category or anywhere else at D&AD. It strikes me as a good justification for the existence and relevance of Writing for Design as a category that it picks up projects like this.

Games Maker


Games_Maker

There doesn’t appear to have been much comment about this, but the third nomination in Writing for Design went to a project that amounts to two words. Here’s the entry video explaining it.

You should look at it before reading on.

What do you think?

I’ve argued in the past that a one-word entry might one day win in Writing for Design. One contender was Ma’amite. I’m not sure if that was entered – if so, it didn’t get anywhere.

The nomination reflects a subtle but significant change in the category that took place this year, which is to include an extra subcategory called Writing for Brands. The idea is to recognise writing that doesn’t have a design element (i.e. not Writing for Design), but is nevertheless great brand writing. It’s a subject that came up last year and which I wrote about here. It’s good to see the new subcategory is already bearing fruit.  

That said, the nomination will cause some raised eyebrows. The video makes a persuasive case, but it must have been a hard one to evaluate alongside the other work, which doesn’t get a chance to make a similarly emotive pitch for itself. There’s also an inevitable note of Olympic sentimentality about it, which it’s hard not to be swayed by.

On the surface, it’s a decision that I can see appealing to a lot of writers – the idea that words can be such powerful things, even just two words. But I wonder if there’s an element of wanting to believe it too much. Can we really quantify the difference the words made? Even if we can, is effectiveness the best measure? 'Games Maker' may have made it into the dictionary, but so did 'Simples'.

I think if it’s going to be a one-word winner, then the word not only has to be demonstrably responsible for the success of the idea, but also an admirable creative insight in itself. A couple of comparisons come to mind – the namers of the Everton store in the Liverpool One shopping centre, who came up with ‘Everton Two’. Or the lovely ‘Ends Fri’ ad for the last episode of Friends that I wrote about here and which got in-book a few years ago (in Press Advertising). Even in those cases, you could argue they’re just nice one-off jokes or beautiful moments of serendipity. But there’s no doubt there’s something special and memorable about them.

With ‘Games Maker’, there’s nothing inherently inspired or unexpected about the name itself. What marks it out is the strategic insight that you don’t have to go with the standard ‘volunteer’ – why not have a more motivating name? But even judged on that level, I’m not sure it’s qualitatively different from those train companies who have ‘customer hosts’ instead of ‘guards’. It’s the same principle – seeing the opportunity to avoid the generic term and inject some positivity with a new term. It’s become a widespread PR trend with job titles and usually it ends up grating with the public, as people sense the spin behind it. Had the Olympics not gone so well, would ‘Games Maker’ have seemed equally cloying to us? If we’re being really harsh, does it have a faint ring of Jubilympics about it?

I’ve hesitated to raise it on here, but I find this stuff interesting and I’m surprised it hasn’t caused more comment elsewhere. I wonder if it will lead to a spate of brand name entries in future.

Category in general


Rnli

As well as the three nominations, there were six in-books this year – a reasonable haul from total entries numbering 95, which is slightly up on previous years. It’s good to see Roger Horberry’s work for RNLI in there – a nice bit of witty writing that has entered the mainstream (I saw the tea towels in John Lewis the other day). The other entries come from Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Istanbul, which shows the scope of the category these days. The IF Istanbul identity takes a bit of ‘getting’ but looks good. It’s interesting to see the Shrewsbury identity involving We All Need Words getting a nomination in branding, but nothing in writing, although I don’t know if it was entered.

GOV.UK strikes me as the main story of the year. It’s a project that could change what clients expect from writing – after years of people asking for Innocent or The Economist, I suspect GOV.UK will now be mentioned a lot. I hope it signals a move away from the obsession with tone of voice (which make up only a tiny fraction of the full GOV.UK style guide) and towards a more rounded engagement with writing in its fullest sense. At the same time, I hope there isn't a swing too far the other way towards spare, functional writing – it makes sense on a government website, but there's still room for more fun and wit elsewhere. 


NB: Disappointments Diary is available to buy from our shop if you're the kind of person who buys a diary in June, in which case you'll probably like it.

Mr Small Print

Mr_credits

I sometimes miss writing Mr Blog, a character who lived a brief but intense life in late 2010, documenting all the ‘Mr’ shops on Britain’s high streets.

So it’s nice to see him immortalised in a small way in the credits of this year’s D&AD Annual, a copy of which has just arrived at my door.

