Am I a designer who writes or a writer who designs?

Some people think design and words are like the chicken and egg conundrum: they are never quite sure which should come first.

Not me.

In fact I hate it when clients suggested I ‘come up’ with the design first so they could backfill the text. That’s why I started writing. Words are important. Design is important. One is not better than the other; both should be recognised as integral to clear communication.

That’s why this year I’m adding another string to my bow … I’m part of an initiative called the Clear Communication Awards.

People get information in different ways.

Some people need words. They need to read every word in the order presented, from the start to the finish, to fully understand the message.

Some people are more chaotic consumers of information. They are scanners. They hoover information by flicking pages, jumping forward and back, scanning paragraphs, reading captions and devouring graphics.

And of course, there are a myriad of people that sit somewhere in between the two extremes. Like the barely literate, or those reading in a second language, or the visually impaired.

All have different needs. One is not better than the other – and none are wrong – but it’s important they all get to the same place in the end.

That’s where clear communication comes in.

Clear communication makes information more accessible to more people. It means instructions can be accessed easily and understood at first read. And that makes the delivery of information more efficient and more effective.

Clear Communication is a black art.

Sometimes words are all that is needed and it’s the way the words are presented – the hierarchy and use of white space – that improves the communication.

Sometimes an image or graphic is all that’s needed: as they say, a picture says a thousand words.

Clear communication is having the tools and the knowledge to use both, or one, or the other. It’s knowing your market and understanding how they need information delivered to suit their needs. And it’s knowing your material so you can explain it with the least amount of words and most appropriate images to communicate quickly and easily.

That’s Clear Communication and that’s what we’re awarding.

About the awards

If you haven’t heard of the Clear Communication Awards – which wouldn’t be a surprise as we are only launched them last week – the awards are a joint project of myself, Joh Kirby and Carolyn Alexander. They acknowledge information projects that combine excellence in design, communication and plain language. Because everyone benefits from being able to find the information that they need more easily.

The awards open in June 2019.

We’re releasing information regularly. Subscribe to our mailing list or follow our Clear Communication Awards page on LinkedIn to receive updates on categories, judges and lots of information on clear communication.

Carol Mackay


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Carol is a designer and co-founder (with Greg Branson) of the Design Business Council, an organisation advocating design and its role in a successful and sustainable business, and the Design Business School. Together they are working towards the 2019 Business of Design Week

In 2018 she partnered with another two Melbourne professionals to launch the Clear Communication Awards

Carol’s design career focused on helping the financial, legal, insurance, superannuation and service sectors use design to add clarity to their often complex message. She now uses the same skills to help business understand design, and designers understand business. Contact Carol for more information.

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