Great writing for design: Avoiding crimes against the written word

In the lead up to this year's D&AD Festival, Katie Ewer will be looking at what makes great writing for design in a series of blog posts this week. Katie is part of the 2016 jury for Writing for Design.

Let’s be clear: there’s great writing for design, and there’s ‘that’ll do’ writing for design. And then there are crimes against the word. Here’s some common transgressions.

The crime of using words as decorative objects

Putting lots of words on a piece of collateral doesn’t automatically make your brand familiar and amiable, or give it a ‘chatty’ tone of voice. Take this ‘installation’ from McDonalds – which I have seen in Singapore and was also spotted in the USA. (Depressingly, this means the best creative brains in the company HQ must have given it their blessing.) There’s a great commentary the McDonalds ‘Great Wall of Affirmation’ from this blogger (image credit). Words are not decorative ephemera, McDonalds – they’re supposed to create meaning.

The crime of using words to replace brand thinking

Making kooky copy the main event of your branding is sometimes an attempt to disguise the lack of a good idea, or the absence of anything visually distinctive. Take these firelighters, for instance. Puns aren’t usually funny the first time you hear them, let alone the seventh or either. It’s it’s pretty much impossible to see how this will endure into an icon of firelighting.

The crime of ignoring the context

Sometimes a friendly brand voice is appropriate. Sometimes even a dose of irreverence is called for. But context is critical. South African budget airline kulula.com adopts the same wacky, jokey tone of voice as might a cheese or a chocolate, or anything comparably trivial and throwaway. I don’t want the aeroplane I’m travelling on to be chatty and overly-familiar. I want them to be safe. Like my bank and my doctor, I value authority from an airline, not chumminess. But the persona of a prankster? I think I’ll take the train.

The crime of thinking anyone cares

Howard Gossage said: "Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad". Garrulous packaging is irritating because it misjudges its audience. We don’t all want to get to know you, Mr Whacky ginger beer brand. We just want to buy some ginger beer and get home and do whatever stuff we actually care about. Reading narratives on packs in the supermarkets isn’t one of them. If your writing isn’t adding anything, then it’s not making things better – it’s making things worse.

Katie Ewer is strategy director at JKR. Click on the links to catch up with the rest of the series - How to inject personality into your branding without becoming irritating, How to write with clarity and Writing for naming.

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