On Composition and Communication

Words, and the Placement Of is not about words. It is about understanding the relationship between human nature and effective communication, and exploring the universal elements of composition. It is a project that grows out of my desire to communicate more effectively with my clients, colleagues, students, friends, and family. The majority of these studies will probably focus on the visual arts, but I don't wish to limit the scope of this project. Its themes will shift as my interests shift.

The project evolves out of one primary observation: Many people are good communicators in one medium and have no idea how to transfer these skills to a different medium. A great speaker, who can compose her words with precise timing and inflection to win over any audience, finds herself incapable of creating an interesting PowerPoint presentation. A writer, whose everyday words flow like poetry and bring smiles to his readers faces, has no idea where to begin when he needs to complement his ideas with a chart or image. And when each of these great analytical minds show you their resume, an array of substantial qualifications is complemented with redundancy and little clarity.

Composition is Communication

Whether you like it or not, you're a designer. And much more. If you're involved with the placement of graphic symbols, words, or phonetics in space and time, you're a composer, and you are telling your audience things that are explicitly and implicitly embed in your composition. Just because you have no interest in serifs (the cross-strokes at the end of characters in some typefaces) or leading (the space between lines of text) doesn't mean a dense block of sans-serif type won't slow your audiences' ability to receive your message.

As the media which we use to communicate – writing, images, speech, and space – become more interrelated, the awareness we have of a communicator's gap in skills is amplified.

Composition is broader than the arts

Let's look at one – fictitious, though not too uncommon – situation: A speaker (physical composition) addresses an audience in a lecture hall (spacial composition) with the aid of a slide presentation (digital composition) and a handout (print composition). The talk is recorded on video (film composition) and also to be released as a podcast (audio composition). The talk is advertised with a short summary and the speaker's bio, as a flyer (written composition) and on the web (web composition).

Make your wishes to let the painters, novelists, and musicians be the only ones who need to worry about composition, but as the tools of communication become more accessible to a wider audience, the responsibility of a composition's success falls more and more in the hands of you, the everyday communicator.

Effective communication requires an understanding of human nature

Some people are born good communicators, and others must learn. The good news is that these skills can be learned. The better news is that, if you're already a strong communicator in one medium, understanding the principles of good communication in another medium is likely closer than you think.

Words, and the Placement Of aims to facilitate an understanding between an expert, superficial knowledge in one medium and an expert, fundamental knowledge across several media. The coming posts will explore the tools and relationships involved in this process.