Blog in 10 2012.
It’s all over. That’s it. Someone’s broken ranks.
From now on, when you pop into Debenhams for a coffee, you won’t be able to order a venti skinny latte. They’ve done some research and found that 70 per cent of people get confused by the Euromerican terminology that every other highstreet chain has plumped for. So they’re changing things.
Instead of an Americano, latte, mocha, espresso or cappuccino, you can get a simple coffee (black or white), a really milky coffee, a chocolate-flavoured coffee, a strong shot of coffee or a frothy coffee. And for venti and grande, read cup and mug sizes.
It sounds simple; change things back to straightforward English. But it takes balls to buck the trend – especially when that trend is followed by everyone else. And it should pay off for them, simply because the more people understand what you're selling, the more likely they are to buy.
Before I begin, let me set the scene: which word sets itself above all others?
I set off to find out.
Set your eyes on this
The largest set of definitions in the current Oxford English Dictionary is: set. It’s set apart by having 60,000 words devoted to it (or about half a novel’s worth).
A whole set of meanings
Set is pretty versatile. A hen might set on her eggs, but don’t confuse it for leaving a soufflé to set. Or setting it down on your plate. Or a heavy-set hen (set on finding her missing eggs) setting on you with her beak. Or how the setting sun is an ideal setting to set up your paint set. Okay. I’ve read set too many times now and it’s gone all weird on me.
Don’t just set pen to paper
It’s worth remembering how much meaning just one word can hold. Don’t set yourself up for failure by using something you overheard that sounded smart. If you don’t understand a word fully and the context you should use it in – don’t use it. There are plenty of other ways to say what you mean. And they’ll be a lot more natural.
New York. Boston. Portland. San Francisco. San Jose.
We’ve had a fairly tremendous workshop itinerary for the last few weeks. And on our travels, our American clients have introduced us with a word most of us Brits never use in the same way: group. As in: ‘These guys are from a group named The Writer.’
What would we say? Company, probably. That’s what we use when we introduce ourselves. Agency, maybe. But not group. I mean, we’re not U2 (thank God). Although our Nat plays a pretty mean violin.
So what is this ‘group’ thing about?
The best hypothesis I’ve come up with is that it’s a kind of collegiate thing. A deliberate blurring of the boundaries between who’s internal and who’s a ‘vendor’ (eurgh). After all, workshop participants could be from ‘a group named The Writer’, or ‘a group based in Portland called sales enablement’, so the same word puts everyone on the same level.
But I’m guessing. So, to our American cousins: what’s going on?
We’ve gone and done it.
After a few years of flirting with it, we’ve hired ourselves a designer. Now, that’s a bit rum for a place that’s all about words, you might think.
Well, so did we, for a while. But of course, we work with designers all the time – our clients’ own design teams and design agencies – and we love it when words and pictures work handsomely together.
And a funny thing kept happening: clients kept asking us if we could recommend designers who could do justice to the hard work that goes into our words. So after a while, it became a bit of a no-brainer.
It’s an unusual kind of designer who wants to work at a place called The Writer, though. One who gets language, who thinks typography is where it’s at. And one with the clout to work with some big clients with superslick brands.
Introducing Léonie: The Designer.