Industry trends. Pioneering approaches. Surprising successes. From dawn to dusk our studio thrums with chatter about words and content, and how to get the most from them. And now we’re opening the doors and inviting you to pull up a chair. Come on in and join the conversation. This is insight, Stranger style.


5 things I learnt at West England Design Forum

Last week I was invited to take to my soapbox and talk about Why Words Matter. To over 100 designers. After three other experts had said their piece. Daunting? Yes. Tempting? Totally.

The event, hosted by West England Design Forum and held at the Arnolfini, saw four writers (me included) argue the case for words in all their glory. Unsurprisingly, when my turn came, I had a lot to say. About the beauty of words. The power of storytelling. The connection made possible by compelling, authentic characters.

But it was everyone else’s insights that got my heart pumping and cogs whirring. From the importance of memorability and distinctiveness, to expressing the negative, from the empty superstition of not starting a sentence with And to the precise power of a single word like hope, Lindsay Camp, Mike Reed and Kendra Futcher lit up the podium with their wit, intelligence and wordplay.

Here’s a handful of the new things I discovered spending an evening with a roomful of bright creative minds…



1.    93% of communication is non verbal. Fact.

93%. Really? Well no. Not only did Lindsay Camp explain exactly where this so called ‘statistic’ came from (check out the Mehrabian Myth if you’re interested), he used it to demonstrate that while there are still people out there that believe this nonsensical figure and use it to contest that words are losing their potency, we as wordsmiths are duty bound to fight every day to prove them otherwise.

Plus in his use of Fact he illustrated and waxed lyrical about the power of sarcasm, irony, insinuation and reading between the lines. All of which would be impossible without words.



Image from psfk.com

2.    Horseshit is different from bullshit.

In explaining why Adam Leibsohn’s assertion that gifs are replacing language felt somewhat hollow, Mike Reed invited us to consider the power of interpretation. The subtle nuances in language that let each of us take something different from a word, or the tiny deviations in definition that spell a world of difference in meaning. It’s why for him (and many others), horseshit means untrue, where bullshit means manipulatively untrue. The beautiful light touch of language. Poor bulls.



3.    Expressing the negative is a positive

Lindsay also opened our eyes to the fact that words are the very best way for us to express negative feelings. You can’t swear in pictures. And swearing, in all its expressive vulgarity, can be wonderful. As a few choice quotes from Malcolm Tucker rightly demonstrated.




@visualolly’s haiku

4.    One word top trumps 1000

Hope. Kendra Futcher compelled us to think about the weight a single word can carry (the optimism of a nation in the case of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign) and how distillation and precision packs a punch in the right hands. She also stretched us all to employ our own skills of precision by attempting to write a Haiku in 30 seconds. I failed abjectly. Others soared.




5.    You can make empty full

That’s right, it’s the age-old battle that sees copywriters and clients permanently locked nib to nib.

And. Yes. We. Can. If you’ve been subject to our pavement pedantry over the last few months, you’ll know we’re And advocates, so it was all I could do not to applaud when Mike raised the issue with our audience. But the fact that starting sentences with And is both grammatically correct and incredibly powerful wasn’t news to me.

What I did learn however, was that pleonasms (the use of more words than necessary to convey meaning), aren’t always what they seem. Mike quoted Kingsley Amis and his phrase ‘an empty superstition’ to describe the belief that you can’t put a conjunction after a full stop and explained that in this case using the word ‘empty’ makes the emptiness of  ‘superstition’ even fuller. It’s a duplication of meaning that serves to further belittle both concepts, with each word amplifying each other’s hollowness. A very full empty indeed.


Find out more the West England Design Forum’s events, discover what I had to say about creating compelling characters, or join us to learn more about the power of words and how to harness them for your brand, with our Find Your Voice training.


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