Having recently graduated from Cape Town’s Vega with a BA in Creative Communication, Bianka Wessels first came to fall in love with copywriting through her job as a copy-editor at Media 24, poring over endless amounts of words. She later quit the print news business, enrolled in a course specialising in copywriting and never looked back.
Her graduate work deals with language – the written and spoken word – and its duality. Humour plays a large role in her work too, which is most evident in her series of works titled Kont[eks].
We speak with Bianka about language, the courage to be wrong, and finding a love for words through badly-written adverts.
How and why did you become interested in copywriting?
I discovered copywriting while working as a journalist at a Media 24 newspaper. Before going to press, we had to read every inch of every page to triple check for typos, grammar, and spelling. I’d often find myself critiquing the writing style of most print ads and daydreaming of all the ways I would have done it differently, if I could. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that writing conceptual ads was a thing, and it was called Copywriting. I realised that I was wasting the ink running through my veins on newspaper. Not long after that, I quit my job and spent my pension fund and life savings to pursue a career as a copywriter.
Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas that you’ve been exploring in your student work.
I explored linguistics, semiotics, the syntactic ambiguity of spoken word, and objective introspection. Looking back now, the over-arching theme of my student work is human communication.
How did this feed into your final project? What was the concept and how did you execute it?
I decided early on that the most important thing I wanted to showcase in my final project was that I could develop a good idea, craft clear messages and write concise copy in both English and Afrikaans. As I researched neurolinguistics and the benefits of being bilingual, I mind-mapped what I thought it meant and how it related to the work. With equal abilities across two languages, I consider myself a balanced bilingual. Seeing the words ‘balanced’ and ‘equal’ written by my own hand on a page, triggered a moment of clarity: the blend of simplicity and complexity extant in my work is parallel to my ability to effectively communicate in two languages.
I developed a theme of duality, meaning everything about the portfolio came in twos.
In writing, I used two distinct tones. Wherever I wrote about myself, the tone is informal and elaborate. My project descriptions, on the other hand, are more formal and succinct. The title of my portfolio, Bi, is a number prefix denoting two. Coincidentally, my name happens to start with ‘Bi’ too – lucky me. To be frank, I also appreciated the ambiguity of the title.
In design, I incorporated elements of ‘two’ throughout the whole layout. I used two different, but complementing, fonts. I also used two distinct layout types: the projects are in landscape and the interstitial elements in portrait.
My colour palette takes on the same theme. I used two opposing, yet complementary colours: black and white. I’m no philosopher, but in my mind, black owes its presence to the existence of white and vice versa. To me, black and white are the epitome of my proficiency in two languages: the one is equal to and cannot exist without the other.
I decided on two types of printing: UV and conventional printing. The UV ink has no colour pigment and sits on top of the printed surface, rather than being absorbed into it. The result is an all white book cover with a reflective and glossy title. Keeping the concept in mind, I decided to package my A5 portfolio and CV in a bi-fold sleeve.
Considering the norm, my portfolio could easily be seen as project-heavy. Because of this, I decided to print multiple portfolios with the intention of giving it to interested parties to take home and read at their leisure.
Tell me more about your project Kont[eks]. How do you find humour helps to better communicate an idea?
Kont[eks] is a publication that celebrates the ambiguity of Afrikaans. It is a vibrant and dynamic language, and expressions in Afrikaans are often difficult to translate. It’s full of double-entendre that non-mother tongue speakers might not fully understand. Kont[eks] is a collection of seemingly innocent Afrikaans words and sayings in a modern context. It is the first publication of its kind to play on the nuances of Afrikaans words for the sole purpose of entertaining.
Some Afrikaans-speakers tend to downplay the importance of their language and prefer speaking English to one another. To me, this meant it was time to remind them about one of the most overlooked aspects of the Afrikaans language: double-edged words.
Humour plays a significant role in Afrikaans culture, and I found it to be one of the best ways to rekindle a love for a language with a dwindling popularity.
What’s the best piece of advice you received while studying?
The best piece of emboldened advice I received came from Alex Sudheim, my copywriting lecturer at Vega. He told me during one of our first consultations to lose sight of perfection and to be willing to make mistakes. Since then, I’ve learned that the first step to solving any problem is to have the courage to be wrong. And, if you start by being wrong, suddenly anything is possible.
Find more of Bianka’s work on her website.
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