Avoiding the Obvious

Feb 17 2016

by Haile McCollum


I’ve got a mind crush on Seth Godin. I love the way he thinks. Even my husband knows about this crush. If you haven’t read his blog, carve out some time and dig in. Recently, one of his posts, “Obvious or elegant?”, really resonated with me and I can’t shake it.

Obvious is safe, easy to understand and easy to sell. Obvious is predictable and lacking in subtlety whereas elegant is pleasingly ingenious and simple.

Obvious makes assumptions, doesn’t trust the audience, it’s the easy way out. It’s generic. Elegant takes work, it makes people think, it’s harder to discover.

It’s the elegant work that wins awards, gets talked about and builds great brands.

How do you avoid the obvious?

Here are 5 practical tips to push you towards elegant:

1. Insist on a point person. A camel is a horse designed by a committee. If you have too many opinions you will end up trying to incorporate too maybe ideas into a solution.

2. Visual solutions are almost always more elegant than actual words. Pick a word or two (even if they are nonsensical) and build meaning over time. This allows your brand to collaborate with your audience.

3. Get everyone to agree on the problem you are trying to solve before you start working on a solution. This sounds so basic, but it’s often overlooked.

4. It is as important to know what not to include, as it is to know what should be present. Knowing what to leave out, and having the discipline to do it makes all the difference.

5. Keep it simple. In the famous words of designer Paul Rand, “Design is so simple, that’s why it’s complicated”. You can replace “Design” with “Branding”, “Interior Design”, really any creative process.

As Seth Godin said so perfectly in his post:

If no one says, “huh, I don’t get it,” you’ve built the obvious, not the elegant. Elegant takes a moment to get. Obvious is a trap, the last resort of an artist who can’t think clearly about what to do next.


Haile McCollum View More Blog Posts from this Author

Haile is the Owner of Fontaine Maury a brand and design firm in Thomasville, Georgia. Fontaine Maury works with emerging and growth minded companies and non-profits to engage their audiences in a more meaningful way and maximize profits. She develops, documents and extends brands through creative business strategies including: brand messaging, brand strategy, print design and digital design.

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