Some thoughts on D&AD judging, creative restraint, and the different jobs writers can do.

Last week, I sat on the Writing For Design jury at the D&AD Awards. Our jury considered 90 entries from all over the world; posters, packaging, names and videos, where words were used to make people laugh, or turn their heads, or change their minds.

It was a fun, thought-provoking and exhausting day, and we saw some wonderful work. In particular, I urge you to check out Hardee’s brand book, an ode to creative excess, and this beautiful series of posters for the Lyric Opera of Chicago (long live long copy!).

But I wanted to focus on one piece of work in particular, because it provoked an interesting discussion about what great writing for design is and should be.


Lives brought to life

Text From The Trenches was a poster campaign, created by Truant London to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice. It’s a simple, stark idea: real letters home from World War I soldiers, presented as text messages.

The result is arresting – and heartbreaking. Children reassure their parents that they’re having a jolly time at the front; young men profess their undying love to sweethearts they may never see again. Because of the framing, their experiences feel more immediate, less historical. These lives were interrupted in a way that we can never imagine – but their lives, their worries, their cares, were just like our own.


You say it best…

What our jury spent our time debating, though, was the nature of the craft. The posters contain almost no new writing – just the ‘Delivered’ or ‘Not Delivered’ in the bottom right corner. This is why it works. You could imagine another, similar campaign, where the letters were written by modern writers, to pull on our heartstrings. Such a campaign would be terrible.

Our category was called Writing For Design – but really, we felt, it’s about ‘Words For Design’. A good writer does much more than writing. Like any other creative, they use their judgement, showing off when they need to, holding back when they don’t.

It’s a design truism that ‘simple is good’, but ‘simple’ is too often taken to mean ‘minimal’ or ‘clean’ or ‘like Apple does it’. Simple is really about doing whatever you need to make an idea sing. It’s everything you put into a piece of work, and everything you take away – and sometimes, the second half of that sentence is the part that matters most.