Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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  • Published: Aug 5th, 2018
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Calm clarity…

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Having recently returned from North Wales with another pebble for my collection…

pebble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…I was pleased to see Robert Macfarlane singing the praises of Clarence Ellis’s The Pebbles on the Beach: A Spotter’s Guide. He highlights the book’s “calm clarity… Ellis’s prose is lucid, patient in its explanations, and hospitable to all-comers. He relishes his subject across its aspects: this is an expert talking to amateurs, but also an enthusiast seeking to ignite enthusiasm in others.”

Taking the time to make things clear to all-comers, relishing your subject, not just explaining but sharing your enthusiasm – all fine principles for companies to take to heart when communicating.

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  • Published: Jun 4th, 2018
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On murky bottoms and clear heads…

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“We should always try to use language to illuminate, reveal and clarify rather than obscure, mislead and conceal…The aim must always be clarity. It’s tempting to feel that if a passage of writing is obscure, it must be very deep. But if the water is murky, the bottom might only be an inch below the surface – you just can’t tell. It’s much better to write in a way that the readers can see all the way down; but that’s not the end of it, because you then have to provide interesting things down there for them to look at. Telling a story involves thinking of some interesting events, putting them in the best order to bring out the connections between them, and telling about them as clearly as we can; and if we get the last part right, we won’t be able to disguise any failure in the first – which is actually the most difficult, and the most important.” Just a drop from the ocean of wise words in Philip Pullman’s brilliant Daemon Voices.

It’s a call for us all to take ownership of our words and strive to be as clear as possible. A call echoed by iA’s Oliver Reichenstein in his blog on tackling the toxic web: “The answer to the passive consumption of trash is the active formulation of questions, the active search for answers and the active work of putting complex knowledge and diffuse feelings into clear words.”

Clear writing takes clear thinking. It’s hard work. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a grind. On the contrary, like all good graft, it can be deeply satisfying. So where to start? Take the time to clear your head. Clear words are sure to follow.

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  • Published: Apr 18th, 2018
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He’s no tiger…

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On a recent trip to LA I was struck by the sheer brilliance not only of the sunshine but also of much of the communication. Our American friends seem to revel in clear lively English. Whether that’s shedding light on age-old tar pits…

goo

 

 

 

 

 

 

tiger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

or discouraging cars from driving down dusty ol’ cowboy towns…

hoofs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a confidence and playfulness in words we can all enjoy and draw inspiration from.

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  • Published: Sep 7th, 2017
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Wild of tongue…

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In New York, an exhibition of work by one of my favourite illustrators, Maira Kalman. It includes the originals of the pictures she put to the words of one of my favourite books on writing, William Strunk Jr and EB White’s The Elements of Style.

After picking up a copy of the book in a yard sale, Maira was inspired to create a set of paintings illustrating various Strunk & White words of wisdom. Words such as “Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!”

Wild of tongue and wild of eye.

the best dancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, it’s a match made in heaven.

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  • Published: Aug 20th, 2017
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Swoosh n swirl…

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The other day I came across an old Nike shoe box from the 70s. It was once home to my sister’s prized Raquette tennis shoes but some 40 years on now contains assorted collectors’ cards from my youth – Asian Wild Life (Goitered Gazelle), Famous People (Sir Laurence Olivier) and the McDonnell F-101A Voodoo from the Lyons Tea Wings of Speed series for example. I’ll no doubt delve into the contents more deeply another day but for now it was the outside of the box that held my attention…

The familiar swoosh was there:

swoosh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But so too was an eye-catching swirl:

swirl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accompanied by the clear and confident: “Nike sports shoes are manufactured to the exact specifications of champion athletes throughout the world. Continued research and constant development are responsible for the athletes of the Seventies changing to Nike.”

Changing to and sticking with.

Great brands, like great athletes, last long.

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  • Published: Mar 10th, 2017
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Graphical excellence…

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I’ve been a big fan of Edward Tufte, the doyen of information design and data visualisation, for many years. From Beautiful Evidence to Visual Explanations, his books embody his thinking, summed up for me in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information: “Graphical excellence consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision and efficiency.” In this sense, it’s akin to the best poetry: brilliant distillations that strike home and stick with you.

