The perpetual comic and self-described writer, inventor, visionary, futurist and genius gave one of my favourite presentations at this year's Under The Influence.
It was about "a picture and a short line."
It may seem silly and trite and funny at first, but give it time and he delivers some incredibly poignant insights about digital and the way we interpret the world these days.
David started his career aged 15, writing for cult video games magazines. He definitely knew his stuff as in 1995 he clinched that much-coveted title, UK Doom Champion! Since then he’s written for over thirty magazines and newspapers in the UK and the US including Wired, The Guardian, Tank, and The Independent. In 2000, he was editor and writer of seethru.co.uk, one of the first websites to feature something called a 'blog'. His first book, The Internet Now In Handy Book Form is now available. You see, wasting your youth playing video games can pay off.
Yes. Behind the laughs is a serious point: that a picture and a short line/infographics could a growing trend. Shame I missed this talk so thanks for the link, George.
As a writer, this is obviously an issue I feel strongly about.
I've resisted the temptation to get drawn into the whole 'no-one reads copy any more' debate on Scamp's blog.
I mean I can see both sides.
Good writing can be really rewarding.
And I take David's point that he doesn't have time to read anymore. I think I first heard about Bill Gates taking weeks a year off just to read. But don't we all do this now? And I still don't get a chance to finish the books I take away on holiday with me.
'Can't stop, won't stop' by Jeff Chang is what I took with me to France last week. But it set off so many day dreams, I couldn't even complete it even after hours and hours by the pool/on the balcony.
But rather than assume no-one reads, I tend to imagine myself writing for the person who wants to know everything.
Yes, people do skim read and there's a technique for writing for that.
But tight informative, attention grabbing copy can also slow people down and draw people in. Make them imagine things they never thought were possible. Pretty handy when you're trying to get someone to try something new like in marketing or advertising. Can pictures alone do that?
Anyway, that's getting off the point into a never ending copy vs pictures debate.
The point is that it's this combination of pictures AND words that really wins.
And this really isn't such a new idea.
As Drayton Bird (or indeed any other study of eye flows or DM packs will tell you) pictures with captions get the highest readership of all.
And I think it's really interesting that this is often how I've found myself blogging - words/pictures/words/pictures. It's easier to write and I think it's more fun and faster to read, too.
I know from my own Wikipedia research, embedded pictures would have definitely improve the experience and speed understanding.
And whilst I never want to think no-one reads any more, some of the ideas for websites we're pitching to clients at the moment do away with the written word completely. So we're saying 'Ok let's present all the info through audio, pictures and video'.
It's more enganging and possibly more memorable. And for TV heads like me and you, we'd much rather watch a show than read a few paragraphs.
But I don't think words are dead just yet. And you know a lot of the time, you can make it easier for people to read with just a few simple tweaks. Tweaks that so many huge brand websites fail to make.
I'm talking about stupidly simple yet hugely effective changes like keeping sentences short, paragraphs short, breaking copy with sub-heads.
And these are all 'visual' things I guess. But have a huge impact. I mean expect your visitor to read your static paragraphs of copy when you have all these lovely buttons to click? You know, you have to make it easy for people.
One more thing on the picture thing. We found this great personality test based simply on choosing one image over another. Saves lots of heavy reading and can give some serious insight into potential employees, for example.
It's much more fun to do than your standard Q&A or multiple choice. It's called Pairwise if you want to do a search for it.
Thanks for reading this far if you're still there.
And sorry for starting so many paragraphs with the word 'and'. And I guess I could have used a few more pictures, too.
Which begs the question 'Can you embed pictures in comments yet?'
There's MY big prediction for the future: the ability to post pictures in blog comments.
You read it here first. # posted by Hayes Thompson : 3:23 PM, June 29, 2008
Great stuff, Hayes.
You need words for depth, and as such they'll always be needed. Words, however, are not fast. And that's where they run into problems online. Other than snappy headlines, words delay browsing. They hold up surfing. They keep people from getting on to the next thing.
In other words, they do not make for good content and media snacking.
We're dealing with an increasing number of people who are solely interested in watching short attention span theater. The YouTube generation loves 4-minutes of fun, and then it is on to the next thing.
I'm not saying words are dead. They're fundamental. But increasingly they're having to compete with lots of other media (and hybrid combinations of media) that to some make them seem too slow for broadband.
And, I'm gonna need some very nice content filters before I let people post pictures, dude. ;-)