I’m an unapologetic word nerd. The rhythm of language—when words are crafted, composed and committed with an artful intent and a conviction to clarity—is one of my true pleasures in life.
So, naturally, I was intrigued by Dan Roam’s case against words in Blah Blah Blah, his treatise on the power of visual communication. Roam’s point is that, the more we talk, the less audiences understand. Words, according to Roam, often get in the way of clear thinking and messages that resonate. He suggests that words trick us into thinking we understand better than we do.
Roam suggests that while the use of language is refined through the course of a lifetime, development of the skills for rendering thought visually typically ends with crayons and paste.
Most of us are poorly equipped to communicate visually, which is why Roam has created a system of visual grammar to bring us back to the basics—much like you would learn a foreign language. He offers simple and clever illustrations to communicate the full breadth of thought based on sound grammatical structure. For example, a vocabulary of simple, iconic portraits represent nouns and pronouns. Maps are prepositions and conjunctions that illustrate the relationships between ideas. Flow charts are complex verbs. It all sounds a bit wonky, but it’s actually fairly simple and intuitive once you dig into it.
As Guy Kawasaki puts it, “the more words you need, the less enchanting you are.”
Personally, I believe in the enchantment of words. But I also believe that words alone yield diminishing returns, particularly when audiences are distracted and distractible and you’re fighting to rise above the noise. As my colleague Julie Hopkins says, social marketing depends on visual communication.
I agree entirely, but I also believe we should have a greater respect for language. In B2B marketing, for example, the conventional response to the geek-speak backlash is often a better-faster-cheaper “business” platitude that communicates no greater meaning, fooling brands into believing they’re communicating “business value” when all they’re doing is chanting the same old refrain.