Consistency vs. creativity: In signage, in terminology, in life

What’s wrong with this sign?

It seems to work just fine as far as I can tell. Whenever I see this sign in a store window, I know exactly what it means. And even those signs that dismiss with the first two words also work perfectly well.

And yet, for some retailers, this simple, affordable, ubiquitous sign, isn’t good enough.

There is a force at work within us humans, that darned creativity. This urge to take something as ordinary as a sign and reinvent it. Despite all the benefits of consistency, sometimes creativity gets in the way.

I witnessed this firsthand when I visited Bend, Oregon recently and encountered two “Closed” signs that are not quite so ubiquitous.

Like this one:

And this one:

The “Nope” sign is a clever anagram of “Open.” I’ve seen this in a handful of boutique windows, though it’s still far from common.

Here are two retailers who could have purchased a simple sign at Home Depot for a few dollars but chose instead to get fancy. To get creative.

And this, in a nutshell, is why terminology management is a never-ending (perhaps Sisyphean) challenge for translation executives.

Creative people, like copywriters and designers, often enjoy breaking the rules. They like to reinvent. They like to tweak.

But translation costs go up when rules are broken, when terminology is reinvented or tweaked.

Unless there is some regulatory body involved that mandates consistency, expect creativity to rear its head from time to time.

This isn’t a bad thing. The tension is healthy, if not necessary. Consistency actually can fuel creativity — by inspiring creatives to invent better designs, slogans, signage. And creativity is needed to ensure that your company’s text and visuals — and signage — truly reflect your brand. That’s one reason why I’m always on the lookout for creative global gateways.

Consistency and creativity are like the yin and yang of business. The key is in finding the right balance between the two.




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1 thought on “Consistency vs. creativity: In signage, in terminology, in life”

  1. Good posting, John. I have seen many a terminology decisions go wrong because creativity was stalled. Creativity must be present. But it should come in early in the process. Once a name or term has been set, consistency is the name of the game. As you put it, the key is the right balance.

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