Mr Blog was approached  by Venture Three to help with the writing on the rebranding of Little Chef – at the time, they didn’t know who was behind the blog and whether I did any commissioned writing. Mr Blog had to adapt his voice to fit with Little Chef’s more populist positioning, but hopefully a few traces remain.

Well done Mr Blog.*


* And well done Mr Tweets too.

Problem: how to win a book

P_solved_pic

A post to point you towards the Johnson Banks Review of the Year 2012, which has become something of an industry institution. I sent in some contributions that made their way into the mix and won me a copy of the new edition of Problem Solved in return. A good way to start the year.

If you haven’t already moved on from 2012 retrospectives, the full list of contributions I emailed went like this:

Best blog
Mike Dempsey’s six-part story of CDT. Lovely balance of personal and professional insight. 

Over-hyped thing you’d like to see the back of (and that Creative Review should probably stop covering)
Pantone colour of the year. A tired but frustratingly effective PR ruse.

Best ad of the year
Channel 4 ‘Meet the Superhumans’ Paralympics promo. Still electrifying to watch.

Worst ad of the year
Colgate ‘focus group’ – possibly the most excruciating thing ever committed to film.

Second worst ad of the year
Facebook is a bit like a chair, sort of, if you think about it.

Writing project of the year
Ma’amite. Single word, but pretty good.

Best creative project of year
Olympic opening ceremony, obviously.

Worst creative project of the year
Olympic closing ceremony. Conceived by "a hugely powerful establishment creative director who is not actually creative." 

Best creative of year
Danny Boyle

Design of the year
The Heatherwick cauldron is the obvious and deserving choice, but the gold postboxes were a lovely touch. 

Influential design project of the year
gov.uk by Government Digital Service. Still an epic work in progress but on course to be a major design and writing achievement.

Design story of year
The Comedy Carpet not getting in-book at D&AD. An indictment of the design judging culture that ought to be a tipping point, but probably won’t be.

Unfortunate book of the year
The Snowman’s Journey – the book of the John Lewis ad.

Brand refresh of the year
Ecce Homo restoration.

Worst brand use of Twitter
This ‘topical’ tweet from @YahooNews:
Last week a Moscow judge sentenced a band to two years in prison. What musical act would you send to lockup and why? 

Website of year
http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com

Quote of the year
“Hard work and grafting.” Mo Farah after winning second gold.

Worst brand campaign
Mini Cooper sponsoring what turned out to be a deadly weather front.

Those we have lost
The Waterstones apostrophe, which inevitably got its own Twitter account.

Much more comprehensive Johnson Banks review here.

Writing for... what exactly?

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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:

Fiona Thompson

John Weich

Jim Davies

Anelia Varela

Chris Doyle

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.)

The background
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)

What I did yesterday

Judging

The judging took place yesterday for Writing for Design at D&AD. There’s still a lot of mystery about how the judging process works, so I thought it would useful to break down how the day went and the different stages we went through. It’s a rigorous process, which I think would reassure anyone forking out for their entry fees.

Some of these timings are a bit rough, but give the general idea.

8.30am
Arrive at Kensington Olympia. Listen to opening addresses from Tim Lindsay and Rosie Arnold.

9am
The Writing for Design jury starts work – seven judges, with Jim Davies as the foreman, plus Luc Benyon from D&AD giving advice and helping with the practicalities.

9am to 12pm – The initial sweep
There are 74 entries laid out on half a dozen long tables, with a screen at the end showing the six online entries. The idea is to go round and familiarise yourself with each one of them. This is a daunting stage. Some items are posters or packaging with just a few words, but many are books and brochures that need real time and attention. Not much discussion takes place – just lots of reading.

Each judge is given an iPod which lists all the entries, together with the brief and background information that the entrants supply. There was a technical glitch that meant a lot of this information didn’t appear, but it was also available in a printed folder which the judges consulted and read out loud when necessary. There’s an option to vote yes, no, or abstain if you were involved in the job.

‘Involvement’ generally counts as working directly on the job or at the same agency that did the job. If you’re part of the same global network, but not actually at the same agency, it’s OK to vote.

Abstaining: there were three entries I’d had some involvement in, not all of which I knew were going to be entered. Other jurors had similar situations. Whenever that piece of work was up for discussion, the person involved would walk off and be called back by Luc when the discussion was over.

