Last month I marched.
I was surprised to hear a friend complain that the march was only about one thing—one thing she personally disagreed with. Her sentiment alarmed me. I felt she was missing a much bigger picture. She definitely didn’t understand why my family was taking to the streets—why I was protesting. I needed to remedy that. I needed to put pen to paper to write a statement about why I was marching.
It was a simple act but carefully selecting the words to express my objectives carried deep meaning for me.
After I was satisfied with the statement I posted it to my personal Facebook page. Or to bring the analogy to business, I put my message out to my audience.
Posting it to Facebook had risks—as does publishing a brochure or running an ad. However, preparing the post helped me think about how I would defend my feelings and position and helped me choose my next steps. Those few words gave me the power to move forward.
Over the next few days my words were shared many times by friends and people I didn’t know. Those who shared it were moved and felt that I had encapsulated their feelings. My words. Not a beautiful sign—crafted by me, a designer—just a few well-crafted words.
The takeaway? Words that are heartfelt, thoughtful, and personal resonate. They bring meaning. They define why you do what you do. And what value you bring to your audience.
There is a very popular thought that design is window dressing. That it takes place after the words are written. That we designers move words (words written by someone else) around on the page to create something pretty or business-like or persuasive. Even poor Google comes back with this definition: [graphic design is] the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books.
I know design is a lot more but let’s accept that at the most basic level designers combine words and visuals to communicate a message as effectively as possible. Something along the lines of the equation below:
Words + Visuals = Communication
But oh those words. As a designer for over thirty years I find myself more and more frustrated by words that aren’t worth the impact that design affords them. I find myself being asked to window dress fluff.
I’ve been trying to push back, making clients focus on objectives.
If I’m going to help you communicate—amplify your words—we need to understand and agree to your objectives and THEN clearly craft your words and visuals to support that objective. (Sometimes those words will be entirely crafted by you. Sometimes those words will be edited and polished by me. And sometimes we really need to bring in a third party.)
Focusing on objectives has two distinct benefits: first, it ensures that everyone on the team is on the same page. Second, it gives us a framework for judging possible solutions. So maybe the equation is more like this:
Objective (Words + Visuals) = Communication
Any discussion of the march that doesn’t talk about the pussyhats is incomplete. Coming in my next post: the importance of symbolism. And if you would like a copy of my statement about why I marched, shoot me an email. I would be happy to share it.
I know I’m not a copywriter. But I know communication. Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you write…
Keep it simple
Clarify your objective
Craft your core message
Write your words, develop a brand voice
Keep those words precise, short and easy to understand