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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.