12pm – Longlist voting
By 12pm we’d all cast our initial votes on each piece of work. At this point, you’re not voting for what goes ‘in-book’, but for anything you feel is worth discussing. If a piece gets a ‘yes’ from 50% of the judges (i.e. 4 out of 7), it gets put on the longlist. D&AD then rearrange the tables, with all the longlist work on a couple of tables, and all the rejected work on the other tables.

A note on the longlist voting: There’s some confusion about this terminology and what it means to get on the longlist. On the one hand, it’s an achievement, as it means your work was sufficiently interesting to four of the judges. But the judges are also instructed to be generous at this stage – it’s essentially a conversation starter and you’re not necessarily making a value judgement. Once the longlist is decided, there’s also the opportunity for the judges to look at the rejected work and retrieve anything they think has been unfairly overlooked. Of the 74 entries, I voted for 19 to go on the longlist. Once all the votes were counted up, we ended up with 26 on the longlist in total.

12pm to 1pm – first discussions
The idea now is to go through the longlisted work and discuss each piece before voting on whether it goes in-book – the first big achievement in D&AD. Getting in-book means you’re in the hallowed Annual – the book that documents the best creativity in the world that year.

This was the ‘bloodbath’ hour. We went through the first table of work, discussing each piece, usually with one judge putting the positive case and others raising any objections. And there were lots of objections. It’s at this point you’re really applying the critical filter, imagining that piece of work in the Annual and judging it on that level.

1pm – Lunch at Pizza Express. Bob Gill was there.

2pm-4pm – More discussions and in-book voting
We reconvened and carried on discussing the longlisted work. The next table contained more pieces that were positively received, including one that everyone was purring about. Having reached the end of the longlisted items, we then went through the rejected items and judges had the chance to make their case for any piece of work they thought should be put back in. I argued strongly for one piece – a very straight, corporate annual report that I thought still did a good job in its context – but failed to sway people. When you fail to sway six great writers, they probably have a point. However, one other piece was reinstated, meaning we had a longlist of 27 pieces. As I say, I would really underline the fact there isn’t that big a difference between non-longlisted and longlisted – some non-longlisted work was still seriously considered, and some longlisted work was quickly dismissed once discussions started.

In-book voting: The next stage was to cast our yes/no/abstain votes on the longlisted work. At this point, we’re voting on whether we think it should go in the Annual. Again, a piece needs 50% of the votes to go in.

In some cases, it’s really easy to vote, but there was one I really struggled over. You feel a weight of responsibility. On the one hand, you need to uphold the standards. On the other hand, you don’t want to be the guy who votes no and then realises on the way home he should have said yes.

Of the 27 pieces, I abstained on two and said yes to three. This sounds really low, but it had already become clear in the discussions that the numbers would be low this year.

4pm – In-book voting confirmed
Once the votes had been logged, Luc gave us the chance to check we were happy with the results and there was still an opportunity to argue against work that got through, or for work that got rejected. But it didn’t take too long for the list to be finalised – five pieces in-book.

4pm to 5pm – Nominations voting
The next round involved going through those five pieces and deciding if any were worthy of a nomination. If a piece is nominated, it gets considered for a Yellow Pencil. But a nomination is also a big deal in itself, raising the work above everything else in the Annual.

There was an extended discussion about each of the five pieces, and it became clear that one really stood out. We all voted and that single piece got through.

5pm to 5.30pm Yellow Pencil voting
We’d all spent the previous hour talking enthusiastically about this one piece and why it should be nominated, so we were still in that frame of mind when it came to thinking about the pencil voting. But once again the rigour of the process is admirable. We talked at length about what a Yellow Pencil means, what had won before, what hadn’t won before, what makes something extra special. Then we all cast our votes anonymously and we’ll find out what happened on Thursday.

And that was it, apart from the pub afterwards.

The results
D&AD have published the longlist here and the in-books and one nomination here. Congratulations to Pentagram who got the one nomination with a brilliant piece. I worked on Little Chef with Venture Three and was really pleased to see it go in-book. But then I was also really proud of another job I’d done with Hat-trick which didn’t make it in – shows you never know with these things.

Will talk more about the work itself in another post – the stuff that did well, the things that didn’t, and the reasons for the low entry numbers. This post is about the process itself, which is very good. Kensington Olympia is a brilliant environment in which to judge and the process is scrupulous. It can still lead to strange results occasionally, but so will any process that comes down to human judgement.

