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June 2011

1,000 words, one pencil


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.



Just submitted these Twitter search poems to a project called Blast/Bless, jointly hosted by Creative Review and the Tate – more background here.

The poems are composed from the Twitter search results for the words 'Blast' and 'Bless'. They were inspired by these Twitter search poems by Craig Robinson. There's something about using raw materials from everyday life that gives words an extra resonance.

The consultation curse

I think it was Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip, who said that the word ‘consult’ comes from a contraction of ‘to con’ and ‘to insult’. Yesterday, I came across an archetypal example of what he meant, courtesy of Brent Council. They have launched an online survey regarding a new logo and messaging for their waste collection service.

Here are the first two questions:


Have you had enough time to think about those? OK, here are the next two questions:


There are 17 questions.

This is the last one:

Picture 10

One final question – does this survey make you feel that carrying on living is important, or not important?

It so accurately sums up everything that is wrong with ‘consultation’ that I wondered if it was a parody.

I suppose it should be said that consultation can be a useful and necessary thing, especially when you present people with a limited range of viable options that have meaningful differences between them.

More often, consultation is a hollow, life-sapping, time-wasting distraction for people who are too lazy, lily-livered and feckless to make even the smallest decision for themselves. (I offer no opinion on which camp Brent Council falls into – I’m just describing two ends of the scale here.)

It doesn’t help when the questions you ask are almost literally meaningless. Take those first four questions. Precisely how bad would a logo have to be to make you feel that recycling is unimportant? “Yes, I’ve seen the data, I understand we’re creating mountains of waste for future generations, I get that we’re destroying natural resources unnecessarily… but ever since I saw that logo, I can’t help feeling it doesn’t really matter.”

I haven’t even mentioned question 16 of the survey, which asks you to choose between 15 (fifteen) very slightly different copy messages. They might as well include an extra question asking people to come and sit at their desk for eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, and pick up their shopping on the way home.

Like reality television, consultation exercises are usually a carefully manufactured gesture towards openness and involvement without actually being anything of the sort. Scott Adams had it right - they're not just neutrally pointless, they actively express a thinly veiled contempt for their audience. Like so many online surveys, this one is hosted on SurveyMonkey. You can't help feeling the clue's in the name.

Thanks (I think) to @daisymcandrew who pointed this out on Twitter yesterday, retweeted by @66000mph

Mr Blog meets Little Chef


For the past few weeks, Venture Three’s bright and breezy rebrand of Little Chef has been attracting warm reviews in various corners of the internet, including Creative Review and Brand New. I’ve been meaning to post for a while to say that the writing half of Asbury & Asbury played a small part in it.

Strictly speaking, it wasn’t me who was involved, but Mr Blog. He received an email from Venture Three late last year, enquiring as to whether he also did any copywriting. After giving it due consideration, he was happy to oblige. (Mr Blog and Mr Tweets then had to sign a lengthy confidentiality agreement, which Mr Tweets did surprisingly well to honour.)

The Little Chef rebrand is based on the idea of ‘Wonderfully British’, so there’s a natural affinity with Mr Blog. His contribution, it should be said, was limited. He spent a couple of days playing around with different copy approaches, which Venture Three then put into the mix and took forward.

As you’ll see, the finished work isn’t quite Mr Blog in tone, but demonstrates he can turn his hand to more informal and populist copy when required. (Click images to enlarge.)




It was a great project to be involved in, and proof that doing things for fun (like Mr Blog) can sometimes be a productive business strategy.*

NB: For anyone who has no idea what I'm talking about, Mr Blog was a six-month Asbury & Asbury project documenting the various ‘Mr’ shops on Britain’s high streets – more details here.

* You might argue that blogging about Mr shops every day for six months to win a couple of days’ work isn’t that great a strategy. It would be a harsh argument, but a fair one.