The dangers of email

The dangers of email are familiar, yet under-appreciated Most of us live with those dangers every day and, for some of us, they’re achingly real: It’s easy to get the tone wrong, and come across as angry, judgemental, condescending or inconsiderate It’s easy to forget social niceties and send an unintended insult It’s easy to misunderstand or be misunderstood (meaning that future communication is based on misunderstanding) It’s easy to miss important points (usually from...

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Using graphs to distort facts

Is this graph deliberately designed to distort the facts It’s part of a direct mail letter I received recently, attempting to persuade me that I’m more likely to be a satisfied borrower if my money comes from a small bank A quick look at the graph suggests that borrowers linked to the Big 4 banks are very unhappy Or are they Perhaps the letter’s message is built around the assumption that most readers glance at the graph, without thinking about it too closely At a first glance, the...

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Softening the blow when you deliver bad news

All business owners need to deliver bad news You may need to give a reprimand, remind a staff member about policies and procedures, say ‘no’ to a prospective client, inform job applicants that they weren’t successful, or any number of potentially bad news messages Bad news is not an absolute: it’s interpreted differently by different people and at different times It’s the individual aspect of interpretation that’s most important: remember that the recipient is not inside your head...

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Making messages that are understandable and noticeable

I’m fascinated by why it is that some people notice and understand messages and other people miss them Yesterday, a new customer walked into my shop and ordered a coffee and some breakfast After placing his order, he quietly offered me some feedback about our signage: ‘I’ve been working over the road for several weeks, and I’ve been wondering about what you do in here From your sign, I couldn’t work it out I didn’t know that I could just come in here and buy a coffee The sign...

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Text over faces = graffiti

Anyone who works in any aspect of communication knows that words and pictures work well together But working well together is not the same as working well on top of each other Why would the designer of the Brisbane Writers Festival program graffiti over the faces of the presenters The result is unrecognisable faces and illegible copy I'm left with a sense that the people in these images are somehow being silenced by their own words These people are authors who are coming to Brisbane to talk...

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When informality breaks convention

We live in informal times when many of the conventions of the written form are breaking away Emails are more likely to start with 'Hi'  than 'Dear' And the sign-off 'Cheers' is now more common than 'Regards' I quite like a chatty, informal email For me, email sits in the space between a formal letter and a phone conversation But what about a printed letter And particularly, what about a printed letter or notification from a bank I received a notification from ANZ last week, attached to...

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Sweat the small stuff by all means, but don’t lose sight of the big picture

  The latest issue of Offpress (the newsletter produced by the Society of Editors (Qld)) includes an article on ‘The false precision of fetish editing’ by John E McIntyre It was originally published in McIntyre’s regular column for The Baltimore Sun McIntyre makes a point that is easy to miss in the detailed work of editing: ‘… there is the problem when copy editors fetishize minor details; the big errors can be overlooked’ It’s an easy trap to fall into: as editors, we...

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The trouble with bills: when poor understanding defeats good intention

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulties I was experiencing with billing systems and invoices as I learned to navigate a new industry At the time, I had paid some suppliers twice but missed payments to others Today I’ve encountered something similar – once again linked to invoicing, and once again linked to clear communication I encountered a system that might work well if my full-time job was to process and understand bills But paying bills is a tiny part of my work – and one...

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Page design to encourage correct bill payment

I've been noticing lately that I make a lot of mistakes when paying bills Silly things mostly - like paying a page subtotal instead of the bill total, or paying the late payment fee when I didn't need to Last week I managed to pay just the GST amount instead of the full bill Mistakes like these are partly caused by busyness and a lack of focus But they're also a reflection of legibility problems If a bill is difficult to read quickly, then it will be difficult to follow and difficult to pay...

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