hey, dummy

Shew Design - Chocolate Necessities - packaging

While developing a packaging concept for a high end manufacturer, we encountered some feedback from a friend of the client who recommended we take an alternate approach. His advice was, literally, “dumb it down.” The product was a gourmet food item (chocolate) for a discriminating, college-educated audience. The argument was based on a perception of the across the board, ever-dwindling intelligence of the American public — the same argument we’ve all heard for years.

I didn’t buy the argument or the conclusion, and, thankfully, neither did the client.  The interaction left me thinking how people think about their audiences and the impacts — known and unknown – that ‘dumbing it down’ has on communications.

Obviously, ‘dumbing it down’ doesn’t emerge out of a place of respect. What happens when an organization thinking of their audience in this way becomes habit?   Is there a point where trying to think as a dim bulb becomes indistinguishable from being a dim bulb?

I think you are what you eat. The choice of respecting your audience’s intelligence brings with it a choice to be authentic, meaningful, and relevant. It burdens you with the increasingly non-trivial task of cutting through the deluge of competing messages confronting your audience’s ever diminishing attention. Organizations that rise up to ask and answer those challenging questions enjoy a significant advantage over those that don’t.

While a strategy of requiring serious thought from your audience is not obviously not always viable, I don’t really want to live in a world where it’s never an option.

As any company would, we’ve encountered successes and setbacks in our ten year evolution. Perhaps our biggest lasting success has emerged from being picky about the jobs and partnerships we’ve taken on, with our best work happening when we form a partnership with our client and continually challenge ourselves to do better. ‘Dumbing it down’ will never really be a part of this equation.

Eric Shew is a graphic designer and front end developer living in Bellingham, Washington.

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