How to win pencils and influence juries

Katherine Fischer was one of eight members on the Writing for Design jury at this year’s D&AD awards. She shares a few tidbits about what it takes to make the list.

By Katherine Fischer, Verbal Design Director

Jun 2023

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It's 9am. It’s an almost-sunny London morning. And it’s day one of D&AD judging where more than 100 people have gathered to discuss, debate, and ultimately decide who’s made it into the revered 2023 annual.

I’m on the Writing for Design jury. That means we’re looking at everything from naming, brand voice, packaging, digital, integrated, and physical work. Basically if it’s commercial, promotional, or not-for-profit writing, and it’s paired with design—it could potentially be eligible.

But of course, we know it takes a lot more than that.

Here’s a few things that all the entries who made the shortlist and beyond had in common.

First and foremost, it’s about the craft.

There are some categories where the idea itself is the top consideration for winning a pencil. This isn’t one of them.

Writing for Design is in the craft category. I might be stating the obvious, but it means that both the writing and the design need to be exceptional—and in that order.

With that in mind, we ended up voting ‘no’ against some entries that contained some truly world-changing, innovative ideas. Or they were beautifully designed—but the writing didn’t necessarily stand out. There were also entries that had great writing but we couldn’t justify their place on the list because the design wasn’t at a D&AD standard.

As for the ones that did get through, one standout was for the Henry Moore Institute. It’s a pretty cool example that shows how sculpture—a totally visual and spatial medium—can make us feel in one simple, copy-led poster.

…but there still needs to be an idea.

On the other hand, the idea can’t be completely neglected. There needs to be a reason for your very beautiful piece of writing to exist.

For example—on the face of it—Bijan Mustardson could simply be a delightful name for a range of Dijon mustard endorsed by a footballer named Bijan. But importantly, it also captured a real moment. It marked the very first time American college athletes were allowed to make money from their name or image. And Bijan Mustardson did it before anyone else.

In fact, the only yellow pencil that was awarded in our category was for Aston Martin. Frankly, it’s not revolutionary for a piece of car branding to get your heart racing. What does stand out is the way the brand leans into exceptional language—every word depicts a connection between driver and machine. And it’s an idea that fits perfectly with the rest of the brand system built out of visualising heartbeats, dilated pupils, and deep breaths in.

The jury gets together in person for a reason.

Judging could have been as simple as going through each round individually and voting on what you thought was the best work. Go home, job done. 

But that would have missed the most important bit: the debate.

Eight of us—plus some angels from D&AD who kept us caffeinated and on track—sat in that room for close to 10 hours. In that time, entries came on and off the list. People fought for the work they believed in, and respectfully made points about why others shouldn’t make it.

And it was glorious.

Sitting in a room of writers talking about writing is my happy place. I find it's so rare to find yourself changing your mind on anything, and I had the pleasure of doing it quite a bit that day. Ultimately, it means the work that one person might overlook still has a chance if there’s someone in its corner.

After the awards are done and dusted.

The pencils have been announced. The champagne’s been popped. And another year of celebrating exceptional creativity wraps up. 

But D&AD doesn’t end there.

As for me, I’m really excited about the opportunity to be a mentor for Sydney’s chapter of D&AD Shift. It’s a night school program for aspiring creatives and self-made talent to learn the ropes, make connections, and ultimately land a job in the industry.

And who knows? It might be sooner than we think that a new cohort of judges will be sitting in a room for about 10 hours; discussing, debating, and awarding work from the next generation of creatives who are just around the corner.

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