One small improvement would be to print out the briefing and background information and display it next to the work, so you don’t have to check on your iPod or look in the folder. And as I suggested above, publishing the longlist still feels misleading, even though D&AD have tried to clarify what it means this year.

That's my opinion anyway. As I discovered yesterday, others are definitely available.

Powering up

Dandadipods

I’m part of the Writing for Design jury at D&AD this year. Judging takes place this Monday 16 April at Earls Court – the image above is from D&AD and shows the iPods that the judges use to make their decisions. Bet mine still runs out of battery.

I believe nominations and in-books are being announced over the course of the week. The Yellow Pencils are handed out at a live-streamed ceremony on Thursday night, in a change of format from previous years.

I’ve been involved in the judging once before and it was a great experience – lots of lively discussions and plenty of interesting stuff to read (arguably a bit much for one day). But I may get the odd chance to tweet an update if you want to tune in.

In the meantime, if you haven’t come across it already, it’s worth keeping track of a debate taking place on the other side of the Atlantic. Paula Scher recently wrote this article about AIGA and its drift towards celebrating effectiveness over creativity. It’s a well-argued piece and predictably provoked a polarised response (see the comments). Paula Scher has just followed it up here. Although the whole debate is about AIGA, it also has a lot of resonance over here –many of the same issues will no doubt flare up as awards season gets into full swing this week. 

The youngest ever D&AD winner?

Giraffebread

If you’re vaguely connected to the world of social media, you’ve probably heard about 3½-year-old Lily Robinson and her letter to the manager of her local Sainsbury’s store.

Lily had quite reasonably spotted that Sainsbury’s Tiger Bread looks more like a giraffe and suggested a name change. Customer manager Chris King wrote a cute reply, agreeing that the name was ‘a bit silly’. As these things do, it subsequently ‘went viral’ on Facebook and elsewhere. In a clever move to keep the family-friendly PR story going, Sainsbury’s has now officially renamed the bread.

It’s only a change to a single word, but it’s well observed, rooted in the visual appearance of the product, and may well lead to a surge in sales. All of which leads me to wonder whether Lily Robinson could become the youngest ever winner in the D&AD Writing for Design category.

The deadline is tomorrow Lily, so it’s time to get your pocket money out.

Jury service

Picture 1

I’ve been invited to judge D&AD Writing for Design this year (the 50th year of D&AD). I’m looking forward to it – I did it once before in 2010 and it was fascinating to be involved in the discussions.

As part of the invitation, D&AD asked judges to think about work they’d like to see entered in their category. It’s a slightly odd one – feels like a risk to the anonymity of the judging process. But then D&AD has been trying to shake off some of the mystique and open things up in recent years, and that’s no bad thing.

Even so, I find it hard to name specific pieces of Writing for Design. Unlike advertising, a lot of good design writing happens under the radar. Last time I judged, the nominations went to four projects, three of which I hadn’t seen before. I suspect something similar could happen this year.

Sir

One thing I would like to see entered is Siri. Partly just to see what happens. I think it legitimately qualifies in the sense of writing for product design. It’s a rare example of tonally inventive writing being woven into the product itself. The fact that Siri launched with a surprisingly witty and likeable personality fuelled much of the initial press coverage. That said, I’ve not used it myself, so I’m not sure how it lives up to the hype. It would also be a major headache to judge properly.

The same goes for Twitter accounts. These probably shouldn’t qualify for entry, as there’s no sense in which they’re writing 'for design'. But accounts like @betfairpoker have become high-profile examples of brand-building writing. At the height of the Waterstones-missing-apostrophe-rebrand-PR-firestorm, the one cheerful beacon of calm was the @WstonesOxfordSt Twitter account. Their good-humoured tweets turned a crisis into a nice opportunity to win people over. You could call it one of the best pieces of brand writing this year, certainly as far as 'the public' are concerned. But it’s not Writing for Advertising and it’s not Writing for Design.

There's an argument the category should evolve into something broader at some point – maybe just ‘brand writing’, which would open things up a bit. But it would involve rethinking the whole judging process – not sure how you assess a year of tweets in the space of a day, or whether it's even a good idea. You’d certainly have to bear in mind there’s a difference between crafting a beautifully written piece of print and posting up a few funny tweets.

