People like pictures. We always have, from cave paintings to USA Today. But picture books? Not something most execs would want to be caught reading in business class. Yet witness the minor onslaught of career-help books that rely on colorful fonts, witty aphorisms, and large, eye-grabbing images in the name of thinking outside the box.
Keith Yamashita was among the first to see the writing on the wall. His 2004 book, Unstuck, packaged as "a tool for yourself, your team, and your world," featured ideas and images intended to jog readers out of their creative doldrums. Change the Way You See Everything, by Kathryn Cramer, gave us acronyms and word formulas ("hindsight + insight = foresight").
And this spring, two more colorful guides caught our eye—Paul Arden's Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite and Karim Rashid's Design Your Self. "People want information fast," says ad guru and author Arden. "They want it simply presented and easy to grab." More to the point, he says, "Knowledge doesn't have to be so serious."
The problem, according to Will Weisser, associate publisher and director of marketing for Portfolio, Arden's U.S. publisher, is that such highly illustrated books are "expensive and tricky to produce." Which is why many biz picture books are crafted by famous people who bring built-in audiences.
Designer and Target impresario Rashid's latest book channels Apple's design motif—rounded fonts, bright colors, bold silhouettes (his own appears four times on the cover). Alongside colorful patterns and optical illusions, the book features hit-or-miss tips on life ("Do not buy useless, kitschy souvenirs"), love ("Ladies, always remove your makeup before bed"), work ("Check your spelling"), and play ("Burn incense… ").
It's not just the words that get tired. Cramer's Change the Way You See Everything fails to follow its own advice, packing in familiar photos better suited to a PowerPoint presentation. It even features the holy trinity of image clichés: a half-full glass of water, Rodin's The Thinker, and someone peering through binoculars.
Obviously, not every picture speaks a thousand words. But for these authors, the goofy-illustration approach seems to work just fine. Why? "For one thing," Arden says, "I'm not a writer." Then there's the happy fact that his last graphics-heavy, text-light book, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be, sold half a million copies worldwide.
USA Today called it "a wonderfully designed manifesto."
A version of this article appeared in the June 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.