March 3, 2008

Use analogies to make an impact

We watched Helvetica yesterday, the documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the typeface with a peek into the world of graphic design and specifically, type. It's a fascinating story, and I was amazed at how Helvetica is everywhere and, depending on how it's used, can be hip, pedestrian, ugly, elegant or assertive.

The movie features the "rock stars" of graphic design from the last half-century, and one of my favorite moments is with designer Michael Bierut as he gives an example of how fresh and clean Modernist design must have seemed in the 50s and 60s as companies moved away from the traditional design of the previous decades.

He imagines a 1950s meeting between a graphic designer and a company wanting to change its stationery:

"'Here's your current stationery and all that it implies, and this is what we're proposing.'

Next to that, next to the belching smokestack and the nuptial script and ivory paper, they'd have a crisp, bright, white piece of paper and, instead of 'Amalgamated Widget, Founded 1857,' it would just say 'Widgco' in Helvetica Medium.

Can you imagine how bracing and thrilling that was? That must have seemed like you had crawled through a desert with your mouth just caked with filthy dust, and then someone to offer you a clear, refreshing, distilled, icy glass of water."

Bierut has a way with a story. His passion for the typeface and its influence is clear, and his words evoke a scene that visually illustrates the significance of the moment Helvetica came on the scene.

This is a perfect example of how analogies and examples can impact an audience. Does anything more need to be said for you to understand his point?

He could have said, "Helvetica was a revolutionary typeface that rode the wave of the Swiss design craze in the 50s and 60s and changed the face of graphic design forever." But that would have none of the power of the analogy.

Always be thinking about how you can use analogies, examples and stories in your presentations. They're much more effective in getting the message across, and much more entertaining and memorable for your audience.

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Bill Reichart said...

So true, facts just fill the head, but stories excite one's heart and imagination.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

What a lovely way to put it, Bill.

Ollie Style said...

I agree...

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