Clutter vs. clarity

Question of the day: How do you deal with clutter?

I’m not talking about physical clutter — the piles of work on your desk or the boxes of stuff shoved underneath it. I’m talking about the verbal and visual clutter, the stuff that creeps into your articles, publications and web designs like weeds in your garden.

How does that clutter get there? After all, we’re the communications pros, right? We’ve all read Strunk and White (“Omit needless words!” is the mantra there), and we’re all schooled in the less-is-more aesthetic of design.

So we’re not the problem, right? It’s those other guys. Those professors who insist on cramming into your tidy news release an extra paragraph that describes the research in excruciating, scientific detail. That administrator who insists the announcement about a new research grant or faculty appointment includes a quote from every vice-something-or-other or every funding agency big-wig who was involved in the process of obtaining said grant or hiring said faculty member. The development officer who insists that the design include a crappy 72dpi photo of the donor — “Sorry, it’s the only picture we’ve got” — on the cover of the scholarship brochure. The Executive Council members who insist that your website design has omitted links to at least two dozen vitally important offices or departments, and they insist those links be retrofitted into the design.

They insist, insist, insist.


How do we resist?

Then there’s the other issue: dealing with the designs and prose of other departments who come to you for help. (Those are the good guys. The renegades just do their own thing and you find out about it however you can.) As our department assumes more responsibility of “managing the brand,” we find ourselves dealing with more of these issues. Well-intentioned department admins and the PR chairs of student organizations come to us with their logo designs, newsletters, etc., and most of these items are cluttered. (And cliche-ridden. But that’s a topic for another day.)

From my experience, the student groups and admins usually appreciate our advice and guidance to cut the clutter. We dole it out as tactfully as we can. With other customers, we have to be blunt. Sometimes that bluntness comes across as arrogance. Other times, when it’s a political dilemma (often the case in academe), we offer our advice, then hold our nose and do what the customer wants.

But I digress. (Talk about clutter.) Back to the question of the day: How do you deal with clutter?

P.S. – I didn’t even touch on PowerPoint. But here’s a slideshow that presents the case against clutter quite well.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

3 thoughts on “Clutter vs. clarity”

  1. Kyle and Paul – I agree that we need substantial think time in any project. Unfortunately, that rarely occurs, at least on the PR side of things when time is of the essence.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘389599632 which is not a hashcash value.

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