It’s not simply about bare bones communication. The kind lauded by Lucy Kellaway, citing meat magnate Wan Long’s “What I do is kill pigs and sell meat.” It involves something more than mere plain speaking, or plain designing – refreshing though that might be in a sea of guff and nonsense. Edward Tufte’s sadly recently departed kindred spirit, data visualiser Hans Rosling puts it well: “having the data is not enough – I need to show it in ways people both enjoy and understand.”

So yes, excellence is effective. But it is also, and above all, enjoyable.

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  • Published: Jul 21st, 2016
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Write differenter…

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In a new book, ex Apple ad guy Ken Segall encourages us to Think Simple. A good call, for there are virtues in cutting out complexity, such as making things easier to understand and speeding up decision taking. A timely call, too, as simplicity’s stock is rising. Across business models and brands, from cooking to cycling – simple is fashionable. But is it everything?

Under Ken Segall’s watch, Apple ran the famous Think Different campaign, which by all accounts provoked a fair few complaints about the slogan’s poor grammar. Yet by lopping off the adverbial tail of the second word, Segall & co not only made the line simpler, but also more characterful. Think Differently. Correct, yes, but less distinctive than Think Different.

So, let’s not only write clearly, let’s write differenter.

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  • Published: Aug 26th, 2015
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Nobody likes a tailgater…

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Driving back to London along the M1 after a wonderful week in Wales climbing mountains, canoeing lakes and chomping chips, we slowed down along a sustained stretch of 50mph roadworks.

Nothing new there for anyone familiar with the UK’s motorway network, except for the unusually characterful traffic signs. Gone were the standard blunt and bland commands to keep your speed down. In their place, conversational messages: “Nobody likes a tailgater”, “Let’s all get home safely”, “Our Dad works here”…

With their refreshingly friendly tone, they certainly caught the eye and according to a Highways England spokesman have been developed with the help of psychologists “to improve the customer experience through roadworks”. I’m not sure it’s about improving the customer experience so much as making safety messages clearer and more compelling. On that score, the ones I saw worked well. Nobody does like a tailgater, for example – not even the tailgater themselves, when they stop and think about how dumb and dangerous they have been.

But then came a message that stood out by virtue of its worrying ambiguity: “You may not always see us”. Did it mean that the road workers were not always there? We know that already – how many times have you driven along a stretch of motorway roadworks with not a worker in sight! Or did it mean that we were not allowed always to see the road workers? A rather rude mind-your-own-business message. Or did it mean that sometimes the road workers were difficult to see. Yes, but that in turn raised another question: Why aren’t road workers more visible? Worse, this sign was on the central reservation, rather than on the left by the hard shoulder – the natural home for such signs. It was all rather distracting and disconcerting – the last thing you want when driving along a motorway – and made me hanker for a much simpler old-style “drive carefully”.

So, when revamping motorway messages or indeed any other communication, it always pays to pay attention to keeping clarity while adding character.

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  • Published: Mar 6th, 2015
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Earthy eloquence…

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“Lincoln’s great skill was to speak simply. He searched for language that was spare, colourful and accessible to all,” says Martin Kettle in an article on the great orator of Gettysburg.

“He liked it dry, clear and cogent, but he liked colloquialism too. As Harriet Beecher Stowe put it, Lincoln’s language always had the “relish and smack of the soil”. An aide tried to get him to withdraw the phrase “sugar-coated” from a speech once, on the grounds it was undignified. Lincoln would have none of it. He was also a great pruner: the Gettysburg address, perhaps the best-known political speech in English of all time, is less than 300 words long and took as little as three minutes to deliver.”

Earthy eloquence at a hundred words per minute – we could do a lot worse than aim for this in all our communication.

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  • Published: Feb 5th, 2015
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  • Comments: Comments Off on The economics of clarity…

The economics of clarity…

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In an article exploring the heavily analysed utterances of central bankers, CNBC’s UK business editor Helia Ebrahimi highlights the importance and trickiness of “making words perform the exact meaning one wants”.

Yes, words are slippery eels, especially when it comes to trying to synch what you want to get across with what people understand by what you say. Just what does Mario Draghi mean by “whatever it takes”? The phrase gains different currency as, for example, events in Greece unfold, and these events in turn are open to multiple interpretations.

Meanings, like markets, move. But that does not create a get-out clause for clarity. Helia Ebrahimi quotes former US Fed chairman Alan Greenspan: “If I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.” A neat turn of phrase, but one which makes light of always striving to be clear no matter how complex the issues.

After all, a little more clarity back in 2007/8 could well have meant a lot less crisis.

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