Behind the scenes of D&AD judging

Williams-murray-hamm-coco-der-mer_D_AD_Pencil-yellow-2016One chilly day at the end of April, I headed off to the Truman Brewery to join the rest of the crew judging the 2016 D&AD Writing for Design category.

It was a good mix. Led by foreman Nick Hynes, head of verbal identity at Elmwood, our jury also included Ben Afia (head honcho of Afia), Afy Nou (senior writer at Reed Words) and Katie Ewer (director of strategy at Jones Knowles Ritchie), who’d flown in from Singapore.

Dave King joined us from Studio LR in Edinburgh, where he’s that rare bird, a designer and copywriter. He wrote some lovely copy for Seamab primary school that won a graphite pencil from D&AD last year. Claudia Ruane of Abel & Cole, who rejoices in the title of Dr Good Vibes, completed the team.

This was my second time as a D&AD judge and quite a bit’s changed since my last stint four years ago. For a start, the event’s moved from Olympia to East London, which is great if you fancy a quick dash to Rough Trade at lunchtime.

There were just over 100 pieces of work to judge, so a similar number to last time, but with significantly more digital entries. There were also several examples of promotional work written by copywriters and designers in order to target design agencies.

The standard was high and there was intense debate about which pieces deserved to win.

You can see a full list of pencil winners here, but these are some of my favourites:

  • Guy Cotten – this ad by CLM BBDO Paris for Guy Cotten lifejackets won a graphite pencil. The headline instructs you to hold your breath while you read the poster and talks you through the different stages of drowning. A clever concept that packed a visceral punch.
  • Nando’s – we’ve all had enough of overly chatty copy, but Nando’s got the balance right with pack copy that’s pithy, engaging and informative. A message on a box asks: “If you could have your life over, what would you change?” The pay off line is: “In its next life, this box wants to be a box.” This copy won a wooden pencil for the Famous Copy
  • Argos – Argos won a wooden pencil for the packaging copy by The Partners for its Simple Value range. Big, bold words stood out on bright red boxes, delivering tiny vignettes and a free smile to accompany these low-cost items. The mirror box says: “Dress. Check. Change. Check. Leave.” Props to judge Afy Nou for the copy. (Btw, judges abstain if they’ve worked on a project or are close to the people involved.)
  • Cambridge University Johnson Banks‘ fundraising campaign featured letters from Cambridge University to the world, illustrating academics’ game-changing ideas over the last 800 years. (No surprise that stellar copywriter Nick Asbury was involved.) It won a graphite pencil.
  • Depaul – Another graphite pencil went to Publicis for its ‘There’s another side to the story’ poster campaign for Depaul, a youth homelessness charity. Seen from one side of the wall, these are invective-filled rants against the homeless. Turn the corner and the full story unfurls, encouraging people to give a young homeless person a bed for the night. Thought-provoking and effective.
  • Domestic Violence NSW – ‘I love you so much it hurts’. ‘You knock me off my feet’. ‘I ache for you’. These look like Valentine’s Day cards, but the meaning flips 180 degrees once you realise they are in aid of women who have suffered domestic violence. This campaign by The Joy Agency won the only yellow pencil this year.

How to win
Step one is to enter. If you’ve worked on a copywriting project that feels fresh and original, please enter the awards. Right now is the perfect time to plan how to bag yourself a D&AD pencil next year. Read these tips from D&AD Writing for Design judges. And good luck!

    • Jury foreman Nick Hynes urges copywriters to enter the awards.
    • Katie Ewer on crimes against the written word.
    • Anelia Varela on how not to win a Writing for Design award.

Fiona Thompson is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She works with marketing agencies, charities and corporate clients, helping people to tell their stories in a concise and compelling way. Her clients include Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Help Musicians UK, Deloitte, Nokia, Corney & Barrow and the Paris Opera House. Find out more at

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