Thursday, August 10, 2006

"The most precious gift a designer can give a client is the gift of someone else's time...The best way to win time for the message is to offer something that intrigues. Then the recipient is seduced into making a commitment. Someone who is intrigued will stay with the item until curiosity is satisfied. So the first benefit of witty design is that the recipient becomes willing to hear the message. The audience becomes captive. The communication has the best possible start." McAlhone & Stuart

The above taken from the book A Smile in the Mind by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart, highly recommended (Amazon info here).

In preparing a presentation on creativity I found the writing of Beryl and David to be spot-on...

"Interactivity" is the buzz term for today...witty graphics have been interactive since the days of the long-playing record. The designer sets up an open not a closed system.

For example, most signs are straightforward, like "Fire Exit" or "No Parking". What about a sign that gives the information in a witty way? Suppose it says "No Parking - don't even think about it"? This is a message with more than one layer. It acknowledges that not all drivers will simply go off and look for another space. Some people see the message, read the message, think about the message and decide to ignore the message. The "don't-even-think-about-it" sign accompanies that thought process, as it were. Then, as the mind considers the options, the sign makes a second hit. This is one aspect of participation, predicting and entering the dialogue.

Another aspect of participation is making demands on the audience. Imagine that there is a clothesline which stretches from the designer sending the communication to the person receiving it. If the communication is merely "Fire Exit", the designer comes 100% along the clothesline, and the person at the other end doesn't have to move an inch. It is the same with any piece of straight information - it expects a passive recipient.

But when wit is involved, the designer never travels 100% of the way. The idea has to be "seen" or decoded, and this demands an active recipient. The audience may need to travel only 5% or as much as 40% toward the designer to unlock the puzzle and get the idea. Wit invites participation because it asks the reader or viewer to take part in the communication of the idea. It is as if the designer throws a ball which then has to be caught. So the recipient is alert, with an active mind and a brain in gear."

Can you "discover" the arrow in the FedEx logo above? A good example of wit at work in design. The majority of folks attending my last two talks on creativity had never noticed the arrow before. More from McAlhone and Stuart...

With a witty design, it is the recipient who makes the necessary act of completion. This response is based on intellectual curiosity. The urge to understand, according to Arthur Koestler, is derived from an urge as basic as hunger or sex...The urge to complete something can be witnessed in many ordinary activities. Have you ever sat up late at night watching a throughly mediocre film on TV? You don't want to watch it. You know you are wasting your time. You'd prefer to be in bed. But you need to know how it turned out. The incomplete asks to be completed.

People like to make a contribution. The advertising thinker Jeremy Bullmore expressed very cogently the benefits of giving the audience a role: 'Involvement seems to me to be everything in communication. If I do everything as the sender, the only thing left for the receiver to do is to refute it. Because the only contribution you can make is to disagree with me.'

He believes that all good storytellers, all good comedians, all good makers of advertising 'entice their receivers into willing and constructive collaboration. It's a skillful, delicate and difficult thing to do - particularly in advertising where the pressures of committees and cost tend to favour the "explicit", the "unambiguous", the "message which just can't fail to be understood".

But of course the explicit and the unambiguous shut out the recipient. Wit always asks for a contribution.

This lesson has strong practical applications. The first place to introduce the concept of involvement is in your station branding, your positioning, your value messaging. In concert with a well crafted tease, engaging the imagination, the participation of your listener/viewer is a powerful and most effective tool.

"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it." Theodore Roosevelt


Anonymous said...

David, cheers on another robust posting. Our group still chats at length about your creativity workshop - time indeed well spent. Neill