The other day I re-watched Dr. No. It had been on my list for a long time due to its cultural relevance. One of the things that struck me in this film was the balanced use of plot cues. Things are simply not explained ostensibly, which gives the alert viewer enough time to process information and come to her own conclusions. The beautiful thing is that even if you don´t immediately understand what is happening (e.g. some specific gadget is used and you don´t know what it is), later in the story this will be explained in a very natural way.
It´s a win-win. If you pay attention to details you get the plot earlier, if you don´t, you won´t be insulted by patronizing explanations that break the flow of the narrative.
This got me thinking about subtlety and why I appreciate it. I suspect that most people that appreciate it do it for similar reasons, but maybe I´m wrong. If you think so, please just hit me up on the comment box below.
Subtlety in communication relies on the precise dosing of information needed to convey an idea. The least information that is given, the more the message relies on shared knowledge. This why designers tend to love overly minimal signage, while some other people just don´t see the beauty or usefulness in it. Just ask my mom. Designers share a pool of knowledge in the visual arts and usability standards, that allows them to bridge the gap.
Subtlety can be an efficient way of communicating among peers, but it risks complete failure if the participants don´t have enough in common. And we know this. When we need absolute certainty, we are not subtle. In fact adjusting the level of explicitness (here considered to be the opposite) in communication is an important social skill.
And once I started paying more attention to the topic, I realized the subtlety in communication is a social tool. It groups people, including and excluding participants, depending on their shared knowledge or experiences. This is why some fashion brands don´t display their logos ostensibly and opt to brand their creations through discreet details. Naturally, the market for these brands is one that appreciates such a low-key approach. This works with a small, defined market because there is a shared background.
But more mainstream brands that sell to loosely defined markets will have some trouble calibrating this subtlety, given that a larger market will mean more diversity.
So what does this mean? Well, I think it means that subtlety is a better way to build a relationship. It means that you run some risks, but when it works it is so rewarding!
Being subtle requires that you think of the other and what do you have in common,
it implies that the other matters.
Compare this with “Like our page on Facebook” and you get my point.