philosphy: Sondheim’s principles

One of my greatest creative influences is the legendary composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His core principles to lyric writing can be applied to crafting all forms of effective storytelling.

From his book Finishing the Hat:

“In no particular order, and to be written in stone:

Content Dictates Form

Less is More

God is in the Details

all in the service of


without which nothing else matters.”

My thoughts on how these principles apply to communications design:

Content Dictates Form

Automation and templates can be useful and efficient, especially with online communications. Unfortunately, they can also detract audiences by homogenizing content and diluting messaging.

When using templates, it is important to customize your materials so that each image and piece of text appears to have been created specifically for that delivery method. Inadvertently projecting poor craftsmanship, like bad crops, cut-off statements, and fuzzy, distorted images (among other examples), can be instant turnoffs to a prospective new customer, client or referral.

Remember, if you look and sound like everyone else, you can appear generic, cheap and of poor value. To stand out from your competition, you must be distinctive and emphasize your unique message, story and presentation.

Less is More

The new world order of communications has become a giant mass of clutter. The mounds of media fighting for attention often comes across as messy, redundant, overwhelming and repellent.

How can you be heard and stand out from the crowd when surrounded by so much commotion? It’s not about saying as much as you can or trying to shout the loudest. It’s about trimming away all of the excess fat so that all that remains is the leanest, most succulent bite for your audience to savor.

The art of editing is a powerful tool that enables your content to sing, attract attention and rise above the noise.

God is in the Details

Effectively articulating your story and message requires a combination of organization and creativity that is part puzzle, part clean-up and part innovation.

Integrating the pieces together into a unified entity with a clear voice is key.

Meticulousness is required to make sure you remove all distractions – like typos, poor alignment and inaccuracies, among others.

Also, subtle inspired accents can add inviting embellishments that make your content reverberate and echo within your audience so that they will feel a deeper connection with you and what you have to share and offer.

Clarity – without which nothing else matters

If your viewer, reader or user doesn’t hear you and tunes out, you have nothing. If your value is buried in chaos, you have nothing. Pretty pictures and motion can create attention, but if they aren’t in alignment with your message and attuned to your audience, they create a dizzy disconnect and you have nothing. If you look and sound like everyone else around you, you become invisible and can appear shallow, formulaic and disingenuous – and you have nothing.

Some of the best communication design is that which is hidden in plain sight – so that the literal and visceral information intended to be conveyed is effectively and effortlessly received and absorbed.

My business, CLO Communications, specializes in translating complexity into clarity.

“Everybody matters. Everyone just wants to be heard.” – Oprah Winfrey

By following these principles, I help my clients be focused, be compelling and be heard.


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