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May 2013

Awards ramblings 2013


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.

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


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.

Pentone Boxset


To coincide with the opening of the After Hours exhibition (see yesterday’s post), we’ve produced a Pentone Boxset, featuring the same 30 swatches that are now on display at the Jerwood Space. The boxset is available to order from today.


The postcards are presented in a very smart (if we say so ourselves) box, handmade by a company in Manchester. It contains 30 A6 postcards, ranging from the tear-jerking Pentone Sad to the laugh-a-minute Pentone Funny, via some disturbing detours to Pentone Drunk and Pentone Horseshit.



We hope it’s not just an enjoyable read, but also a useful aid to creative thinking and writing. But you’ll be the judge of that.

The boxset is on sale in our new Tictail store. We’ve been using Tictail to sell diaries since Disappointments Diary launched last year, but we’ve now expanded it to include Pentone Boxsets, copies of Corpoetics (still flogging that one) and the few Pentone mugs we have left.

For his generous advice on the production of the boxsets, we want to thank Jack Jackson of Polite, an independent art publisher from the same hometown as us. Among many other things, Polite produces postcard sets on behalf of artists and photographers including Peter Blake, David Shrigley, Kevin Cummins, Harry Hill and Factory Records. We’ve used the same format for the Pentone Boxset, and we’re pleased with the way it’s turned out. (There’s a subtle nod of respect to Polite in the layout of the text on the boxset cover, but this is a more upfront thank-you.)

Buy the Pentone Boxset
More on After Hours
More from Polite 

After Hours at the Jerwood


Things have been busy lately in the run-up to an unusual exhibition hosted by Jerwood Visual Arts at Jerwood Space in London. After Hours is a collection of personal projects by graphic designers. It opens this week and runs from 15 May to 23 June.

The exhibition is curated by Nick Eagleton of The Partners, who has gathered together a great list of contributors, including Robert Ball, Anthony Burrill, Phil Carter, Michael Johnson, Joe Phillips, Alan Kitching, Magpie Studio, Craig Oldham, Jack Renwick, Steve Royle, Jim Sutherland, Alex Swatridge and a selection of projects from the Young Creatives Network.

My contribution is a collection of 30 framed Pentone swatches, pictured above on our kitchen floor, but hopefully on a gallery wall by now.

Pentone is a project that began in 2006 when we produced a mailer of nine swatches, each containing a sample of a written tone of voice – a verbal play on the Pantone colour-matching system. It later evolved into postcards, greetings cards and mugs. But I’ve always felt it should turn into some kind of ‘definitive’ collection at some point, and this exhibition has been the catalyst to make it happen. The 30 swatches are mainly new ones, with a handful of old ones mixed in – Pentone Boring remains as dull as ever.

To coincide with the exhibition, we've produced a Pentone Boxset including all 30 swatches, more of which to follow.

There will also be a reading table at the gallery featuring publications from the contributors, with Disappointments Diary and Corpoetics both included.

As well as contributing to the exhibition, I’ve been working with curator Nick Eagleton on the writing that goes around it. The principle has been to keep it simple – it’s more about celebrating the contents of the exhibition rather than theorising about them. To that end, the opening panel in the exhibition contains a rhyming list of the many and varied items on display, an evocative taster to set the tone. For the detailed analysis, there will be a couple of talks at the Jerwood Space over the course of the exhibition, going into the thinking behind the work and the wider questions it raises.

I’ll write more about the exhibition over the coming weeks. For now, here are a few related articles:

Design Week feature
My contribution to a related Design Week voxpop
More from johnson banks
Details and visitor information