Thursday, December 18, 2008

Design Rules Applied

I enjoy reading Garr Reynolds' blog and love his book, Presentation Zen. He recently posted this list of 10 design rules to keep in mind for graphic presentations.

10 design rules to keep in mind
(1) Communicate — don't decorate.
(2) Speak with a visual voice.
(3) Use two typeface families maximum. OK, maybe three.
(4) Pick colors on purpose.
(5) If you can do it with less, then do it.
(6) Negative space is magical — create it, don't just fill it up!
(7) Treat the type as image, as though it's just as important.
(8) Be universal; remember that it's not about you.
(9) Be decisive. Do it on purpose — or don't do it at all.
(10) Symmetry is the ultimate evil.

Because my mind loves to make bigger and more connections, I immediately saw that this list aptly applies to great writing as well, for oral presentation as well as to be read. Here is my interpretation of these rules for writing.

In creating an impactful and effective message, it is important to be direct and precise without being flowery and cute. If the speaker or writer expects the audience to spend time staying focused and open to the message, then communicating directly without decoration respects the audience.

Images and analogies provide a way to tap into the audience's well of experiential wisdom. Visual language helps the listener or reader place themselves in the message. Taking the audience to an idea through their experience or a place is a beautiful and powerful thing. Yet, be aware that this skill is not well-developed in all listeners. Some people derive great comfort and control from concreteness and exactness. I would recommend using nuance and imagery and data. Imagery moves the listener. Data sells.

Typeface is a mode of graphic representation. The analogous element in speaking or writing would be the tone. Pieces are better if they have the same overall tone throughout with maybe some change in tone for effect or mental break along the way. An old writing teacher called these digressions "windy roads," solidifying the point that they twist and turn, but they lead somewhere; they are purposeful.

Colors have great subconscious significance. Using color intentionally is merely a subset of the charge to use every element intentionally and respectfully, always conscious of and focusing on the audience needs and perceptions first and foremost.

Less is more is a simple yet powerful goal in all things. In writing there is a paradox. You must write clean but you must communicate fully so that the message is not left up to the interpretation of the audience. In order to effectively seed the message, you must control the message and its interpretation. Just enough words is the goal. The same former writing teacher advised, "When you think you have taken out all that you can, take out 10% more." I think it's hard, and tedious. Having a day or so between drafts helps one see what can go.

Negative space in an oral presentation is the pause. Allowing time for words to penetrate is essential. Creating space for the audience to listen then fully receive and think about the message in the moment is vitally important. The writer can create this space through the structure of the message, controlling the arc and pace, and by signaling recovery time through paragragh breaks and topic changes.

Being universal; remember it is not all about you. This is the best advice on the list. Think about it don't you tire quickly, and almost immediately, of people who drone on and on about themselves? The message should focus always on the audience needs, interests, concerns, values first. Having empathy and deep understanding of the audience is how to ensure you are creating a message that is appealing and authentic enough to be heard and considered.

Being intentional shows the care and consideration and diligence and passion one has toward any project. Being intentional takes great time and reflection and huge effort. The benefit is that being intentional leads to a more authentic, more personal, and more intimate message.

Symmetry in a message to me connotes balance or indecisiveness. As the listener or reader, I continue paying attention to a writer or speaker that honors my time and earns my trust. What I am looking for is his or her argument. I want to see and follow their reasoning and their passion. My sustained attention signals that I am willing and seek to be convinced. Whether the speaker or writer will prevail in convincing me is different, but I want them to use their time and mine in a diligent direct effort. I don't want to be presented with a balanced argument because in the end, the message is empty because I am right where I started, in a position of either-or, and I have wasted my time and effort. There needs to be a call to action which is not symmetrical.

(Treat the type as image - had to leave this one out. Any analogous ideas? Send them to me!)

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