Tools for finding meaning

What's it all about, then?

In theatre rehearsals (and in service design workshops), we spend a lot of thought on our message . We ask ourselves what we are trying to say with our play or customer experience.

Hang on! Don't exit stage left pursued by a groan!

This is not wishy-washy heart searching, tree-hugging or vibrating crystals, it's cold hard business. If our offering does not reflect who we truly are, our audience (or customers) will rapidly smell the inauthenticity, and will stay away in droves.

To the surprise of many (and at the cost of much initial eye-rolling) one of the more powerful tools we use to find out what we are talking about is the collage. Remember the heady smell of paper glue in fourth grade art class? That's the one. A table gets filled with ripped-out pictures, Post-its, sections of underlined texts, snapshots, sketches, even small props. When you sit back and look, you can see connections you never saw before. And - very often - the dominant themes are staring you in the face.

The Intarweb offers some tremendous (and addictive) tools for doing much the same thing, without the Copydex headache. One of my favourites is Wordle, which produces word clouds based on any text. Often, the meaning hits you right in the eye - along with a couple of surprises.
Here, for example, is Churchill's famous "fight them on the beaches" speech:



Obviously, the repeated fight refrain dominates - but so do defend, confidence, island, British, and strength. Just the sort of positive, rousing words that master orator Churchill wanted to be heard.

And here - in dangerous proximity - the word cloud for the five most popular posts on this blog:



Hmm. Stage. Audience. People. Wow. Customer. Experience....

I think it about sums it up, but I would have expected another order - so a valuable lesson for me there. Perhaps I should spend more words on the more theatrical side of my thinking...

Go on, go crazy. Stick your website, handbook and ads through a few of these visualisation tools, and see what message you are really leaving with your customers.

PS Thanks for the Wordle heads-up to ConversationAgent.
Collage tools pic by VaguelyArtistic at flickr.

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