Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

Make it Clear

Opaque eyeglassesIncreasingly, with each generation, people twist words beyond recognition to avoid discomfort or inconvenient truths.

The U.S. military uses “enhanced interrogation techniques” on prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, not torture. Some politicians want us to believe that their wealthy benefactors are not greedy tax dodgers, but “job creators.” And if a professional athlete tells a reporter his protracted contract negotiations are “not about the money,” you can be quite certain that it’s all about the money.

Because of the constant misdirection, we bristle at bureaucracy, complain about complexity, and object to obfuscation. If we find out – or even suspect – a government official or corporate titan has been hiding something from us, we are outraged. We demand an investigation. We expect answers.

Publicly, we encourage authenticity, admire honesty, and celebrate “straight shooters” – mean what you say and say what you mean – but do we model the behavior we hold in such high esteem?

If “incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession,” as Kingman Brewster, Jr., the former president of Yale, once said, then the behavior of some of our marketing and communications colleagues might best be described as “very professional.”

Glossary of terms
Yesterday morning as I was eating breakfast and reading the newspaper, I laughed out loud. Curious, my wife asked what was so funny. I shared with her a short profile in the business section in which there was an astonishing volume of jargon.

As a public service, I will attempt to provide translation for the dizzying array of terms used in the story:

Behavorial marketing agency = advertising agency
Visual design = design
Customer experience design = web design
User experience architect = web designer
Content strategy = thinking about which words and images to use on a website
Business intelligence = research
Empowered consumers = the people we are trying to sell things to
Business-to-person (B2P) = the relationship between a business and its customers
Forge connections = get people to click on things
Engage consumers = get people to click on things
Offline experiences = the real world (sans electronic gadgets)

Conjuring clarity out of chaos
While I understand that part of advertising a product or service is putting it in the most favorable light, taking such extraordinary effort to distract and dazzle seems to betray a lack of confidence that thinking, writing, and designing have value without fancier titles.

I believe effective designers and writers communicate better by focusing on clarity and simplicity – distilling things to their essence rather than constructing obstacles to decipher. In other words, we get rid of the bullshit and make your organization, products, or services easier to understand.

Transparency provides people the confidence to take action. As a profession, we should be less concerned with coining opaque jargon, and more concerned with creating effective communication.

Related content:
Euphemisms – A comedic rant by George Carlin
Truthiness – The Word by Stephen Colbert