Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Picture this!

My noble assistant, Christina, will be embarrassed by this article, but so be it.

People tell me they like to receive this newsletter.  They tell me it is informative and fun to read.  And a large part of making it fun to read are the pictures that Christina selects to illustrate my words.
Christina M 
Frankly, a lot of you—the men, probably—aren’t reading this brilliantly written copy right now anyway.  You’re looking at Christina’s picture.  I’ve momentarily lost you.

Ahem!  Your attention, please!

Your inattention proves my point.  A well-selected illustration or photograph not only gives a focal point but enhances the copy.

Illustrations are to articles what the musical interludes are to all-info radio.  They give the mind a place to wander off to for a bit to consider the finer points of the previous conversation.  They provide a place to mentally rest for a few microseconds.  And in the case of the brilliant NPR musical interludes, they sometimes cause me to smile as I see the clever connection between the previous exchange and the carefully selected interlude.

Similarly, vigilant editors select pictures cautiously.  They know that pictures can arouse anger … curiosity … humor … sympathy … shame … pride and a thousand other emotions.  And they know that people who can’t read can be swayed by a picture.  Editors need to be sure that the reaction to that illustration fits the tone of the article and the brand of the publication.

After all, dignified pictures enhance dignified copy.  Think I’m kidding?  What about that long-standing joke that you subscribe to Playboy for the articles!  Come on.  We all know better.
New Yorker Cartoon

But sometimes contrast does work.  The contrapuntal play between the dense, serious copy in The New Yorker and the offbeat cartoons that pepper its pages gives the magazine its reputation as an arbiter of sophisticated upscale humor.  It’s even earned the magazine the right to publish several best-selling compendiums of their favorite cartoons of the last 50 years.

Not every picture/illustration is worth publishing.  Take the oh-so-boooring ribbon cutting ceremony for instance. It’s an ego boost for participants, but that’s all.  Here’s a better idea:  send each participant a framed shot of the event with a handwritten “Thank you for your help.  We couldn’t have done it without you.”  Spare the rest of us.
Crazy Image - Too Much! 
Speaking of spare, keep illustrations simple.  A complicated picture with a lot going on in it can be a distraction, not an enhancement.  Crop out the off-message info.  An illustration should be a perk for readers, not a puzzle pulling away from content.

Finally, when in doubt, ask.  Get a second opinion.  Let a dispassionate third party tell you if the picture works—or if it doesn’t.  You can trust your wife, can’t you?

Common wisdom says a picture is worth a thousand words.  It’s something everyone “knows,” but you’ll never know how hard it is to do until you try it.  And that’s why someone like Christina is so important.

Photo Finish!Thank you, Christina, for sharing your gentle, mid-western sensibility and for ensuring that the illustrations you select are saying only the right things about us.

Every organization should be so lucky.

That’s wrap.  Another perfect photo finish.

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