The Art of Communication in Tech

Leejay Schmidt
Apr 30, 2018 · 7 min read

Communication…the ever-evolving art of effectively delivering a message to one’s audience. With that surface-level definition, communication would seem to be nothing more than a basic expression of one’s thoughts, whether it be in oral or written form. Simple enough, right? Yet so many people fail at it, and arguably the worst failures in connecting the message with the audience occur in the tech industry.

It is certainly understandable why this is the case. One only needs to look as far as the recent grilling of Mark Zuckerberg by Congress to realize how much is not understood about the internet, how internet and tech companies operate and make revenue, and how activity is tracked when the services are not directly in use. People think cookies are the thing that the furry blue creature on Sesame Street eats, that you send emails about Black Panther through What’s App that are magically decrypted to serve ads, and that services are magically free and making money off of some money tree. Quite likely is the case that this ignorance may actually be purposely seeded by major tech players who require data and analytics to drive their core business model, wherein they likely use purposely complicated verbiage and jargon to instil a feeling that the internet and tech simply cannot be understood by those not gifted in the art of computer science. Similar to a vehicle manufacturer that often makes things as simple as an oil change seem complicated in order to push people to their local dealership service department, so too do tech companies overcomplicate topics that should not be overcomplicated in order to prevent the anxiety of people who are using their services. It’s the classic “this is too complicated so just trust us, you’re safe” approach, and it’s worked all too well.

Ignorance is not always bliss.

While this communication strategy works for limited cases where willful ignorance assists the core business model, for many tech companies ignorance means lack of adoption. This means death for most companies. Sound grim? Good, it should. In the Facebook case, the data usage appears etherial to most people — they use the service which at its surface is very simple, and they get presented with ads. No real thought goes into what happens in the black box between user and ad. But if you take a company like Apple, where there are many complicated moving parts to their products, tying together user experience and technicalities can be hugely complicated.

(I know, you’re probably thinking “oh great, here goes another rant about how amazing Apple is at marketing and stuff,” and you’re right. But please, bear with me…I’ll try to keep it short, and they’re actually a great example.)

How does Apple sell people on using their products? Simplicity and humanity. They market their products not on their technical specifications like the number of cores or the megapixels on the camera, but rather on how the product would fit into your daily life and how it looks and feels. They don’t sell you on their product, but instead on the lifestyle that their products enable.

Focus on why you do what you do.

Our own company has been going through this for ourselves. We have something people have identified as a need. Yet, when we were pitching it to people, they weren’t connecting with it. Sometimes there was a confused response (you know, the one with the glazed, absent look in their eyes where they’re basically begging for mercy), other times it was a simple “that sounds cool” with a quick nod. We had a clear pain point, but we were trying to sell people on the technology rather than the lifestyle…and technology is not easily digestible. We regrouped, tore apart our messaging, and examined why were doing what we were doing — we wanted to make people’s lives seamless and simple, removing all of the menial tasks that take people away doing what is important to them, from family and social time, to hobbies, to work. This drove us to move our core slogan from “Tomorrow’s Smart Home OS” to “Just Live.” This will obviously continue to evolve, but already there’s been a huge difference on how excited people get with this new messaging. People see what the system provides, rather than what it is.

Only say what you need to say.

Technical people are notorious for barraging people with deep technical details that they never asked for. This mindset rears its ugly head with the user interfaces and experiences that are present in software that was not informed by general users — too many features that are immediately presented, making navigation impossibly difficult for the average user and leading many people to either accidentally break the software or cease use all together out of frustration. A properly designed piece of software puts the less frequently used features inside of well-formed menus or secondary navigation endpoints, making it accessible for those who are power users, but removing the clutter for the average user.

If you are technical person or a tech company, you need to bring these user interface and user experience design concepts into your core communication strategy. Minimizing your talking, communicating in a way that is responsive to your audience and their technical expertise level, and letting your audience guide your depth of conversation will yield great results. This is not to say that you should not communicate what you are doing, but you should be doing so in the fewest words possible without being excessively logos-driven. Remove unnecessary details, focussing instead on how you are removing complication and pain for them. The irony is that often technical people, while trying to explain with a high level of technicality to people how their solution solves their pain, end up actually putting their audience through pain because they simply don’t want to hear how the entire system works. If the audience wants to know those technical details, they will ask for them. For everyone else, focus on triggering the imagination of people so that they can create their own view of how your product or solution will work for them. Let them sell themselves on your product, with you just facilitating the exercise. This means moving away from a purely logos-driven (logical) communication approach, and rather using pathos (emotions) and ethos (credibility) to better round out the communication.

Imagine being stuck in a room with someone who rants for hours on end about how amazing the Intel Core series processors are because of their architecture, how many gigaflops an NVIDIA graphics processor can do, front side bus speeds, DDR3 versus LPDDR3 RAM, and so on and so forth, and you cannot escape them. This is how you sound if you talk about your product in overly technical terms without being prompted for that information. Don’t be that person. Just. Don’t.

Why does it matter?

Radically overhauling one’s communication sounds taxing, does it not? So why would you even do it? Well, great question dear reader!

First off, people tend to like making money (or at least enough to survive…that’s sort of important). It’s much harder to make money if you aren’t selling product. This communication strategy is almost guaranteed to drive up sales and build brand loyalty. Money == Good. Communication Revamp == Money. Therefore, Communication Revamp == Good.

Secondly, you want loyalty from not only your users, but also loyalty from your employees. You want them to wake up every morning feeling empowered by what they’re working on. Technical details will get them interested, but vision and purpose will make them passionate. It’s that passion that you want to create because you will get better quality work and less attrition, which is better for everyone. Communication is what does that.

Thirdly, it’s an ethical thing. A poor communication strategy from some major tech players has now proven that purposely seeded ignorance can cause everything from distrust in technology to identity theft to the slow destruction of democracy and the modern world as we know — all because people don’t know what’s going on. Do you want to be the one who causes the fall of society? Yeah, I didn’t think so (I really hope you answered no to that).

Changing communication going forward

We need to change, as an industry, how we communicate. This might start with communication training for all technical people, but something needs to change. We owe it to the world to prevent distrust in and fear of technology due to either poor or unethical communication use. It all starts with a little thought and caring about other people.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 320,131+ people.

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Leejay Schmidt

Written by

Software developer and former tech founder, who likes to apply a critical lens to everything to see what can be learned and how to grow from it.

The Startup

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