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One project I really liked this year was the Life turns in a sentence campaign by Leo Burnett for Swiss Life. Great little pieces of commercial poetry, and perfectly justified by the client and the brief. I’m guessing they’ll be part of Writing for Advertising, but it depends how the campaign as a whole worked.

Whatever happens, I hope there are a high number of entries in the category. D&AD remains the main place where writing gets recognised and celebrated, so it’s worth supporting.

Submit entries
List of judges

11 from 11

In the predictable rush to cover natural disasters, political upheaval and the fall of empires, many reviews of 2011 will no doubt fail to note our blogging exploits – so we've been forced to write our own.

Here are eleven posts from 2011:

Mrtrophy

1. The year began on a sad note with Mr Blog’s Valedictory Awards Show.

Mcelwee

2. The valedictory mood continued with reflections on Rob McElwee’s disappearance from our daily lives.

Asda

3 & 4. February was poetry month – one about Asda launching a dating service, and one about the birth of a new Asbury (the defining moment of our year in a big and increasingly noisy way).

Blind

5. April saw ill-informed copywriters defacing a blind man’s sign.

Amnesty
6. May was all about the Creative Amnesty, a joint venture with Creative Review, which saw the great and good of the creative world sharing their worst ideas.

1000words

7. June was the month of 1,000 words.


Friends

8. July was The One With The Really Good Friends Advert.


Wackaging

9. September saw a rare venture into long-form blogging, with some reflections on wackaging and the trouble with copywriting.

Wrapper

10. October saw the unwrapping of WrapperRhymes.

Rotavator

11. And finally there was a salute to the greatest brand name of all time: Rotavator.

 

If you have been, thank you – and happy Christmas.

The one with the really good Friends advert

Ends-fri

This is the ad that Channel 4 ran a few years ago to promote the last ever episode of Friends. Good, isn’t it?

I’ve written an article about it on the D&AD website.

1,000 words, one pencil

1000wordspic

I was delighted to pick up a yellow pencil in Writing for Design at the D&AD Awards last week. It was for the 1,000-word poster I wrote for photographer Paul Thompson, designed by The Chase. The entire campaign also made it in-book in Graphic Design, and picked up a silver and bronze at the Cannes Lions, in typography and posters respectively.

I enjoyed writing that 1,000 word piece – not often you get a chance to stretch your writing muscles that way on a commissioned project. (Is this a good time to mention there’s a typo in it? Probably not.)

The proofreading site I wrote with Wheatcroft&Co also made it in-book in Writing for Design. Two projects with Hat-trick Design – Victoria hoardings and Mapping London – are also in-book, in both cases more for the design than the words.

It was an enjoyable night at D&AD. They seemed to get a lot of stuff right this year – more money behind the bar, instead of paying for a celebrity host. A nice venue complete with a fairground (albeit one that closed too early). And combining the student & professional awards was a good thing. Only problem is the awards still go on a bit and you don’t get any real sense of the work itself. But then I guess that’s what the Annual is for.

The other downside was the continued under-representation of the design world – probably not what the founders of the Design and Art Direction Awards had in mind. The Graphic Design category seems to be stuck in a downward spiral of mutual miserliness. Someone surely has to press the reset button at some point.

And the nominations are...

1000words_nasbury
This year’s D&AD nominations and in-books are out (the pencils aren't announced until the ceremony in June).

I was pleased to get a nomination in Writing for Design for the 1,000-word poster I wrote (designed by The Chase – pictured above), while the complete set of four made it in-book in Graphic Design.

Pauldalling

The proofreading site I wrote with Wheatcroft & Co also made it in-book in Writing for Design.

And two projects with Hat-trick Design are also in-book:

VictoriaA

Victoria hoardings for Land Securities (in Typography as well as Graphic Design);

Mappinglondon

and Mapping London office graphics for Land Securities (mainly a design project, to which I contributed some words) – in the Branding category.

Incidentally, the Graphic Design jury continued the noble tradition of almost comical stinginess, with a total of 6 nominations, including just 3 from the UK. To put that in perspective, the Design Council's latest research suggests there are 232,000 practising designers in the UK. Sometimes makes me glad I'm a writer.

Thisyear

There are two other Writing for Design nominations. One is by Christopher Doyle, whose Identity Guidelines featured in 2009. His latest piece is a collaboration with Elliot Scott, titled This year I will try not to. It's an expertly and entertainingly observed roll call of design clichés (like the one pictured above) and a rallying cry to do better in future.

