Back in the day, agency types would have to defend apparent wasted space on a layout by claiming that it “illuminated the message”. Maybe they still do. No false claim though, we all know that what you leave out is as important as what you put in and yes, white space does illuminate the message.
A few weeks ago we put out a recruitment ad. It was a great opportunity for someone to join the fabulous Tandem team. All we needed to do was put the ad out there and watch the applications come flooding in…
More time passed…
Still no applicants.
I began to wonder why. The ad was thorough and truthful; detailed and clear. I showed it to some design-related friends and invited criticism. Oh boy, did it get criticism. I think “intimidating” and “a bit dull” were amongst the harshest comments. So I sought sagely advice from one who knows – from an expert in such wordly matters: ace writer for brands Mike Reed.
Mike swiftly and efficiently destroyed what I'd written and, kindly, recrafted it. It was like night and day. Dull and intimidating became interesting and welcoming. A new ad went out…
And, we got takers – some really good ones.
What Mike did played on my mind over the following days. During that time this other thing happened: I was in an internal meeting which was interrupted by a colleague who needed to ask our Creative Director an important budget-related question. Something had to be cut – maybe we could pull back on the lighting? The answer was clear: there were others things to cut before the lighting. The lighting was too important.
And it clicked. What Mike did to our ad was introduce some good lighting. The new ad said the same thing as our original…but the message had become illuminated…by better words.
I’m beginning to learn that good lighting makes all the difference in a museum or visitor experience. It guides you through a space, draws you in, reveals where to look, shows you which direction to take. It’s your invisible, intangible guide.
In copy, good writing does the same: it guides, draws you in and it reveals. Just like how bad lighting kills a museum space, bad writing kills the message.
I discussed all this briefly with Mike and he observed, “lighting and copy are often overlooked, but when they’re rubbish you really notice – of course, when they’re at their best, you don’t notice them at all”. Which nails it really: in design, even in the broadest sense, the most important things are often the things that, when done properly, no one notices. Beautiful lighting, good typography, a well proportioned page, expertly crafted copy – when executed really well, are often invisible and yet, they illuminate.