How to win a D&AD award (or not)

Last week I judged the year’s best Writing for Design at the D&AD Awards.

I had a pretty good idea of what to expect: there’d be some great work, some healthy debates with my fellow judges, a few yellow pencils awarded to the best of the best and some beers in the pub afterwards. 

And that’s pretty much how it went, except for one thing: we didn’t give out a single yellow  pencil in our category.

Here are ten reasons why:

  1. Big brands should be braver. There were very few major brands in our category – and the handful who were represented (like Apple and Adidas) were just a bit... ‘expected’ in their writing
     
  2. Corporate writing was conspicuous in its absence. Out of 74 entries, there was just one annual report. Where was all the other great corporate writing from the year? Serious writing can be sexy too.
     
  3. Self-promotion is easy. Take away the client, the deadline, the politics and the rounds and rounds of comments, and of course the work stands a better chance of being great. No wonder there was once again a disproportionate number of entries promoting writers, designers and creative agencies themselves. (And yes, one of those was the only entry we nominated for a pencil.)
     
  4. A veneer of good writing isn’t enough. One university prospectus had us ooh-ing and ah-ing from page one... but sadly only up to page three. If we could’ve given it a pencil for just those three pages, I think we would’ve. But sadly, the piece as a whole didn’t live up to that early promise.
     
  5. Design matters... One hotly debated entry – a little hardback book of film descriptions made up entirely of search terms from video shops – failed to make it through mainly because it didn’t feel like ‘writing for design’. Almost entirely ‘undesigned’ in its simplicity, the book had no introduction at the front and three blank pages at the back – making the design feel very much like an afterthought and the whole thing more like an art project than writing for design.
     
  6. ...So does the brief. One of my hot favourites was a set of stationery covered in words. Labels talking about labelling people, letterheads going on about ‘stationary’ vs ‘stationery’... It was all really clever, I thought – until my fellow judges made me realise the words had absolutely nothing to do with the cosmetics brand in question. I had to admit that it smacked of an idea a copywriter had been sitting on for ages, just waiting for a willing brand to come along.
     
  7. Web writing is ‘writing for design’ too. Just five digital entries? Really?
     
  8. Wacky can go one of two ways. Some things that made me laugh out loud made other judges groan. It’s a risk you take not just with awards judges, but with your customers too.
     
  9. All packaging is starting to sound the same. Matey, cutesy, wacky... some examples were better than others, but ultimately we felt like it had all been done before (and done better).
     
  10. If you never enter, you’ll never win. Although we saw some good writing, it just didn’t feel like the 74 entries in front of us truly represented the year’s very best from across the entire English-speaking world. A snoop around the other tables in the hall revealed that there was plenty of great writing that just hadn’t been entered in the writing category. Who knows how much more was never even entered at all?
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