MOS7

The other nomination is Hoxton Street Monster Supplies – an inspired UK extension of the 826 National project in the US.

The story of the US project is worth hearing in full, but essentially involved setting up a network of learning and literacy centres in major cities, starting with 826 Valencia in San Francisco. Planning regulations meant the premises they wanted had to be used for retail or catering purposes, so the organisers (led by Dave Eggers) found a cunning way round it: set up a fictional store to act as a front for the learning centre inside – one that embodies the values of story-telling and imagination that the project itself promotes. So the Pirate Supply Store was born. Extensions in other cities include the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, the Museum of Unnatural History in Washington, and the Robot Supply & Repair store in Michigan.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies is the UK version of the same project, led by Nick Hornby among others. The monster theme is brilliantly chosen and the products and packaging are carried out with real style by We Made This. (It would be easy to go over the top or get the tone slightly wrong, but it feels exactly right.)

It's great to see it getting recognition in D&AD and, for me, it's the stand-out writing project this year. That said, I can’t help thinking that, if the original 826 National project had been entered in its entirety when it first launched, it would have been the first Black Pencil winner in Writing for Design (the highest accolade at D&AD and only given out rarely). It has everything – an important social purpose, a genuinely original idea that cleverly transformed a problem into an opportunity, and brilliant graphics and writing that have been central to the project's success. It would have walked it.

But then, maybe some people have better things to do than entering D&AD. Like running life-changing literacy programmes.

(By the way, the projects mentioned at the start of the post are me working in my freelance capacity. Asbury & Asbury didn't enter anything this year, although we enjoyed doing this poster for the World Cup, and working with Mr Blog on the finest blog post witnessed in generations.)

Beer, talking

Sharpner

I’m going to the Old Truman Brewery in London this Thursday (11 November) to take part in a D&AD Sharp’ner event called Pads, pens and yellow pencils.

The theme is Writing for Design and the other panellists are John Simmons, Ceri Tallett, Jim Davies and Will Awdry. Each of us is giving a short talk, followed by a more open audience discussion.

It's good to see an event dedicated to Writing for Design – there should be plenty to talk about.

More importantly, the whole thing is taking place in a former brewery with a well-stocked bar.

Tickets are free for D&AD members and £5 for others.

Innocent verdict

Innocent1

The D&AD Awards ceremony took place last night, so the results are officially in. I was one of the judges in the Writing for Design category, where there were 13 in-books and 4 nominations. The only Yellow Pencil went to Innocent, for the latest refresh of their smoothie packaging.

I suspect it may get a reaction, including a few grumbles about how Innocent seem to be only story in town when it comes to writing – the equivalent of Apple in product design. Speaking only for myself, I thought there were two reasons why it should win, the first possibly less valid and the second much more valid.

The first is the Scorsese factor. Despite the perception that Innocent has already had its fair share of accolades, it has never previously won a pencil in Writing for Design – a strange oversight, considering it's the first brand everyone mentions when they talk about successful brands based on good writing. So I think there was a certain 'lifetime achievement' factor in the judges' thinking – it felt overdue. Like I say, probably less valid in terms of strict judging criteria, but relevant all the same.


Innocent2

The second reason is the work itself. This is where the Scorsese comparison breaks down, because he eventually won his Oscar for The Departed, a good film, but probably not his finest. This is one of Innocent's best pieces of work. It must get harder and harder to write good, convincing stuff when an increasingly cynical audience is looking for any excuse to write you off, and you're surrounded by countless imitators tiresomely attempting the same thing.

But Innocent have always done it much, much better. And they've moved things on by introducing some playful graphic and illustrative elements, like the copy that winds in circles, so you're shaking up the contents even as you read it. It's all carried off with the familiar winning charm that Innocent keep getting exactly right – and is much harder than they make it look.

If you're still in doubt, go and read it. There's probably a carton in a shop near you, or in your fridge right now. And that's a big thing in itself. Innocent have brought great Writing for Design right into the heart of everyday life, and created one of the outstanding business success stories of the last decade. Every writer should salute that success. And then go and write something completely different.


The other nominations included:


Wanna-be-a-rockstar

...some brilliantly executed packaging for a range of 'rockstar'-themed products, which in itself is testimony to the ground that Innocent broke years ago (but very different in the tone of its execution) – created by the Jupiter Drawing Room in South Africa.


