Why design writers don’t always enter awards

Sam Palin
5 February 2016

Nick Hynes, the Head of Verbal Identity at Elmwood, has written a call for copywriting entries for this year’s D&AD awards.

Hear, hear. This year, Nick will sit alongside my brilliant colleague Afy Nou on the D&AD jury. I’m delighted that two people who care so much about the creative power of words will be on that jury – and I very much hope they’ll have lots of great work to choose from.

But I do want to respond to a couple of Nick’s points.

He says we’re ‘not hearing from’ great design writers. I’m not sure I agree. He rightly cites Nick Asbury’s wonderful work. But he overlooks Roger Horberry, whose lovely Cross Words won a Design Week award last year. He skips past Jon Ryder, whose website is so good I want to hug it.

Roger Horberry's Cross Words
Roger Horberry’s Cross Words

 

Nick would say (I think) that this is exactly his point. There’s plenty of good work out there, in design as well as in advertising – but not enough of it makes it to the D&AD awards.

Which brings me to my second point: entering work for awards isn’t always easy.

A single entry in the Writing for Branding Schemes category costs £190. Even the cheaper categories are over £100. This may not seem like much – but when you’re a freelancer, you count your pennies carefully. And overwhelmingly, unlike advertising writers, design writers are freelancers.

It costs money to run awards, of course. I’m not blaming D&AD. I’m just pointing out there’s a barrier here.

We’re lucky enough to be in a position where we can afford to go for an award or two, and we will be doing so this year. But even for us, there are issues.

A lot of our work at Reed Words is about establishing a brand’s voice, rather than writing copy. (I think this is what Nick means by ‘arguing the case for contractions’.)

We recently worked on the new Guitar Hero video game, helping set the overall copy strategy for the game, and refining the user interface. We did a similar thing as part of the Citizens Advice rebrand. Both were fantastic projects – but they’re tricky to submit for traditional industry awards.

IMG_0605
Some of our work for Citizens Advice

 

The good news is, things are changing. Lots of the big industry awards have beefed up their writing categories in recent years, allowing different sorts of work to shine.

There’s a growing understanding that great copy isn’t just about a knockout headline – GOV.UK’s Black Pencil was a turning point here. (We’re especially proud that it was our Creative Director, Mike Reed, who argued for that Black Pencil as Foreman of the Writing for Design jury.)

I’ll finish by echoing Nick’s call. We’d encourage anyone who can to enter this year’s D&AD awards – and indeed, any other awards going. And we’d encourage agencies and clients to recognise the value of what writers do – and help them out if they want to enter work for awards.

From where I’m sitting, design writers are doing a stellar job. It’s about time everyone knew it.

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