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what are words worth?

over at The Art of Wealth they point out Manure Madness Annual Report Final. (Fight the Bull, the host, is worth a read).

it’s a subject that occurs time and again and as time passes it seems to become more and more urgent — perhaps it has always been in the state of urgency. why is it that decent writing is a relative rarity when it comes to the designed object?

it’s not necessarily to do with notions of ‘quality’… more perhaps the limited variety and breadth speaking through these brochures, pamphlets, posters, sites and booklets; it is not just what is said, but how it is said.

where are the stories, the notes and markings, the tangle and web of intersecting voices?

which (to leap a bit) leads to this:

‘content’ is now an ‘element’ of the ‘brand platform’.

‘content’ is a ‘deliverable’.

how do you feel about ‘content’?

(have a look through The Art of Wealth if you’ve time.)

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Apr.23.2005 BY graham
m. kingsley’s comment is:

> why is it that decent writing is a relative rarity when it comes to the designed object?


...damn spineless bastards.

On Apr.23.2005 at 04:24 AM
Greg’s comment is:

I agree with Mr. Kingsley on this point. If the people doing the writing on these reports said something that means anything then they would have to defend a point, and therefore drive people away who don't agree. The last thing you want to do is drive away people who want to give you money, buy your product or stock, etc. It's better for them to say something that's obscure and difficult to derive the meaning of (if there's one at all). Kind of a way to please all of the people all the time. It's one of the same things I've said about designers, that the fear of making meaning is sending our profession into a nice, homogenized oblivion.

On Apr.23.2005 at 09:36 AM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

Graham--what a great site! Haven't explored everything yet, but thanks for pointing us to it.

On Apr.24.2005 at 12:07 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Graham, sort of reminds me of The Cluetrain Manifesto from several years ago...they have an open dialogue on their website about the vapidness of corporate talk: www.cluetrain.com

On Apr.24.2005 at 02:55 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Well, apparently words aren't worth much from the comment count. (Wink wink, nudge nudge).

Of all the design pieces I have done I can't remember one where the writing was evocative or provocative. A lot of it has been well written, informative and clearly understandable but rarely memorable. This is not to knock on all the writers I have worked with but it seems to be the common expectation that corporate materials are simply not meant to be engagingly written.

Corporate writing is at its best — and most effective — in nice, colorful, big callouts and small captions underneath photos or graphs. Most people do not read a whole annual report, or a whole brochure, or even a number 10 trifold. If you can communicate a company's key points in a few callouts or headlines that are skimmable throughout the book without much effort then companies have a better chance of getting their message across. And if you are really confident in your writing, you can hope for readers to spend some time on the subheads.

> "�content’ is now an �element’ of the �brand platform’."

Graham, it sounds like this is a bad thing. Content is definitely a part of the brand platform, it just happens to be stale.

> �content’ is a �deliverable’.

Again, this sounds like a bad thing. What should content be? Should it have a more altruistic goal? Isn't the "design" part also just a deliverable?

On Apr.26.2005 at 09:14 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Graham, I have been thing about this since you posted, but all I have are questions.

Surely there are writers whose thing, like many designers, is to make other's messages come alive. Surely some of them are excellent at writing. It seems to me there ought to be a few rockstar copywriters making big influential noises. Do I just not know about them, or do they not exist?

There are many companies that embrace brave design. Surely those same companies embrace brave writing.

Or is the potential of saying Something with the writing so much greater than it is with the design that freedom to create with words is never granted?

Or are the words so unimportant that as long as the "nice, colorful, big callouts and small captions underneath photos or graphs" are taken care of reasonably well the rest can be mediocre because "most people do not read a whole annual report, or a whole brochure, or even a number 10 trifold" anyway?

On Apr.26.2005 at 04:00 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Let the record state that the above sentences by Mr. Vit quoted by Mr. Gill were delivered with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Thank you.

On Apr.27.2005 at 08:39 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

why is it that decent writing is a relative rarity when it comes to the designed object?

Because decent writing is a relative rarity? It is not easy and too many of us think we are good (or good enough) at it. “Decent” writing for the sort of projects graphic designers most often contribute to is even more rare for the same reason that “decent” graphic design is relatively rare: the goals of the projects are too-modest and, as Mark indicated, the fears are stronger than the mission.

how do you feel about �content’?

I’m unclear on the intent of this question. Is it the use of words such as “content,” “deliverable,” and “brand”—jargon somewhat divorced from conversational English—that is objectionable? Is it a clownish diminishment of craft and communication implied by recasting writers as “content providers”? Or am I missing a specific meaning of “content” that you are not content with?

I will say that I have done projects with writing that made me very happy. Some of it I wrote. But I don’t know how “corporate” any of those projects were. I haven’t ever attracted clients of the soulless-but-profligate variety I hear so much about. If anyone can offer an introduction I would appreciate it. (Or maybe I would discover that I would not, in the end, appreciate it.)

On Apr.27.2005 at 06:46 PM
graham’s comment is:

well . . . it seems that if a company decides to embark upon an enterprise that on the one hand is to do with consolidating its efforts by approaching them in a consistent and focused manner, and on the other about broadening its potential through work that dramatises, narrates, explains, philosophises, extends, runs parallel or tangentially to etc. etc. what it is selling then perhaps they might realise that to a large extent they are becoming a publisher-if they are not in that state already-and that this means, initially at least, anything is possible.

the question then is why are there reams and reams of brand 'books' banging on about what 'we are' and 'we are not'.

On Apr.28.2005 at 04:37 PM
SteinL’s comment is:

Brand books that bang on about "we are" and "we are not" are execrable crap rote solutions to the essential challenge of definition that a brand book could be.

"We are" and "we are not" presupposes that the employees of a company are braindead emptyheads that need a simple reminder as they boot up each morning. It's silly, it's stupid and it's trite to either/or your identity. (Not to mention that it's also way too simple to think that such a "dialectic" can serve as a technique to define identity.

The only way in which this could work, would be if you were able to superimpose all of these "simple" dialectic relationships into an organic and vivid interplay that pointed to a multi-dimensional impression of the entity you are seeking to describe. If we were then able to achieve and hold this image, as its energies played out, we might subsequently be able to gain a durable impression of the moment in time where these relationships coalesced - we might also possibly be able to discern where the entity was heading.

We are, sadly, incapable of this.

Today, I was asked to create a brand book for a large, medicinal firm that operates all over the world.

I am playing with the notion of creating a sculpture, small enough to place on a table, on each employee's desk, that says it all...

Will keep you posted.

On May.10.2005 at 02:37 PM