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Recently, a few colleagues in the marketing research industry have sent me documents, decks, and general thought pieces to review. Putting content aside, each article is unique in character, but what is common to each is a static framework, or context, to communicate thoughts.

Each framework is similar by seeking to convey  a certain meaning that augments or leverages associated meaning to text. This is accomplished by employing visual cues and heuristics such as headings, indentation, and grammatical symbols throughout the document. It’s much different than writing a standard cohesive paragraph; it’s lexical “pimping.”

Unfortunately, despite some compelling ideas and insights, many documents nevertheless are all over the place in the methods used to frame and accentuate thoughts; rarely does the context of these documents leverage the ideas written.

Truth be told, most of these documents are written in Power Point, which has plenty of detractors, and I will avoid such comment here. A few are constructed in Prezi, “this year’s model” a rarely well adapted and over-stylized, yet extremely linear presentational software. Software, regardless of origin, however, is not the culprit. Rather, it’s that we’re not following a few simple rules.

What are The Rules? Well, let me share them with you:

Fonts
All fonts are not created equal
Choose a font that feels right
Try to use one font throughout
Don’t be afraid to to bold, sparingly

Color
Color is an art and a science, so know color theory
PowerPoint is good with color

Images
Use images deliberately
Full-bleeds create breaks
Watch your resolution
Clip art is not your friend, nor are stock photos

Page Layout
Present one idea per page
Don’t be afraid of white space
Bullets are for lists
People can read sentences
Use transition slides as bridges, not breaks

Infographics
Find inspiration in today’s news, don’t be afraid to reinterpret
Storytelling, not statistics
Avoid data for data’s sake
The appendix has a purpose

From the department of “you heard it here first,” a few observations.

First, the personal laptop PC is dead. Not a big insight, really. We all kind of know this with people buying tablet devices, though its basically a zero-sum gain with folks spending their time on one device over another. I’m seeing less and less laptops out in the world; consumer PCs in general are a dying breed. Just look at the recent earnings reports of some of the largest PC manufacturers for hard evidence of category turmoil. At a recent conference I attended I saw exactly two laptops in sessions, along with a smattering of tablets devices and smart phones.

Second, and more importantly, the conference’s rooms were filled with attendees writing on “writing tablets.” Yellow legal pads and blank notebooks such as Moleskine. Most of the people were hand writing! I thought I had been transported back twenty years. I noticed people were not just writing long-hand, but also drawing symbols and related graphical mnemonics to represent information they were taking down. Learning was non-linear and more holisitic using personalized cognitive script. 

On my return to the office, I mentioned this to a colleague and she said lately people in her graduate program at Duke have switched from laptops to paper tablets to take class notes. I find this fascinating. What’s up?

Have we hit a ceiling with electronic devices as information sources? Is the recent proliferation of managing social media returning us to the locus of self in order to process more critical information processing situations? Are we just bored with ‘things?’ Whatever it is, I’m keeping an eye on this…

The world is always a bit off kilter. Nothing is exact. But my current profession as a market research guy has, in my opinion, developed a mantra that requires that the reseach I conduct for a client be “rock solid,” i.e. grounded in either well-founded objective fact (when dealing with quantitative data) or succinct insights (when delving into the qualitative realm). Regardless of the nature of the project or methodology employed, my point of view is expected to rest well within defined lines. I must be precise.

This current market research lens may actually cloud my findings. Rather than stuffing marketplace phenomena into a presentational bullet or pithy one-liner for my client, I often find myself wanting to “go wide” and start speaking on the non-alignment of the phenomena I’m investigating, for that’s where I believe interesting findings float.

A great example of this is the Italian fashion practice of sprezzatura. Sprezzatura is the belief that to look correct, things should always look slightly wrong. It is the act of studied effortlessness. A description of naturalness, by design. And when I think of either the natural or manufactured world in which people live and make consumer decisions, it answers a lot. My goal now is to further integrate this concept into the design and execution of the work I do, rather than drawing arbitrary lines in crafting market research. It’s the right direction to take.

A good starting point has been re-examining the basic tenets and overall premise of how I approach market research. Up until now, market research has, more and more, emphasized the science of its practice. Born of the social sciences, it continually seeks legitimization as a ‘true’ science. Unfortunately, in my experience, to use a well-worn phrase, it’s “too fuzzy” for such rigor. Rather, I believe breakthrough research is more likely to occur if we allow the foundation of the practice to flow from the humanities, and not social science: writing, illustration, design, voice and performance.

So far I’ve found this premise to be powerful in the work I do. It’s decidedly different, and refreshing. Let’s face it, market research as we’ve known it for the past fifty plus years can be stale and uninspiring, regardless of how lofty our ideals. I think research should take a shot at being beautiful instead.

Ronald McDonald is a psychotic killer on the loose in what appears to be bright and sunny suburban LA, and has taken Big Boy hostage. A team of foul-mouthed Michelin men cops are in fast pursuit, and in the fray, Planter’s Mr. Peanut, an innocent patron at a restaurant, gets caught in the cross-fire and the top of his peanut head is blown off. Another day in Logoland

One of the lesser but raucously funny animated short films I caught last weekend in the film compilation 2010 Academy Awards – Nominated Animated-Short Films. A tremendous collection of ten films from around the world, demonstrating in anywhere from six to thirty minutes each, deft creativity in an animated environment.

What is particularly unique to these films, compared to much of the more hyped du moment animation (i.e. Avatar) is the sly and terse writing accompanying the graphics, delivering complete, other-wordly witty statements within minutes. For without the copy, the art would likely remain pretty, but vacant, i.e. style with no substance (my rub with the boom in neo-manga nowadays). Proving once again, you gotta first be well-read, and read well, to write well.

As far as I can tell the two most common Twitter complaints from non-adopters are as follows: 1.) “What’s the point?” and 2.) “I don’t have anything to say.”

I agree with both to some extent. Most updates on the site tend toward the banal. However, what’s fascinating about Twitter is not what Twitterers (Twits? Twitfolk?) are writing about, but the fact they are indeed writing.

As it turns out, we are in the middle of a writing renaissance. The internet has had an effect on authorship that, with regard to bringing the written word to a mass audience, surpasses that of the printing press.

“Since 1400, book authorship has grown nearly tenfold in each century. Currently, authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year.” (SEED Magazine)

William Safire worried that the immediacy of online communication was obfuscating the English language, turning thoughtful sentences into collections of emoticons and nonsense abbreviations. While this might be true in the present, the sheer volume of new writers populating the internet with their writing is likely to produce better work in the long run. The computer, the internet – what we once imagined to be the death of the written word may be its savior.

In 1990, at age 70, Charles Bukowski began writing on a Macintosh Ilsi computer. The beat writer, never afraid of a little experimentation, took to it quickly:

“There is something about seeing your words on a screen before you that makes you send the word with a better bite, sighted in closer to the target. I know a computer can’t make a writer but I think it makes a writer better. Simplicity in writing and simplicity in getting it down, hot and real.”