Wednesday 3 December 2008

Simple

Throughout my copywriting career, my account servicing people’s constant favourite word has been ‘simple’. Make it simple. Better still, ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’

I wonder if any one of them have every stopped to think what ‘simple’ means.

Take walking. To you and me, it’s very simple. But to a physiotherapist, it’s probably a fairly complex process. 1 + 1 = 2 if simple for us; hardly so for the philosopher. So simplicity, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.  

Or take a briefcase book, the type one picks up before a flight, at the airport bookshop. Typically, it’d quote two score research studies. ‘Research shows this and researchers say that’. Nine times out of ten, the data is meaningless. You can twist it and quote it at a cocktail party, but if you try to take a decision based on it, you’re inviting woe. The barebones is useless - worse, counterproductive - without the flesh and blood. But the worthless ‘basics’ may sound simple. 

Or do they think simplicity lies in boiling down the world into rules? Keep to the left. Sell dear, buy cheap. Honesty is the best policy. The boss, and the customer, is always right. 

Even a baby knows that if he tries to live by the rules, he’d be dead. A world without ifs and buts will collapse under its inherent contradictions before it can begin. Then why bother with such simplification, that the mind will reject alertly if not intuitively? 

Rather strangely, this drive for simple runs parallel to the rise of the visual, with pictures of ever-increasing complexity (that is, loaded with culture-specific clues) being used in all sorts of communication. 

One reason for this shift is that we do diagrams because we can. Click on a few dingbats, and you have a diagram. Never mind that the diagram is completely unnecessary, takes up far too much space, and illustrates something you’ve already written. It’s supposed to make the whole thing friendly. 

Friendly for whom? Someone who has neither time to read or think but has the time to act or buy? 

Another reason may be the hope that since computer drawings are such fun to make, they’re fun to see too. And whatever is fun, is good. 

Anyway, let’s come back to simplicity. My firm belief is that ‘simple’ actually means ‘different’. And ‘different’ means ‘what I think’. Long before a client starts a job, he makes up his mind about what he wants. The copywriter, because he starts with another point of view, or with none at all, arrives elsewhere. That may not necessarily be a bad place, but it’s not where the client wanted to go. For him there is only one road and one Rome. Anything else is complicated. 

So guess, guess and guess again.

And if you somehow guess right, if it fits, you’ll be crowned with Simple.

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