When you add another cluttered piece of creative to an already cluttered media environment, you’re making a pretty common communications mistake. It’s called blending in. Which, last time I checked, is not a metric most marketing folks would gleefully present at the quarterly board meeting.

Next time, subtract. Then subtract some more. Finally, when you think you’ve subtracted all you can, subtract even more.

Subtract words. Subtract design elements. Ask yourself: What’s necessary? What’s not? What elements can be combined? What information is redundant? What can you spill onto your landing page instead of trying to cram it into a quarter-page newspaper ad? Be brutal about editing your work and you’ll become a better communicator.

sign in the Winter Haven downtown parking garage


This parking garage is in downtown Winter Haven. Why waste space restating the obvious? And I think everybody can recognize a phone number by now. I only kept “phone” as a verb to achieve the active voice.

 My mentor once nailed me to the wall with his red ink pen over a three-panel brochure burdened by what he called “excess baggage.” I’d thought I’d written a fabulously brilliant three-panel brochure, filled with lovely adverbs and flowery prose. Watching him strike through the chaff and strip it down to its essence was a wonder to behold and one of most powerful lessons I’ve ever learned in the agency business. 

 Through the years, I saw him do the same thing to over-decorated layouts on many occasions (he was an equal opportunity subtractor).  

An awful, wordy newspaper ad

On your right, an easy target for subtraction (as well as a graveyard for bad typography and clip art).

Why be so brutal? Never has the world been more cluttered. Never have we been more distracted by the ever-present pings of technology. It’s why managing information and content – leveraging the power of less – is so crucial. The bottom line: Do you want your audience to notice and engage in your web ad, billboard, email or landing page? Give them space and mental breathing room. Make subtraction a priority in your communications formula.

P.S. Not surprisingly, subtraction also applies to virtually every form of communication  – emails, proposals, logo designs, presentations, even garage signs and blog posts.

Thanks to Austin Kleon, whose book “Steal Like An Artist” promotes the “Creativity is Subtraction” technique. Naturally, I stole my post title from him. http://austinkleon.com/steal/