Nick Hynes is a writer and creative director with over 25 years experience in design and branding. He started his writing career with Elmwood and spent two years as creative director of Scandinavian Design Group in Oslo, part of the McCann Worldgroup. After 12 years as a freelance writer, he returned to Elmwood as Head of Verbal Identity in 2014.
Speaking as a former D&AD Design Judge, in the article below he hints at what it takes to win a Pencil in this category, and makes a plea for you to enter your work.
2001. That was the year I discovered who I was. Not because the DNA tests came back positive. No, this was the year that the D&AD introduced Writing for Design as an award category in its own right. At the time, as a young writer working in-house at a popular northern design studio, I took this to be some kind of validation. Until that moment, every time the awards came around, I'd feel like the kid on the outside. That was me, leaving a greasy nose print on Leagas Delaney's windows while inside, Nigel Roberts rubbed his hands and made a little more room on his shelves. The ad guys were doing great work and taking all the prizes, but now there was a chance that a witty piece of pack copy or a cleverly wrought brochure might receive some recognition too.
Wind the VHS forward to today, and things have changed quite a bit. For one thing I'm no longer simply a copywriter – these days, according to my business card, I'm cultivating verbal identities. Oh yes. Better than that, there's some truly inspired writing taking place beyond the holy ground of advertising and it's being recognized as such. The Writing for Design awards prove the point. And yet, even in the past year, the entries in the Writing for Advertising category outnumbered those in Writing for Design two to one. Why so? One explanation could be that copywriters have always been an integral part of the creative teams in ad agencies, hitched together with art directors. In design and branding agencies though, a writer on the staff is a rare thing indeed. There are a couple of notable exceptions of course, and Elmwood has always been one of them. But most often it falls to talented freelancers to supply the words. And generally it's agencies that put work forward for awards rather than individuals. As a result, I suspect a lot of brilliant work simply doesn't get seen by the awards jury.
Thankfully though, some does. So where are this year's entries likely to come from? A quick trawl through the winners of recent years might offer some clues. There's the downbeat 'Disappointments Diary' by Nick Asbury. The clever re-imagining of corporate greyspeak, 'Corpoetics' from er, Nick Asbury. Or how about the The Chase's poster series, 'A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words' for photographer Paul Thompson, with words by Jim Davies, Ben Casey and... ah, right, Nick Asbury.
Clearly we can always rely on Mr Asbury to produce brilliant work, but where are the other standard bearers for writing in design, the not-Nicks? Are they behind the glass at Landor or McCann? Or arguing the case for contractions in specialist agencies like Afia, The Writer or Reed Words? Or more likely, are they hidden away in summerhouses, back bedrooms and office pods across the nation?
Maybe there's another reason we're not hearing more from them. A lack of confidence, perhaps. Recently, I came across a set of tone of voice guidelines our Melbourne studio produced for a plumbing supplies chain a few years back. They were brilliant – fresh, funny and quite a bit sweary. Certainly worth putting in for an award. And yet they remain unseen by anyone other than a select group of Australian plumbers (albeit plumbers with a remarkably consistent tone of voice).
An opportunity missed, I feel.
So here's the plea. Bring us your backs of packs, your annual reports, your tone of voice guidelines and your story plates. Your work is beautiful. Your recognition is overdue. If your name's not Nick Asbury, then who the heck are you?
If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.