Opinion

The virtues of a good bit of writing

I reckon writing is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Think about it:​ with the advent of social media and other digital messaging platforms (iChat and what have you) we are possibly writing and reading more than we have done since... maybe the early 20th century (stick with me). Every time you crack open Twitter and read down your timeline, and each time you think to say something to the world, even if that's just what you've had for your breakfast, you're having to think about how to form a message with words. If you're good at it (and if you're into tracking your 'tweet activity') you might see that what you wrote had resonance and was either appreciated or shared around and such like.

Here's one for the students: the importance of engaging an emotion with the written word seems most pertinent whenever I've seen student portfolios. Often there's a bit of flair going off when 'setting' words but rarely when writing them, and the experience leaves you a bit cold. Yes, I can see you've used a relatively hard-to-find cut of Bodoni, but what are the words actually saying? For the people who are viewing it that aren't graphic designers, how are they meant to feel and what is it you want them to do?

I was in London recently and saw something that kinda sums up what I'm on about: some posters for a thing called Abundance Investments. They're okay graphically, nothing that's gonna completely bowl you over, until I read the second bit of writing. Specifically, the first three words: 'We get it'. Pretty brave statement if you ask me, especially for a client that deals in something as dry and sober as investing your hard earned. I love it. 'We get it'. You're right Abundance, you do get it and because you're speaking my language there's a good chance you get me. I'm engaged. I'm now looking out for your other posters as I walk through tube stations and because of that I may even look at the site and see what it is you actually 'get'. If I'm interested I might even engage further. All that, in the confident use of three words. Pretty good, eh?

One of my absolute favourite examples of this is the writing for a Big Issue press advertising campaign by Nigel Roberts and Paul Belford. Aside from the brilliant art direction – no massive 'headline', everything set at the same size and level, no huge logo just a focus on what the ad is saying – that opening paragraph is pretty unbelievable. If you can read those opening three lines and tell me you're not curious enough to read the rest of it... well I don't believe you. You're lying.

I mean, genius doesn't have to be all that wordy either. Check this poster out by the same writer. If ever there was proof that you can endure yourself, even if you're just a storage space, to an audience by just being really really truthful, then this has to be one of those times...

This stuff provokes a strong reaction in me. Similarly poor writing provokes in a different way. There's no need for it. I mean come on. The recent trainline 'I Am Train' campaign drives me a bit mad. What does it even mean? And was it (I suspect yes) just a vehicle to push the 'totes hilair' idea used in the TV ad of a bloke making the sound of a train horn on the platform.

We've been engaged with a number of projects of late where language and tone of voice has played a pivital role. From saving parks to selling creativity. We're working on a great project at the moment for architects Levitt Bernstein (due to launch early 2016), redesigning their identity and online presence. One of the starting points was to think about how they write about themselves in a way which reflects their personality and culture, and importantly, to do so in a way that feels different from the norm.

Architects presentation page which helped shape the thinking

So let's get into writing again. Let's write letters and notes around the house. Let's use words to get people thinking and feeling something. And kids: when you're setting type on that screen printed poster you're doing, might be an idea to read the words before you perfect the ligatures.

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