Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The large print giveth, the small print taketh away

In my recent post about Tom Fishburne's cartoon I meant to say that he attributes the quote to the Tom Waits song 'Step right up'. Here it is:

I spy with my little eye... branded language!

'I spy with my little eye... something's missing!'

So starts a letter I've just had from First Direct about our application to open an account. We're changing our bank account, in reaction to poor service at our previous award-winning customer-oriented bank. What was missing was information they hadn't previously asked for, so to my ear the headline is not only infantilising but blaming. Perhaps I hadn't said 'please' when I asked for a bank account.

In the same post we also got two identical welcome packs, confirming the account is open... so perhaps they don't need the other information after all. Those letters are headed 'Welcome to first direct (you'll notice the difference in minutes)'. I don't think they are ironically intended.

Now I'm not against branded language (for that is what this is) and when in professional practice used to sell it and do it. But you can't do it in an unthinking way, and every brand doesn't have to sound as chirpy as Innocent smoothies. And you have to be realistic - First Direct's tone of voice would be fine if modulated to match my likely mood (for example, with my gender, age and expressed unhappiness with previous bank, I clearly fall into the grumpy old man demographic). But their systems don't match the aspirations of their brand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My spell checker is trying to hold a seminar

My spell checker just queried the word 'semiological'. It suggested it should be semi-logical. Very profound, I thought.

It reminds me of a paper Henri Henrion wrote many years ago, entitled 'Semiotics or semi-idiotics'.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The grocers/grocer's/grocers' apostrophe

At my public lecture the other day, a questioner raised the matter of the grocer's apostrophe - that's the apostrophe's in potato's, apple's and carrot's.

I said I wasn't particularly bothered as long as I get my potato's.

I was pleased to see support for my position on the BBC programme QI last week, where Stephen Fry said: "People have been ridiculing what has become known as the grocer's apostrophe since the eighteenth century. The Oxford Companion to the English Language notes that there was never a golden age in which the rules for the use of the possessive apostrophe in English were clear cut, and known, understood and followed by most educated people - never."

Have a look at this nice 'apostrophes for Africa' sketch with Omid Djalili playing the part of Lynne Truss, and Marcus Brigstocke on the grammar bullies on Room 101.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another Tom Fishburne cartoon

I've mentioned Tom Fishburne's wonderful Brand Camp cartoons before - here's one I used in a public lecture I was asked to deliver in Reading last week. The point I wanted to make was that it's actually OK for there to be some small print - that is, for information to be layered so some of it is more prominent than the rest, or structured so you read different bits of it at different points in your journey to a decision, to new knowledge or whatever your goal is. It's actually considerate to the reader to reflect their priorities, or to guide them through the big picture. But the bad stuff shouldn't only live in the small print. 

Instead, the large print structureth, and the small print filleth in the detail.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ryme Intrinsica eat your heart out

I'm sitting in Glasgow station. I had no idea there were such great place names here, so far from Dorset.

Whifflet, Shotts, Nitshill, Troon, Crossmyloof, Giffnock, Hairmyres, Bogston and Fort Matilda.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I'm speaking at the Sign09 conference in Vienna next week, jointly organised by the International Institute for Information Design and the Sign Design Society. They've put together a terrific programme - unfortunately it is over 9 days, so I imagine few visitors will be able to go for the whole thing. I'm speaking about how wayfinding is taught on our MA course at Reading, and showing student work.

On just before me is Timothy Nissen, from Switzerland, who is speaking about 'Advanced Studies in Signaletics'. I'm intrigued by the term, which I haven't met before. Googling it gets you to a company doing intelligent signing, and also to this nice video.