Making Things Work by Design

Tom Peters has been championing the importance of design long before it was the darling of the masses.  He has an entire section of his website devoted to posts about its importance, it is mentioned widely throughout many of his books, and he has at least one publication devoted exclusively to its value.  Moreover, his own corporate graphic identity is about as crisp and as clean a design as you could ever create, simply his name followed by an exclamation point, a simple reminder of the boldness of his ideas and the energy he brings to his work.

Yet, I've always felt his slides didn't reflect the amazing value of his content. (see the sample slide from one of his recent talks).  So some time ago I Tweeted that very observation, and this was his reply: "they work in a room, which is all I care about."  Personally, I found this an interesting definition of success: they work.  I'm not 100% sure they work as well as he might think, but Peters is in good company suggesting this as a standard for success.  It's often the reply of Craig Newmark when people suggest that Craigslist could be better designed.

Whether we be an individual speaker, a presenter talking on behalf of a multi-million dollar company, or an association volunteer speaking to a group of peers, we all have to decide the standards by which we will deem our presentation a success.  At minimum, our content and any visuals we use to support it, must indeed work.  Those attending our presentation must be able to grasp the key points we are trying to make.

But for a presentation (and all that goes with it) to also work, I believe it also must reflect the principles we espouse and the values we hope to have associated with our work.  Some presenters may see this as aspirational, I see it as fundamental.  The more consistent we are in exemplifying our identity, the more people expect all of our efforts to be in alignment with our beliefs and values.

Tom Peters is one of the most intelligent, engaging, and hard-working thought leaders we are likely to ever see.  And he has been a relentless champion of the importance of design.  As long as his substance remains strong, I'll work harder to read slides whose design I find difficult or challenging.  But I'll also continue to wonder why they don't reflect the amazing visuals that you find in his books and on his web banner.

The rest of us aren't Tom Peters, and the audiences we address may not afford us the same consideration.  If our standard for what works makes them work too hard, we may not find them sticking with us … as presenters or as leaders.  While we each can set our own internal standard for what works, ultimately those who choose to follow us will make that determination for themselves.


John Windsor said...

Excellent post, Jeffrey. I think Peters has a blind spot about those slides. So (next post?), what are the blind spots we each have — things we don't see that others do? That'll be my personal musing for the day...

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Great observation John. When you mention blindspots, I immediately thought of Johari's Window and the importance of others sharing their feedback and perceptions and of us being open to them. As Meg Wheatley says so well: "We don't have to let got of what we believe, but we do need to b curious about what someone else believes."