Attractive-2

... this great call for D&AD entries (one of a series by Tim Riley at AMV.BBDO), which several judges agreed had the greatest 'wish I'd written that' feel about it.


Miscellany

... and this beautifully produced Royal Mail Yearbook by Hat-trick Design and written by Jim Davies at Total Content. The great thing about this is the sheer love and care lavished upon it. It could have been a load of hastily produced blurb to go with the nice pictures and probably no one would have minded. But someone took the care to do it well, and that's what D&AD is all about.

This is already far too long a blog post, but a quick mention for some of the other in-books, which included Jim Davies' excellent monkeys posters; some posters for APG Visual Colour by True North and written by Mike Reed (which also scooped the Grand Prix at the Roses); and some story-telling posters for antiques dealer Espacio David Puente by virgen extra – the first ever foreign language entry to be recognised in this category (entries were in Spanish, with text-only translation provided). Well deserved, but I fear problems in the future.

There were plenty that didn't make it in-book which were nevertheless very good. D&AD is an imperfect system, but the least imperfect one we have.

The day after Judgement Day

Roundone

Fig 1: The initial elimination round goes well.

It was a real privilege being part of the D&AD Writing for Design judging yesterday. The results have just been announced: a total of 13 entries in-book, including four nominations.

The nominations were for: The Jupiter Drawing Room (a range of rock-music-themed packaging); Royal Mail Group Limited (the Royal Mail Yearbook); Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (a D&AD Call for Entries long copy ad); and Innocent Drinks (the latest major refresh of their packaging).

I'll probably say more about the work itself at some point, but here are some more general thoughts:

1. Foreign language entries
We found ourselves in the surreal position of judging long-copy entries in foreign languages. I think this is a big, big problem. The translations provided allow you to understand the concept and content, but there's no way to judge the craft of the writing, or whether it's littered with spelling mistakes and clumsy turns of phrase. We did our best to be fair and leant towards assuming the best rather than the worst, but it's ultimately a bit of a farce.

It's right that D&AD should champion the best creativity around the world, but when it comes to the writing categories, it surely has to be English language. Even if you invite a bilingual judge in specially, it leaves the other judges relying on second-hand information. (We actually sought out a Spanish speaker in the hall to shed some light on one piece, but it's hardly satisfactory.) The policy has to change next year.

2. Entries down
Only about 80 this year, compared to 150-odd in previous years. Message to writers and design agencies: enter this category as much as possible. There's a lot of good writing out there and the door is wide open.

3. Quality good
Nearly all were worthy of serious consideration, so maybe people are exercising their own quality control before entering.

4. Mostly
That said, there were a handful where you wondered why on earth they'd entered. One entry had two words on it, and not very creative ones.

5. Scam
May be nothing in it, but I was suspicious about whether one entry had ever made it into the real world. I reported it and D&AD promised to check it out – good that they take it seriously.

6. Not a scam
One thing I can vouch for is that every entry gets its money's worth, in the sense that the judges had time to consider each item at length. There is still a problem with the seriously long-copy entries (books and so on). Although there may be practical difficulties (availability of file copies?), it would be nice to receive the longer pieces a couple of days in advance.

7. Great minds don't think alike
I was surprised at how often I ended up disagreeing with my fellow jurors, but the discussions that followed were the most enjoyable part of the whole experience. I was determined not to go away feeling I should have said x or y, and managed to achieve that, which is good.

8. D&AD is a very good thing

There's no disputing the thoroughness of the judging process. It's a system involving human beings making subjective judgements, so it'll never be either perfect or perfectly consistent. Work that does well one year might not have been so lucky the next. But the way the system is designed goes about as far as it's possible to go to iron out these difficulties and uphold the standards. And they are very, very high standards. I was really proud to be part of it.


UPDATE: I should point out that one of the foreign language entries did actually make it in-book (Espacio David Puente, by virgen extra). The decision was based on what was clearly an interesting, nicely presented concept and copy that read well in translation. I just hope it reads as well in Spanish (and feel slightly ridiculous admitting it).

Judgement Day

Icevolcano

Heading to a volcano-affected D&AD judging session tomorrow. Some of the international jurors are joining in by videolink, but apart from that, it'll be down to a hardcore of grumpy Brits (at least, those who aren't stranded abroad and therefore even grumpier).

