Y ou're sitting looking around in the disco lights,
All you want to do is to be out in the starry night,
I am in Bhubaneshwar, conducting a four-day workshop on creativity in communication for Odisha government officers. Today was the second day of the workshop with 30 participants who are from different districts dealing with communication. Last year, I conducted a similar workshop for the district public relations officers (DPROs) of Bihar.
While I’ve been offering advice on how to communicate better, I’ve seen most people commit the same mistake- including too much information in one product. Often, less often is more effective as it has more and lasting impact on the audience. It takes a lot of intellectual sophistication to create something very simple. Minimalism beats clutter and substance trumps verbosity.
Serious design intervention is the need of hour at the higher levels of the government where policy decisions are taken. There’s a lot to learn from the failure of family planning campaigns and the success of pulse polio campaign. Many messages given to the masses are not based on any behavioural research or updated scientific studies.
New coins come out of RBI every now and then. The new ones of the same denomination are not even remotely similar to the existing ones. Till about two decades back, even a visually-challenged person could identify the difference between one, two, three, five, 10, 20, 25 and 50 paise coins. They were available in specific shapes, sizes and weights. There was variety in the market. Today, even a visually capable person needs to put efforts to differentiate between one-rupee and two-rupee coins. If the cost reduction was an issue, one could change the material as the technology is constantly improving. This might have resulted in some change in weight, but at least there would have been some consistency in shapes and the sizes of the coins. There are several ways like making a hole in the centre to keep the size and outer-shape constant and still save material.
Whatever I say about the design of the government forms, including the railway reservation form, it will be too less. I am yet to hear about one design student who would like to re-design the railway form in spite of it touching tens of thousands of lives every day.
Even in this age of communication, there’s lack of communication at every stage. Just listen to a senior officer of government and NGOs briefing a design agency. The brief is full of abbreviated terms like EBF for exclusive breast feeding, M&E for monitoring and evaluation, WCD for women and child development and FBMNCI for facility-based management of neo-natal and childhood illness. It is expected from a designer to know and remember hundreds of such abridged terms before they come for the briefing.
Hundreds of crores are spent in government communications. Unfortunately very few are designed to make a real change in society. Either they are advertisements of the achievements of the government or they are designed to create a perception of change.
Government communications lack in emotions and clarity in call for action. The amount and complexity of information is too high to generate interest amongst the masses. Sometimes it starts with a simple good idea but by the time it reaches the final stages, senior members would have contributed out of their own perceptions to make it a complete thali of communication. People continue to enforce their ideas till it becomes absolutely unclear and ineffective. This often happens because of a top-down approach. Whereas, the real communication mantra should be- when in doubt, leave it out!