Every morning when I get on the elevator at Hampstead tube I get annoyed.
As the lift descends from the station to the trains a recorded voice comes slowly and patronisingly over the loudspeaker.
“This lift…..……is now arriving……..….at platform level…….……Customers should turn left………….for Southbound………….and Northbound trains.”
Let’s just look at that as a piece of communication, bit by bit.
I just got on the lift at street level.
Where do they think I thought I was going?
The car park.
This is a tube station.
The very fact that I’m allowed out on my own means I know the lift goes to the trains.
And this isn’t a department store with 7 levels.
So I don’t need an instore guide telling me the various floors.
“Level 4: soft furnishings. Level 5: lingerie.”
It only goes to one place: trains.
And why does it tell me to turn left?
When you leave the lift you can’t turn right, it’s a brick wall.
Do they think that otherwise I’ll stand there all day in confusion unable to decide what to do when faced with a dead end?
And not only that, the only line that goes through Hampstead is the Northern Line.
Why do they need to tell me ‘for Northbound and Southbound trains”?
Would I really be on a Northern line station looking for Eastbound and Westbound trains?
The argument may be that foreigners don’t know this information.
So they need to be told.
Okay, but have you ever been in a foreign country trying to decipher a complicated announcement?
What you need is SIMPLE.
So when the lift gets to the bottom, a voice saying ‘TRAINS’ would be helpful.
Because, if I’m in a foreign country and I’m looking for a train, that’s the only word I’ve looked up in the phrase book.
That’s what we in the communication business should be doing.
Not loading every possible word into the communication to make it as confusing as possible.
Even if that’s what the client wants.
In fact, especially if that’s what the client wants.
That’s the opposite of communication.
And we’re the communication professionals, not the client.
That’s why art directors use lots of white space, and as few words as possible.
All around us is tons and tons of communication.
You can’t possibly read, listen to, or watch it all.
So you automatically have your mental default set to tune it all out.
All of it.
You don’t carfefully inspect it all to see which is relevant to you.
Which accurately represents the brand values that you see fitting best with your lifestyle choice.
You tune it all out.
All of it.
Posters, TV, radio, Microsites, MPUs, ambient, all of it.
Whether it’s old school or digital.
So how do we separate our message off from that mass?
Well to start, we need to clear some space around what we’re saying.
Which is why art directors have always liked lots of white space.
And as few words as possible.
It does exactly that.
It creates a clearing, a little oasis of calm.
A breathe of sanity in all the clutter and noise.
And to get that you need to reduce your message to the absolute essentials.
Say it simply, quickly, and as powerfully as possible.
And then shut up.
Don’t keep talking, because everything you add reduces the effectiveness of the communication.
In the Viet Nam war, the F4 Phantom jets.were state-of-the-art.
They had every warning system possible.
Flashing lights when enemy radar locked-on.
Warning buzzers when an enemy missile was launched.
Recorded voices telling you what emergency evasive action to take.
And they found the pilots were getting shot down because they weren’t listening to any of them.
There was so much going on in the cockpit, they automatically tuned it all out.
The really important stuff as well as the less important stuff.
So the US Air Force began disconnecting all the warnings.
Everything except the absolutely essential information.
And, with only one thing to listen to, suddenly the pilots began to pay attention.
And a lot less of them got shot down.
That’s what communication is.
It isn’t just blurting out everything that you can possibly think of and hoping something works.
It’s deciding what is the single absolutely essential thing that you need your audience to notice and remember.

Communication isn’t just about making sure you speak correctly.
Communication is about making sure you are heard correctly.