When graphics don’t work

Despite being a word person at heart, I love good graphics, and am always trying to find ways to incorporate them in my work.

However, I sometimes run into a ‘graphics for graphics sake’ mentality that can be counterproductive.  For example, I hear “Just add a couple graphics and it’s good” or “Can’t we just say this with pictures?”

Some things are complicated, and need either 1) carefully-chosen words, or 2) a really talented graphical artist.  And anything less than a well-designed graphic just gets in the way.

For example, my daughter sent this picture of a sign in China.


I can think of a few ways to read this picture, including:

  • No cars spontaneously bursting into flames from their rooftops
  • No Vegas showgirls on top of cars

I doubt either of those is the intended meaning.

Graphics, like written text, require clear thinking about the subject at hand. In this case, because the sign is in China, it’s quite possible that the sign artist and I think quite differently, given our cultural and structural-language differences.  It’s also quite possible that Chinese drivers or pedestrians seeing the sign know precisely what it means. (I sure hope so.)

But it brings home a point – a graphic that doesn’t communicate clearly is more of a distraction than a clarification. Sometimes, a few carefully-chosen words can go further towards achieving your objective.

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