Communicating is telling stories. Stories that really touch people are about the reader. He recognizes himself in the mirror of his own agenda items. This could even be the essence of communication: that communication only works if the recipient has an interest in it. Interest is beautiful, but importance is the decisive factor when it comes to generating attention.

Communication does not consist only of written texts. Increasingly it is about imagination: illustration or photography. And moving image such as animation, film and video. The spoken word also has its own role in this. Design, in whatever way, puts all of this in a framework and gives context to the content. In that context, it is about stories and recognition. Without those two, no basis for contact.


Long time ago I had a discussion with a customer and a copywriter. The customer had provided a text for his website. In it he summed up his qualities straightforwardly. My colleague, a journalist who also contributes to the assignment, pointed out that this form of self-promotion does not come across very well. What now? My colleague gave as an example that an interview technique would make the story of my client more appealing to the imagination. Something like that makes the difference visible between ‘To Tell’ and ‘To Show’.

By letting the interviewee make statements and by telling visual anecdotes, the story about qualities becomes more convincing. Arguments get depth, they breathe the spirit from which they work, the story comes to life and is no longer a dead letter. What else do you want to convince?

Personally, I am in favor of the concept of ‘Be Good and Show It’. That has to do with my background as a designer (… according to a female copywriter who adheres to the concept ‘Be Good and Tell’, because she works for big brands). My colleague chose my side of the story. According to him, ‘To Show’ is much more effective than ‘To Tell’. But does there exist one approach that makes all others superfluous?

I myself have started to see more nuance in this diversity of viewpoints. They include the following statement, by Chinese sages thousands of years ago: ‘tell me and I will forget it, show it to me and I will remember it, involve myself and I will understand it’.

You often encounter this statement on the internet. Sometimes in a different form. Not without significance! For example: ‘tell me and I will forget it, show it to me and I will understand it, involve me and I will connect’. This latter way of saying seems to me more in harmony with a Chinese way of thinking. The quote is attributed to Confucius, but you certainly never know if that is true. Benjamin Franklin has used the quote a lot. Today’s consultants also use it as a motto. Chinese sayings like this are very modern. Even though they are thousands of years old. They show profound insight into timeless truth.

Back to the text.

The saying examines forms of effective communication. The thoughts on this are given shape through three aspects (one does not exclude the other). The latter is important to realize. First we look at the third part of the quote: ‘involve me and I will connect’. This is about making contact. Without contact, the surfer on the internet is quickly a mouse click further. Or in the case of printed matter: your brochures immediately end up in the trash. As said before, people prefer to read about their own problems or issues. They have an interest in that. If you make it clear that you understand the reader and perhaps have a solution or insights for him, you catch their attention and hold it for longer.

The middle part of the quote: ‘show me and I will understand’ is about the ‘Show It’ method. The display can be done by means of text (such as the aforementioned interview technique or another editorial formula), but also by using visual material. Many new customers had seen my portfolio beforehand and read my web or blog texts and, when they were introduced, spoke the words: “I want that too!” Sometimes this enthusiasm was a form of recommendation by others. You can not wish for a better form of advertising. Seeing is believing and if a friend tells you this, it finds, faster than usual, an ear that is willing to listen.

Does the first part of the quote remain dark now?

In Chinese philosophy nothing is without value. Let’s take another look at: ‘tell me and I will forget’. Lao Tze already said: ‘Those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know’. A plea for few words. And as with all Chinese philosophy, this is also a paradox. For the complete writings of Zhuang Zi (from which 99% of the Chinese wisdom quotations are derived) consist of thousands of words … So why ‘a recipe for forgetting or not to tell …’?


In China, ‘forgotten’ means returning to your original state: becoming like a newborn baby. Its like a block of rough, unscaled wood. Also a plea, to work and live authentically. Or: ‘just be as you are’.

Communication does not work differently.

If you tell your own story in this way, then the appropriate form, content and context are the support bars of your success.

A good and thoughtful approach helps you.

And your reader.

This way you do not just put a story in the scaffoldings, but you make it as strong as a house. Let the guests come! Naturally. They are welcome! And that is what makes your story unforgettable!

Huub Koch (Rotterdam, 1956) studied Visual Communication at the Willem de Kooning Academy (Netherlands) and the Hochschule für Gestaltung (Germany). He is a visual strategist, creative designer, design philosopher, blogger, vlogger, book reviewer, speaker and essayist. Koch debuted in 1975 as a poet, serialist and prosaist. He was active as stage designer, documentary photographer, visual artist and as a design entrepreneur. As a publicist in his field he contributed on: ‘The Education of a Typographer’, ‘Flyerdam’, ‘Web-TV’, En dan nu de Polonaise, Beweging in de zaak’ and ‘Ontdek Vloggen’. Since 2015 he writes essays for literary magazine Extaze. He finds his joy in every mode of ‘the art of living’ that makes his heart beat faster. Just wrote two books, and that is ‘the start of something new’.


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