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Ask a designer: getting across mixed messages


This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things – or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form.



How do you successfully get across a deliberately mixed message, i.e. vintage silver is cool and modern?

by SilverMagpies


This may not be quite what you expected to hear, but I think that those kinds of messages are actually easier to get across — if you do it right. And, in most cases, that means show, don’t tell.

No, I am not saying you have to use a photo that illustrates your point. (Or that you shouldn’t use one, for that matter.)

What I am saying is that the most effective way to persuade someone to let go of their old beliefs, to keep an open mind, to consider a different perspective is by saying or showing something that will help them reach that very conlusion. By themselves.

As Bill Bernach put it, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”.

In other words, if you simply tell me that vintage silver is cool and modern, it is very likely I will politely ignore you. If you repeat it many many times without adding any kind of evidence, it’s possible that I will develop an even stronger aversion to it simply because you’re trying to shove it down my throat. (Ok, that could be just me, I’m pretty stubborn. But I have a feeling it isn’t.)

However, if instead of telling me how I should view vintage silver, you show me an example of appealing, modern use for it, I will see it in an entirely different light.

A quick example inspired by that photo you recently posted


The most beautiful ipod earphone holder was created two centuries before the ipod.

Messages like this, that show  a modern, different use for vintage silver, are intriguing. They don’t outright try to break the beliefs we may have — rather, it shows us a path to that unexpected conclusion.

And when it is your reader or you potential client that puts the two and two together and arrives at the conclusion that vintage silver is indeed cool and modern, it is much more powerful and memorable to them than if you repeat the phrase a million times.

To achieve this effect, specific and unexpected examples usually work best. Or even exaggerated ones. As long as they make a valid point. Something that breaks out of the mass of same-old communication.


You can say that a car has a rear view mirror, or you can show it.

What does the prevailing vintage silver communication imply?

First thoughts that come to mind:

Something treasured by grandma. Memories. Something to treasure, respect, care for.

(That just might be what scares most modern people off. We have more than enough things to care for.)

And if you look at the visual representation? Dark colors. Old-fashioned script fonts. A very serious, traditional mood that’s fit for royalty.

Your unexpected element could be anything that doesn’t fit that mold.

It can be subtle or bold. Sometimes just an intriguing headline can be enough. Sometimes the colors and the mood.

Choosing the mood you are going for and carrying it through all your communication pieces is most effective, of course. I suspect you already know this, since that is exactly what you are doing: bright colors and clean layouts that suggest modern and cool, message that is reinforced in everything you write and say.

Depending on your goals, it can be taken a step further, of course.

Specific examples of how silver is modern shown in your communication, perhaps exaggerated beyond the usual, or just a captured moment that otherwise would escape unnoticed.

(Other examples of not-quite-expected uses? A teapot as a vase is another one you already have. A silver spoon used at a picnic; casually dressed girl with vintage silver ornament that completely transforms her look are other possiilities… So is the fact that dishwasher is silver-friendly. And that the sheen is made better through use. Situations people can relate to and picture themselves in – slightly transformed by the addition of vintage silver.)

I am not suggesting anything shocking or bizzare, not here — though in some cases it may work.  But that’s a whole other topic, worth exploring in a separate post.

Just.. unexpected enough to capture attention. Familiar enough to relate to. These messages register best when there is something truly unexpected about them – but when the main theme is still recognizable.

Whether this is done through words, images or colors, depends on the specific case. But, as I said, you are already doing this! I don’t think anyone who has talked to you or read your blog or book can still think of vintage silver as something to be confined to the attic. And that is quite an accomplishment in itself.

How much further you want to take your message is really up to you. But I have a feeling you won’t be stopping here!