• Julie Nicholls

My life's a board game


Explaining to people what I do for a living always seems to be problematic. If I use the word branding, they tend to either glaze over or ask what that is. If I say I’m a designer, they ask what I design, and that too is fraught with issues. Well, I now have the perfect response the next time someone asks me what I do. Turns out I am trained in the art of Pictionary.

Last weekend the family dusted off the box which hasn’t seen the light of day in years and sharpened their pencils. I’m the only one in the family to go into the creative industry so you would think that would give me the advantage…

For anyone who has not played Pictionary, the game is basically like charades played with pencil and paper. You have one minute to draw a person, object, place or action without using any letters, numbers or words. Wild hand gestures are of course allowed.

Feel free to play along at home and see if you would have got any of the answers. What I found fascinating, aside from the faces my dad pulls when drawing, is how everyone’s thought processes worked. When faced with words like ‘slow’ the drawings quickly flowed. The good old snail is well known for demonstrating that trait. But what of words like ‘flip’ or ‘fine’ or ‘frozen’? Words where you can’t fall back on a visual shorthand. These involved a lot more pencil chewing, vigorous underlining and cries of “oh come on, it’s so obvious – say what you see”.


Rather than try and think of another way of pictorially explaining the word, people resorted to adding extra embellishments to what was already there. Falling into that age old design trap of overcomplicating what you have rather than starting over and trying to solve the problem from another angle.

Whilst it was a highly entertaining couple of hours, it got me thinking that this process is a lot like what I go through when working on a new branding project. Those few pencil lines need to convey an emotion to the man on the street, or my dad on his sofa. It might be trust, heritage, innovation, craftsmanship, style or quality; all words that you would groan at in Pictionary. They need to convey to a potential customer something about the brand in the blink of an eye. Oh, and the design needs to be unique too.

Ok, so I’m oversimplifying this a bit. Us designers have a much easier time of it. For starters, we have more than a minute to make the magic happen. We also have colour, fonts and positioning statements to help us convey an emotion. But the underlying principles are the same. That is why the next time I get asked what I do for a living I’m going to tell them I play Pictionary.

So, with my unfair advantage, did I win? No – another valuable life lesson – you are only as good as your other team members!

Answers: 1. Chocolate mousse 2. Cheese omelette 3. Flip 4. Underground 5. Microscopic 6. Fridge

7. I still have no idea!

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My 85-second pitch...

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