Use some strong language

More and more design groups are offering writing courses these days – Jayne Workman explains why.

More and more design groups are offering writing courses these days – Jayne Workman explains why

When a company called Envirotech came to us looking to distinguish itself in the murky business of sewage disposal, the outlook could have appeared grim. Sexy product? No. Buoyant market? Er, kind of. Big budget? Could there be one big enough?

In Envirotech, however, lay a gem of a job, a job that not only garnered creative and design effectiveness awards, but increased Envirotech’s turnover by over 75 per cent. At the heart of its success was a brand attitude powerfully expressed, not just in design, but in words. At the heart of this attitude was the name, Serious**, rolled out across everything from the letterhead to lorries with phrases like ‘we deal with **it’ and ‘**it happens’ and an appropriately dirty colour palette.

Backing up style with substance has never been more important in business. Your average consumer faces more than 3000 messages a day. Small wonder patience is running out for badly written communication that fails to engage, or to be relevant.

Words are one of the most powerful tools at our disposal and failure to make good use of them is an opportunity missed. There is no reason why business writing can’t be every bit as engaging, compelling and involving as creative writing. Business writing is creative writing. The sooner we take this point seriously, the sooner we can communicate more effectively.

So, why the sudden hoo-ha about writing for design? Well, for many of us, it’s less a sudden hoo-ha, more a long-standing conviction. Elmwood has always had in-house writers. In the late 1980s, today’s branding and design consultancy grew out of an ad agency, inheriting its culture of writers and art directors/ designers working together. Having dedicated writers who are an integral part of the strategic and creative process has added immeasurably to the quality of our work for clients.

Writers make a unique contribution to the development of a convincing and influential brand. They act as brand detectives, digging out the story behind an organisation, product or service, articulating the brand and then expressing it creatively. Being an integral part of the team ensures that this contribution is tightly knit into the fabric of the brand from the start of the process, not just in its final stages. When thinking, design and language come together seamlessly in this way, and the most convincing, credible and influential brands are created.

At Elmwood, we sell writing as part of an integrated service, not on its own. Our philosophy is grounded in the belief that strategy, design and writing work best together. Writers are as much involved in the front-end thinking for a brand as in its creative expression. They are out there soaking up trends and market information alongside designers. They are involved in meeting and interviewing clients to seek out the nuggets that can be the difference between another bland piece of corporate speak and a unique, engaging story, told in the right tone of voice for its audience.

Our writing courses, called Wordplay, are a natural next step, and the latest initiative from a design group long-committed to language as part of our business strategy. About a year ago, we decided to give our commitment to writing more impetus externally. This is just one of the ideas we came up with. The courses give us an opportunity to share our skills and experience with other individuals and organisations and to spread the word about the power of language in design. They will be offered as a sister product to the branding workshops we launched five years ago.

The content is the sum of our own experience and knowledge over many years of writing for design and running workshops, and was put through its paces with dummy runs before launch events in Leeds, Edinburgh and London. As with the branding workshops, we decided the courses should generally take place in the Elmwood white spaces in our offices in Edinburgh, Leeds and London, although we do run courses in-house too. We mapped out the launch process as we would for a client, looking at our audiences and producing marketing material accordingly. The first course will take place this month.

For Elmwood, Wordplay is the latest in a long campaign to bring the value of language in design to the fore. And the time is right. There is a swell of interest in writing, given extra momentum by the imagination of organisations such as 26. This, combined with an intolerance among audiences for anything less than engaging and relevant brands that speak to them in the right language, makes good writing less a luxury and more an essential component of successful design.

Jayne Workman is head of writing at Elmwood

Sources of writing courses for design: 

• 26 –

• Elmwood –

• The Writer –

• The Institute of Copywriters –

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