It's my first time judging and I'm looking forward to seeing what it looks like from the other side. I expect to walk into Kensington Olympia and witness a scene similar to the one above.*

The results are being announced live, if you follow the #dandad hashtag on Twitter (to which I may manage to contribute now and again). I'm judging Writing for Design, by the way.


* The picture is actually from here and copyright Marco Fulle (Stromboli Online). 

I'll be the judge of that

Spreadingmisery


This year, I'm stepping through the looking glass into the mysterious world of D&AD judging. You can see the full Writing For Design jury over here.

There seems to be a writing theme developing this year, with these nice ads penned by Tim Riley, foreman of the Writing For Advertising jury.

I'm hoping there will be plenty of entries for me to cast a miserly, dismissive eye over, before wearily concluding that things aren't what they used to be. (I believe that's what's expected anyway.)

In a technical feat that doesn't seem to have got the credit it deserves so far, D&AD has managed to put the whole of the last five years' annuals up online, with the aim of getting it all digitised eventually. That's quite a resource.

Clearly, the first thing we did was to look up our entries for Corpoetics, Pentone and From Here To Here (the latter two from the days when Sue Asbury was still Sue Rogers).

The deadline is 27 January if you fancy your chances.

Circle Line: No longer circular

Tadpoleline

Disappointed to hear the news this morning that London's Circle Line is to lose its defining feature: its circularity (notionally at least). TfL is planning to turn it into a 'tadpole', with a tail added to the existing loop to extend it to Hammersmith. (Making the line look, erm, nothing like a tadpole.) More momentously, there will no longer be a through service running the entire circuit of the track – you'll have to change at Edgware Road if you want to keep going.

There are no doubt good practical reasons for the change (reducing delays, overcrowding etc), but it will remove an important part of London's 'psychogeography'. The idea that there is one line that you could theoretically stay on all day has always held a great fascination for Londoners. Circle Line parties will presumably be no more, and late-night drunks won't be able to snooze for quite as long.

In 2005, the Circle Line was the inspiration for a book by 26 (the writers' organisation of which we're both members). From Here To Here was a great collection in which writers (including the likes of Simon Armitage and Ian Marchant) were each assigned a different station. One of the earliest 'Asbury & Asbury' projects (before we went by that name) was coming up with an exhibition to promote the book. We're still proud of it.


Circleline

On a miniscule budget of £500, we managed to source a load of picture frames from various car boot sales, along with some gaffer tape and a tin of yellow paint. The result was a version of the Circle Line in which each station morphed into a distinctive story of its own.


Circleline3

Each frame contained an extract from the writer's chapter, interpreted in a variety of graphic, typographic and illustrative styles.

The book started and ended with chapters on King's Cross, so we decided to put them in a split frame at the entrance to the gallery (in the London College of Communications).


Circleline2


Sawing that frame in half and getting the alignment right was hard work.

In fact, the whole thing was hard work. Trekking across London to buy the frames (in the days before we had a car), applying about five coats of paint to each one, designing the canvases, getting glass cut, hiring a van to transport them, drilling the holes in the wall to mount them. For a few weeks, our house turned into a surreal mini-Circle-Line of its own, with frames snaking their way along the hall and up the stairs. Still remember tiptoeing past them, trying not to get any stray specks of dust on the final coat of gloss paint.

Our only regret is that we spent so much energy getting the thing done, that we didn't give enough thought to documenting it. Most of the pictures are taken on a small compact camera – bit crazy in retrospect. 

That said, we did create a website that records the whole thing for posterity. And we were particularly pleased when the exhibition got into the D&AD Annual 2006, where all the fellow entrants seemed to be working with multi-million budgets. 

Presumably, the equivalent exhibition today would have to be tadpole-shaped.

Two pencils and a poem

Pencils

D&AD

The year appears.
Ideas take place.

Exceptional ideas
are showcased.

Exceptional ideas –
as well as yours.

All the best,
The D&AD Awards.

http://awards.dandad.org/2009/html/about.html


Corpoetics in D&AD
Order a copy
Pictures of the night

D&AD&A&A

Kpmg  
An appropriately self-satisfied poem to mark the fact that we have been nominated in this year’s D&AD for our Corpoetics project. The nomination comes in the Writing For Design category, alongside the Christopher Doyle identity guidelines. It appears to have been a good year for writing for design, with plenty of entries and in-books, including the likes of Mike Reed and The Chase.

Thanks to Jim Davies, one of the judges, for writing about the project over here (along with some interesting observations on the category as a whole).