Well, not literally naked but I’ll get to that.
Writing for Design
On Tuesday 26th March, I was a judge on the D&AD (Design and Art Direction) Writing for Design jury. D&AD is an educational charity helping people in design and advertising. The awards event they run is a global competition where the most creative people in the world show their skill. It was an honour and an amazing experience. But now we’ll get to naked.
I was clothed - I don’t turn up to professional events in my birthday suit - but I was looking at all this work without any science, stats or metrics. I couldn’t tell how effective it was. I couldn’t tell if the creatives were using language completely targeted to their audience. I couldn’t tell how long people had spent on a piece of content or if the audience was engaged. I was completely stripped of everything I use on a daily basis to make decisions. I had no data.
‘Vulnerable’ doesn’t come close to how I was feeling.
GOV.UK started it all
A section of Writing for Design - the Writing for Websites and Digital Design section - has just been started this year because we won the black pencil in the category last year.
It's an important category for several reasons:
- the web probably isn't going away - writing well for this format is a skill that needs to be recognised
- writing for posters, direct marketing etc is very different from writing for the web
- a government website was the catalyst for it
There were some wonderful pieces to look at. Some of the writing was pretty fabulous. It took a good 20 minutes of me thinking: ‘I wonder if the intended audience would use that word... I wonder if that was successful… - STOP THINKING LIKE THAT’ before I calmed down and did what I was meant to be doing: looking at writing as a craft.
The tone of writing is becoming clearer
I didn’t see much work where I had to work out what was going on. There were a few pun-based items but generally, writing is clearer but that doesn’t mean boring. It could be descriptive and emotive and engaging but it wasn’t laboured or hard to understand.
I’ve long believed the best writing is ‘invisible writing’. Writing that leaves its mark without labouring the brain too much. Something that is a joy to read or engaging and thoughtful, without me having to read and re-read a piece a hundred times just for me to understand the point.
The entries this year had that skill. I was swept along with an idea, concept or feeling fairly effortlessly. But then there was a slight problem…
Swamping the strong with the weak
One of the judging criteria is about work being ‘exceptional’. I saw a number of submissions that had some really strong writing but it was surrounded by ‘just usual’ writing. So an example may be a single para on one poster being wonderfully crafted and then all the other examples on that submission bringing the overall level of quality to just ‘good’. I’d recommend only putting in the truly exceptional work - in this case, less could well be more.
New category: ‘Bit funny but not exceptional’
I wanted a new category. I saw a lot of work that made me smile and I thought it was good. But that was it. It was good. It was what I have come to expect. You, content world, are your own worst enemy. There is so much good work that you now have to work really, really hard to make it exceptional.
I would like to see data in the Writing for Websites and Digital Design category. I think the best way to judge the quality of writing on a website is to see the numbers. I’m not talking about looking at volume of visits etc, I’m talking about judges looking to see if the right vocabulary has been used. The right tone etc. Writing for digital isn’t the same skill as writing for print etc. For example, posters are ‘push’ publishing. People walk by and see it. It is being ‘pushed’ to them. The internet is ‘pull’ publishing - if people can't pull it (i.e. put the term in a search engine and pull the info to them) because the wrong language is used, then the writing is not crafted. It’s not a web writing skill, it’s just writing and that’s not worthy of the coveted yellow or black pencil.
I'd also like to see designers and content look at websites together for an overall web category. If you have content people and designers working separately, you may end up with something okay or even good but it's only when they work together you get something exceptional.
Judging for the D&AD was an amazing experience. Have a look at some of the results on the D&AD website or look at #DandAD14 on Twitter.