It is impossible to not know what you already know – By @LawrenceESlater

By Lawrence Slater


It is impossible to not know what you already know


I first heard the term ‘curse of knowledge’ in the reading list book ‘made to stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath. This is a problem everyone has on a day to day basis when telling a story and not quite giving enough background information, this causes the person receiving the story not fully understanding. This is due to you expecting the person listening to already have some background information on the topic.

The term ‘curse of knowledge’ has (according to Wikipedia) been around since 1989, but the same type of problem must have existed when humans first started communicating with each other along time ago. Maybe early Egyptian cave paintings mean something totally different to what we translate them to today?

I think with visual communication (definitely adverts) this is very interesting as you are often trying to express something in the most simple way possible so the viewer can understand it with ease and speed. For me there is a fine line where something is simple but has everything to communicate the whole story clearly. I think it is very easy to over edit a message in order to make it simple. In doing this however you take away some vital information and your work is therefore not understood by the viewer.

With ‘gallery art’ I believe this is less of a problem as work can have hidden meanings or several deeper messages but still work well as decoration. The purpose of it isn’t to communicate it’s message with speed.

Previously when working as an illustrator this kind of problem would appear in images but I had developed techniques and would always find multiple signs and suggestions to characters, actions and objects I was drawing to communicate clearly. For example, to show something is electric simply a power cable and socket can be drawn coming out of it. To show someone is walking with pace rather than slowly sweat can be added to their brow. With my drawing work there was always a back a forth with art directors and as I became more experienced there would be less  images that didn’t communicate or tell the whole story clearly. I think these things do like anything just take practise. With video and moving image for me different practise is needed…

During the silent movie task I found the ‘curse of knowledge’ was our teams biggest problem. We were trying to communicate a mood and feelings with a pineapple which probably is not the easiest, the team knew the mood but did that communicate in our video? I personally thought the movie we were creating was telling our story clearly, however when outsiders viewed it they got a completely different message. In the end to tell the story clearly we had to add captions to point the audience in the right direction.

I have been trying to think of solutions and ways to solve or work around this all week. It is impossible to not know what you already know in order to view your work and make clear judgements on if it is successful for an audience. I think the only solutions are to get outsiders feedback to your work and just a lot of practise in working with different mediums.

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