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April 2010

The day after Judgement Day


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


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). 

RSVP to the Conservative Party


Dear Conservatives

Thank you for your invitation to join the government of Britain.

This is a bit awkward, but I think I may have received this in error, along with the rest of the British public. The way I understood things, it's us who are meant to invite you to form a government, not the other way round.

I appreciate you were probably intending to be inclusive and empowering with your invitation, but it's actually a bit creepy and presumptuous when you think about it.

My invite goes out on 6th May. If you haven't heard anything by the 7th, assume it's all off.

All the best

Nick Asbury

50 words for Dawit Isaak


My contribution to the 26:50 project went up earlier this week.

In case you missed the previous posts, Dawit Isaak is an Eritrean-born Swedish citizen imprisoned 3,125 days ago by the Eritrean government for his work as a journalist on the country's first independent newspaper. You can sign a petition for his release here. (And thanks to those who already have.)

I've written more about the background to the fifty words on Free The Blog.

12 square metres and no window


There's been some rare news today about the condition of Dawit Isaak, the imprisoned writer whom I'll be writing about as part of the 26:50 project. (My 50-word contribution should come out in the next few days – see this previous post for more background.)

Dawit is an Eritrean-born Swedish citizen arrested eight years ago in Eritrea for his work as a journalist on the country's first independent newspaper. Since then, he has been held without charge and there have been no reliable reports of his condition. Today's leaked information from a former guard is at least confirmation that he is alive, but there the good news ends.

For the past 3,119 days, Dawit has been held in solitary confinement, handcuffed almost around the clock, in a windowless cell measuring three metres by four metres. The sanitary conditions are grim and the food barely enough to sustain a life. Around 15 of the 35 fellow inmates arrested at the same time as Dawit have already died.

Writing 50 words in this situation feels like striking a match on a dark night in a force-ten gale. But writing two words, your first and second name, on this petition is an effective way to keep the pressure up. You can also use the Free Dawit website to send messages to the Eritrean government.

Sign the petition here

Two tales of one town


We're just putting the finishing touches to the Macclesfield Barnaby Festival brochure, building on the work that we reported a few weeks back.

The festival is about injecting excitement and creativity into a town that is traditionally seen as being a bit on the grim, northern side. In reality, it has a rich creative history, from the silk industry to Joy Division, David Shrigley and the novels of Alan Garner. And the man who invented the deck chair.

It's also a happy place. It came fifth in a study of Britain's happiest places to live, so it's official. And it shouldn't be surprising in a town surrounded by the wonders of the Peak District, where you can see the hills from the high street.

This is the good story we want to bring out.

And this is the bad story:


Macclesfield has a habit of making the news in a bad way. In 2004, The Times rated it the least cultured town in Britain, which is something the festival is setting out to address.

But then, last week, came a full-on assault from the Daily Mail.

They'd picked up on a competition run by the Macclesfield Civic Society, designed to recognise the most improved buildings in Macclesfield. The idea behind the competition is no bad thing, rewarding small improvements on a mundane level, rather than buildings that were grand and beautiful in the first place.

Nevertheless, it's pretty embarrassing when your local civic architecture awards end up nominating stuff like this:


And this:


And this:


To be fair, all of the above are nominations by the public that have yet to be awarded. But they have been press released and it's unfortunate, to say the least.

We have two main things to say about this:

1. To the Macclesfield Civic Society

Sorry, but you're not helping. By all means, encourage improvements at a low level, but don't press release it as some great competition, because this is exactly the kind of coverage it's obviously going to attract. Either use a filtering process before going public, or work a lot harder to explain what you're doing. The Daily Mail are idiots, but don't give them the ammunition.

2. To the Daily Mail

You're idiots. Whining, inexplicably self-satisfied idiots who have a far more malign influence on the British cultural landscape than any fried chicken joint. We don't want your readers round here anyway. And here's a song you might enjoy.

The Barnaby Festival takes place on 18-20 June 2010 and will hopefully be the first of many.