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  • Writer's picturePaul McCabe

Coronavirus confusion and communication

Last night Boris Johnson announced an easing of lockdown measures in the UK, but reading through some social media reactions this morning, does he need a little help with communication?

Coronavirus is an unprecedented public health crisis that is quickly becoming an unprecedented economic crisis. With the new measures announced last night we’re all going to need to figure out how adjust again.

The UK government has asked those who can to return to work, or if you can't you should work from home. If possible don't travel by public transport, if you do go to work, but you can if you have to. Otherwise go by car, bike or foot.

Some might suggest it's all a bit confusing and vague (if you're reading this Boris, I have a window this week for a consultation if you're anywhere near Solihull).

So, I have come up with 5 basic rules that can be used to communicate your message well, whether you're in business, marketing, design or even running a country...

1. Always design for your audience

Most communications start with an idea of what you want to say, but you need to think of how to convey your message. One of the more important elements of communication is the question 'who am I communicating with?' Every design or document has an intended audience, the people that will be viewing it and receiving the communication, so it makes sense to keep them in mind.

The target market for a children’s concert poster is children and their parents, so a sophisticated, black and white design probably won’t attract the right attention or send the right message. A bright and colorful design with recognizable graphics is more eye-catching and keeping in tone with the demographic and event.

Remember that while your work may read well or look good, it might not be the best possible communication for your audience. When in doubt, always refer back to who your audience is.

2. Never use display fonts for body copy (your main body of text)

Using a display font (usually used for titles and headings) for body copy is a bit like wearing a ballgown to the supermarket — it’s not the right time or place, it can be confusing for others, and it just isn’t a very smart move.

Display fonts are fonts that are better suited to smaller areas of text, rather than body copy. They are usually a bit flashier than typefaces designed for body copy purposes, and thanks to this flashiness, they often better suit a short title, sometimes a subheading, but never a bulk piece of text.

There’s a time and a place for display type, and body copy is not that place.

3. Learn the rules of grammar

Grammar can be a tricky thing, there are a lot of hidden rules that you don’t always know you’re breaking until they’re pointed out. Taking the time to learn some of the design-oriented rules of grammar can keep your designs professional and make you feel delightfully smug when you start to notice others’ errors out in the wild.

First of all, ampersands. Ampersands do not belong in body copy, avoid substituting an ‘and’ for a ‘&’. Instead, ampersands are most commonly used for organization titles (e.g. “Johnson & Johnson”) or stylistically within logo/identity design.

Another common error that is easily fixed is double spaces after punctuation. The simple solution? Don’t. One space is more than enough. If you find that your type still looks a little too squashed, perhaps try to adjust your tracking (the spaces between letters) or just switch to a new font.

One more point is hyphens and dashes. Basically there are three types of hyphens/lines: the hyphen (-), the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). The hyphen is used to join two words (e.g. 'custom-built'); an en dash is used to connect numerical values (e.g. '1984–1998'); and an em dash is longer and is occasionally used within sentences to stand in for a comma (e.g. 'Grammar is hard — or so I once thought').

There are plenty of rules to grammar. It is a subtle but powerful tool that can take your work to a whole new level of professionalism and attention to detail.

4. Don’t use too many effects

When it comes to communication, a lot of the time, simple is best, and this can mean repetitively asking yourself 'I know I can add this to my work, but should I?' Effects like drop shadows, bevelling, textures and gradients all have their time and place, just not always together.

A common situation where a lot of effects are often used is charts and graphs. Graphs with a lot loaded into them, a lot of effects, a lot of elements, it’s a lot to take in. Graphs with less effects, however, declutters the information and makes for a much easier read and aesthetically pleasing design.

While there are some instances where there are certain labels, values or elements that you can’t take out, taking out as much as you can without compromising the communication can refocus your information. Sometimes, less really is more.

5. Break the rules!

To cap this list off, let me just say that in the end, there is only one final rule: there are no rules! As important as it is to learn the fundamentals of communication, it is even more important to challenge them every once in a while.

For this no one can tell you what to do. The above basics are just a start and are valuable guidelines among many I could come up with. But in the end it will be you writing or designing a piece of work and you will have a feel what is best. If something is just getting a bit too boring or needs livening up then breaking the odd rule may be a good idea sometimes.

And remember, stay alert, whatever that means.

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