26 Fruits


Seeing words

About 20 years ago Sony advertised with the slogan ‘Go create’. It seemed to mark them out as a corporation with creative yearnings. Fair enough. Others, like Apple, were also saying that creativity can go happily with ‘corporate’. Now it’s become the very definition of a 21st century business. Google it.

But it’s not only the likes of those examples that see their brand character as inherently creative. It applies to corporates of all sizes and kinds. As a judge on the Drum awards for the last two years it’s been interesting to see a business like Clark’s embracing creativity to its heart while sticking to its shoemaker’s last. Any business has to do what it does well, in its own way, and every business has to be creative in expressing that.

The message is what they believe their customers want to hear, and what their own people want to do. The two interests need to coincide – ‘hitch your wagon to ours for a while, leash your dream to ours’ as Apple’s John Scully once put it. Because with creativity comes other qualities – empathy, playfulness, individuality – that customers seek in the mirror of your brand. Qualities that brands can nurture because they give much sought-after differentiation, the holy grail of branding.

How do you get this across powerfully to your audiences? Not surprisingly the Drum Design awards put the emphasis on design, on visual creativity. Yet in every design entered there are words on display, and you can be sure that there is writing involved in this process. With The Design Drum awards the writing category acknowledges this, but it’s undeniably true that writing is in everything. You just have to see the words and think more about their role.

I write this on the back of a long career where I was the designated writer in companies drunk on design. I shared that feeling. I love working with designers. We think in different ways but when you put these different ways of thinking together – writer and designer – you can help people see the world in a completely fresh light.

Of course there are many different aspects of creativity. How I wish I were more musical, for example. But I’m not – words are my thing. But what unites all kinds of creativity is simply curiosity about life. It’s about finding answers to questions: those big questions expressed in short words: why? what? How?

If we stop asking those questions we might just lose the creative instinct. They are questions that drive every relationship we build with a client. Even if, at first glance, the client is not that ‘interesting’.

The truth is, I’ve never met a client whose business was not, at a deeper view, incredibly interesting. You begin by asking questions. Why do you do what you do? So tell me, how do you go about it? Who are the people you work with and what do they do? I am always curious to know the answers to questions like these.

What emerges is a story. From the story emerges a brand that is sharper than the one that was visible before. So let’s start to make the brand more visible, based on this story. Images emerge. Colours. Symbols. This gets exciting as it takes shape. I find I need to write more to express it – and then to write less to express it better. What emerges is the essence. How do these words look? In this typeface or that? With which photographs or illustrations to make the story fuller?

The way you use these tools are the secrets of your individual creativity. You use them well as members of a creative industry but remember that words are always essential elements in this. Yet words tend towards invisibility. If you make them more visible, more clearly part of the toolkit, you will value them even more because they generate thoughts but often they are not shown. They highlight, burnish and support visual creativity.

John Berger said that ‘Visual art is a chase after the invisible.’ Perhaps verbal art is a similar chase. We’re always striving to say what cannot easily be said in words. We need to be aware of seeing words – aware of the hidden presence and potential of words in everything we create. But when we’re writing alongside designers we also need seeing words in a slightly different sense – words that help create images.

They’re there in our heads, often fleetingly, frustratingly, like a dream, but we never achieve an expression of the thought that is perfect. Perhaps that’s why we always look for the next project that is going to be the one. Perhaps that’s why we strive to win awards, to seek the recognition from a peer that you are engaged in the same act of striving to be better, to find out more, to express it better, to be creative.

John Simmons

John Simmons is a judge on the 2019 Drum Design Awards and an editor/writer of Dark Angels on Writing to be published by Unbound in June 2019.

2 Responses

  1. Faye Sharpe says:

    Lovely article John. I realise (eventually! through my Dark Angels and 26 projects and my own writing) that I always try to write ‘scenes’. Creatively and pragmatically they are ‘contained’. And I often use a photograph or some form of visual art (even if it’s just my mind’s eye) to provoke and push along the story of the scene. But writing, to me is always an ‘oral’ and ‘aural’ art, more akin to music in its phrasing and flow. Perhaps I hear words as the underlying or underpinning score to the reader’s / viewer’s imagination.

  2. bigbrandjohn says:

    “I find I need to write more to express it – and then to write less to express it better. What emerges is the essence. ”

    Enough said. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. You do it so well John

Leave a Reply