What if your doctor told you: “Strict adherence to a comprehensive medicinal regimen is essential to a maximum efficaciousness while maintaining vigilance towards unforeseen negative manifestations.” That mouthful would induce a “Huh?” from most of us.
Why didn’t the doctor just say, “Take your medication as prescribed and call if you have any side effects”. This is an example of wringing the simplicity out of complexity. It’s an example worth emulating when talking with customers, clients and colleagues.
Simplifying complexity doesn’t just apply to language. Think of it as a way of communicating more broadly that improves the odds your message will be noticed, understood and appreciated.
Simplification doesn’t mean dumbing down a complex subject. Simplification is the Information Design process of converting something complex into something elegant. Elegant communications are brief, accurate and efficient. They reveal the heart of complexity and invite understanding. They also take time, thought and energy to conceive and create, which is unfortunately why we are forced to endure so much unnecessary complexity in our lives.
Elegant communications are the ultimate audience-centric content, which means it’s impossible (or unlikely) to reveal complexity and invite understanding without awareness of what an audience already knows – and wants to know. In this respect, elegant communications are crowd-pleasing communications.
Pleasing a crowd doesn’t mean searching for the lowest common denominator of expression. You can please a crowd by providing an explanation for a baffling experience or knotty problem, such as assembling IKEA furniture or eliminating weeds from your yard. You can please a crowd by answering their questions with convincing information and examples. You can please a crowd by making a complex subject entertaining, even fun.
Achieving brevity is an acquired skill. We may know what we want to say or show, but don’t discipline ourselves to say it or show it elegantly, thus making it easier for our audiences to grasp what we mean. Discipline starts with clearly knowing our objective, mastering the subject at hand and considering options for telling or showing our story as concisely as possible. You can begin with scribbled notes or stick drawings, whatever it takes to get your creative juices flowing. Make sure your vantage point is your audience sitting in an armchair, working in a garage or puzzling over a problem on a computer.
Once you create an elegant approach to convey your message or tell your story, doublecheck it for accuracy. Brevity doesn’t mean shortcutting accuracy. Elegant communications can convey nuanced messages or layered stories.
A picture truly can be worth 1,000 words. So can a well-designed chart or an infographic. Using a picture because it’s a picture isn’t necessarily efficient. The idea is to use words, numbers and images in their most powerful, convincing combination.
Efficiency is another hallmark of elegant communications. A picture truly can be worth 1,000 words. So can a well-designed chart or an infographic. Using a picture because it’s a picture isn’t necessarily efficient. The idea is to use words, numbers and images in their most powerful, convincing combination.
Over-communicating is an enemy of elegant communications. You know (or at least should know) more about a subject than your intended audience, but that doesn’t mean going encyclopedic. Like seasoning a dish, use just the right amount of spices to satisfy the taste buds of your diners. Telling people more than they need or want to know can be confusing and a turn-off, certainly not elegant.
Most of us admire pithy quotes. Pithy quotes are the epitome of elegant communication because they say a lot in a few words. Most pithy quotes weren’t blurted out, but were ideas polished to their essence by their authors. Your challenge or task most likely extends beyond coming up with a pithy quote, but you might keep your favorite saying nearby to remind you of what’s required to achieve elegant communications that wring simplicity out of complexity.