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“It doesn't work if a writer is brought in at the end” — D&AD’s Writing for Design Jury President

R/GA Australia’s Associate Creative Director on writing that is integral to design

Image from the Yellow Pencil-winning Rejected Ales by Howatson+Company for Matilda Bay that won in the Writing for Design category in 2022

Jane Duru, Associate Creative Director at R/GA Australia, believes the best brands lean on all the tools in their arsenal, with ‘verbal design’ — the act of intentionally shaping and defining how brands use language — being one of the most powerful tools in the kit. Whether it’s newly minted start-ups or more corporate businesses, Duru’s passion for bringing verbal identity to life has seen her work recognised and awarded by D&AD, amongst others. She’s worked with Nike and Google and helped shape brands across APAC. Here, D&AD’s Writing for Design Jury President for 2024 explains the importance of language in design.

What are you hoping to see in D&AD Award-winning work in the Writing for Design category?

I always want to be surprised, and see something that makes me think differently, or makes me rethink a problem, when I’m judging. I love seeing work that tackles an issue, that goes beyond the superficial to dig a bit deeper and build an emotional connection. Creative excellence is hard to pin down, but I do think there has to be an element of uniqueness, either that feeling of, “I haven’t seen this before”, or haven’t seen something written in this way before, or just beautiful craft or storytelling. The pieces that I’ve enjoyed the most in the past have always had an element of storytelling that was perhaps unexpected, but that worked very well for the medium. I especially love seeing work that has taken an industry deemed ‘difficult’ – say banking or insurance – and made it sound fresh and exciting. That’s hard to do, and work like that can challenge our preconceptions of entire industries.

What is some Writing for Design work that has inspired you?

A piece I previously judged called Story Espresso Coffee Cups by For The People, really inspired me. It was for a café and they’d created all these beautiful storytelling touch points along the journey of buying your coffee. They’d created a whole world for someone to immerse themselves in. It was quirkily and brilliantly written.

Image from the Graphite Pencil-winning Story Espresso by For The People for Story that won the Writing for Design category in 2021

What is happening in the industry right now that is exciting you?

I don’t think the importance of writing for design has always been acknowledged but it’s become more important now because we’ve seen the success of brands that have really nailed it. The drinks brand Innocent is an early example of a brand that really paid attention to their tone of voice and how they spoke to customers, and they occupied such a niche that they just came to own that way of speaking. It’s almost so commonplace now that you forget that when it first came out, it was so distinctive. My feeling is that it shifted the way people think about language when it comes to designing brands. You can see the impact of verbal design across other spheres, like tech. Brands like Apple and Google have had to think about how they shift gears away from feeling ‘neutral’ and cold, to bring humanity to their entities (especially as we move into audio/sonic branding territory) and voice is a primary way to do that.

How do you work with designers on projects as a writer?

You have to be involved from the beginning stages. It doesn’t work if a writer is just brought in at the end to slap some headlines or copy in and replace the lorem ipsum. That isn’t verbal design because there’s no consideration of the language in building the brand and reflecting its personality. As a writer, you instinctively know copy impacts the perception of a brand and some visual designers get that too, and recognise that language plays an equal part. I love working with those people.

Image from the Graphite Pencil-winning The Running Towards by Studio Sutherl& and Thomas Sharp for London Fire Brigade that won in the Writing for Design category in 2023

How would you differentiate between the Writing for Design and Writing for Advertising categories?

The lines are definitely blurred. Writing for advertising in the context of campaigns has more of a CTA, and is actively trying to sell something, whereas with writing for design, you’re communicating a brand’s personality and what a brand stands for but may not necessarily be selling a product. There was a project a few years ago (the Yellow Pencil-winning) Rejected Ales by Matilda Bay and they just swept the board at D&AD, because I remember everyone unanimously felt like they had communicated the characterisation of the brand.

D&AD Awards 2024 is now open for entries. The Writing for Design category celebrates writing that is integral to a piece of design, including headlines and/or body copy. Learn more about and enter the Writing for Design category here.