In today’s 24/7 world of sound bites and information overload, clarity of communication has never been more important. And while the nature of design is often viewed as a primarily visual one, the written word is equally as important. Whether it is a business proposal, a news release, an email, or a design award entry, the ability to communicate an idea in writing is paramount in our day-to-day interactions, no matter how informal or formal they may be.
Designers often claim that they are not good writers. I don’t buy that excuse. Writing is a fundamental form of design communication, as necessary as one’s drawing and problem solving skills. And while it certainly hasn’t become any easier to carve out time to think and write given our fast-paced, deadline-driven schedules, the urgency to do so probably has never been more palpable.
One of the most helpful books on the subject is the late architect and editor at Architectural Record Stephen A. Kliment’s Writing for Design Professionals (W. W. Norton & Company). First published in 1998 with a second edition in 2006, it provides an overview of the many scenarios in which designers might find themselves having to prepare a written text. As Kliment notes in the introduction, “the fundamentals of good writing have changed little over the years.” But what has increased is “the verbal obfuscation meted out by designers, critics, academics, and writers as they seek to share their thoughts with colleagues, students, and the general public.”
It’s easy to fall into the habit of “architect-speak”—that circumventing form of language used to describe one’s work. We’ve all been its victims, hoping it will make us sound smarter when it actually confuses people and makes us seem pretentious. So that is why, now that the AL Light & Architecture Design Awards has completed its 11th year, I thought it would be helpful to offer some general observations about the preparations of design award entries.
The first piece of advice would be: Do not leave the preparation of a design award entry to the last minute. Yes, it’s an inherent part of a designer’s DNA to work right up until a deadline, but a lot is at stake with an award entry, not the very least of which is the entry fee involved. You’re doing this for the recognition from your design peers, so why rush the process?
The second piece of advice, no less important, is: Think like you are a jury member. After you have gathered all the required materials, step back and look at what you have assembled. Ask yourself the following questions. Have I provided all the information necessary to really explain the who, what, where, and why behind this project? Have I described the project brief, design challenges, and lighting solution? Do the selection and order of the images make sense, based on the underlying design concept—the progression of how you’d move through the space, for instance, or the progression from day to night? You might even ask someone in your office who is not familiar with the project to read the text and review the images. Better yet, have someone who is not a designer review your entry form.
And don’t be afraid to contact the awards program administrators if something doesn’t appear to make sense on an entry form. I, for one, benefit from feedback. There is always room for further clarification and improvement. In the case of the AL Light & Architecture Design Awards program, we have always actively sought to learn from entrants and the respective juries. This year is no different.
Finally, the third piece of advice is: Invest in professional photography. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is often difficult to produce. But, yes, it is also necessary, especially when it comes to lighting. Clarity of imagery can be the difference between winning an award and not.
Design work has many facets. At its core is the clarity of presentation through all of its components—both visual and written.
Elizabeth Donoff, Editor-in-Chief