Coaxing order from chaos

Do you have something complicated to communicate? While it sounds counter-intuitive, simplification isn’t always the answer. When you need to preserve key details and can’t risk dumbing things down, how you structure your content can help get people on board: it’s where classification trumps simplification.

Take chemical elements for example. At the height of the scientific revolution taking place in the 19th century, one new element was being discovered every year. From helium to calcium, how could all these substances with vastly different physical properties be brought together and expressed in an engaging way that would be meaningful to the emerging fields of science?

Bringing something new to the table

Building on the thinking of other 19th century chemists, Siberian professor Dmitri Mendeleev found that by arranging elements based on their weights and behaviours they naturally fell into family groupings with shared similarities. The result was the periodic table; an incredible amount of scientific knowledge contained within a single grid: value made visible.

(Just as Paul McCartney was said to have ‘received’ the classic Beatles song Yesterday fully formed in his sleep, it’s claimed that the complete arrangement of elements in his periodic table appeared to Mendeleev in a dream. Sounds like a great excuse for napping at work to us…)

Compared to the graphs prepared by his contemporaries, the periodic table was visually dramatic but universal acceptance wasn’t immediate. Mendeleev was dismissed by critics for predicting that the gaps created by the pattern of his table meant that there were still additional chemical elements yet to be found. He was later vindicated by the discovery of germanium, gallium and scandium. And today the periodic table is one of the most iconic pillars of scientific education.

There’s no denying that Mr Mendeleev liked a bit of order and organisation. In fact, he’s also credited with introducing the metric system to the Russian Empire.

Create your own one-page wonder

So, the next time you have something rather technical you need to communicate to others– a technology, a service or even your entire business – don’t start by stripping out components. Instead, take a leaf out of old Dmitri’s book and dream up a logical way to group and layer your information so that it fits onto one page. The result is a visual reference that will keep all your messages and communications consistent. Sound impossible? Here’s a single-page framework to help your thinking.

And if you still need a hand to corral complexity into shape there’s always the CLASSIFY service from Future Positive.