10 November 2007

Picture yourself in a boat on a river...

I started a long post about an interview I have scheduled for Monday morning at my office. We're all to be meeting with a "branding expert". For our unlaunched company with a crappy, crappy name. I'd gone on at length about the inanity of the exercise, but hadn't made it to my thesis. So I'm saving you all the grief of reading my whingeing and cutting to the chase.

BrandMasters Inc.1 sent an exercise we're supposed to perform before showing up for our interviews. Mine is scheduled for 8am. The email arrived this afternoon.2

And what am I supposed to do before I show up?

Please gather 6 to 8 images/photographs you see as visually expressing your views in answer to the following question — What are your feelings about remainder of question redacted to very slightly protect my company's identity?

With one exception, images you select may be from any source - newspapers, magazines, personal photographs, or other sources. We ask that you NOT select images printed out from the Internet. Take the time to instead look through, for example, a variety of magazines for your selections.
Uh huh.
  1. I don't read newspapers or magazines anymore. Internet killed the printing press star.
  2. I don't have personal photos. Unusual, but not unheard of.
  3. I don't have "feelings" about the ambiguously worded question.
  4. I'm a goddamn software engineer.3
When I first read the late-arriving instructions I was a little irritated. But after a few moments of calm reflection I realized I was a lot irritated.4

Earlier this very day, I'd read a great, short post over at PsyBlog on the false consensus bias. This exercise is a perfect example of that phenomenon.

I am not a visual person. I'm a language guy. It's all about rhythm and meter and pacing and dialect and accent and...there are a lot of ands. When I read, I hear voices in my head. When I read a script, I hear performances in my head. When I write, the same applies.

So I complain to my coworkers. They are also irritated by the prospect, but only at the short-notice. Turns out they are all far more visual than I.

Then the debates start. Not smart debates. Our web designer - good at his job but not a serious thinker - argues that the web is an inherently visual medium. I point him to Craigslist. "That's visual, too. See, it's laid out on the screen..." He continues by saying books are inherently visual. Oy vey. Sure, I agree, typography and page design enhance a book, but it is primarily linguistic. No no, says he. Totally visual. He sees it all in his head.

Okay, but I don't. I hear it all in my head. He tells me I'm wrong a few times before we talk him down from the ledge.

I ask about a book of poetry. Is that visual as well? (My example was "Sonnets from the Portuguese", a hoary old classic, but definitely not a book of cleverly visual word pictures.) Absolutely says he and his partner. There's really no debating with someone who thinks iambic pentameter is visual.

So back to it: I can't perform this exercise. I'd like to help out and will do the best I can, but any images I did manage to bring in would be lies. I'll do my level best to explain that to Mayor McBrand on Monday, but he is, after all, just a marketing guy. The odds of him understanding complex concepts like: "not everyone reads only picture books"5 are pretty slim.

1 Name changed to protect the incompetent.
2 (= 4:25MST on Friday.)
3 Yes, I'm also an aspiring writer, but they pay me for the former.
4 That clam's still fresh enough to use, right?
5 Yes. That's right. I do read comic books. And usually I just read comic books and glance at the graphics. I'm not what Shane Smith would call visually illiterate, but it doesn't come naturally or easily to me.