Lessons from a Logo: the Curse of Knowledge

The final 3chord Marketing logo (top left), the first iteration (bottom right), and a peek at how we got there. 

The final 3chord Marketing logo (top left), the first iteration (bottom right), and a peek at how we got there. 

Nearly one year ago, I was sitting at a local restaurant with my colleague, Travis Davis—a talented designer and my coworker at CE Solutions. We were meeting to brainstorm logo ideas for soon-to-launch 3chord Marketing. I wanted a logo that was consistent with my personal brand. And given the musical metaphors behind the company name and considering my fascination with logos featuring hidden messages—I wanted to have some fun with the symbol.

With brews as our muse, Travis and I sketched out logo ideas that incorporated guitar picks and music notes, but kept coming back to my favorite concept—a guitar body outline creating the three in 3chord Marketing. We came up with a concept we both liked, high fived, paid the tab, and Travis’ next step was to translate our sketch into a graphic with the help of his design software.

After Travis drafted the logo, it was time to get feedback. We looked at the logo and clearly saw “3chord Marketing,” but wondered… what about people who didn’t know the company name?

They didn’t see the three. And it was interesting to witness their reactions.

When I asked people if they could tell what the logo said, most of the time, they replied, “yeah, Chord Marketing!” But to the people who knew my company name, the three was obvious. “How did they not see it was a three?!” a family member asked. 

The reason: a cognitive bias called the Curse of Knowledge. When we know something others don’t, we forget what it’s like not to know, and we subconsciously assume others understand the situation at the same level we do.

Those of us who knew the company name were primed to see the three. But most of my audience wouldn’t see what we saw, so Travis and I needed to take a different approach. We made some changes to the thickness of the three and—most importantly—reduced its size, setting it in line with “chord.”

That did the trick. Right away, people I surveyed responded with the correct company name.

Being sensitive to the Curse of Knowledge helps us communicate and manage our relationships more effectively. And when it comes to connecting with our audiences, there’s no such thing as too much clarity. As it relates to the communication strategies and tactics in your organization, consider the following actions to overcome the Curse of Knowledge:

  • On a macro level, conduct internal and external perception surveys to understand your firm’s reputation and compare it to your own understanding and assumptions. Where are the gaps?
  • Use specificity and the power of stories to provide clarity in your content.
  • Engage contacts who haven’t been involved in your project (like my logo reviewers hadn't) to review your messaging or approach and provide feedback on how it resonates. 

The Curse of Knowledge is common, and with today’s multitude of interactions and the speed of incoming information, opportunities for miscommunication abound. But being aware of this bias is the first step in addressing it.

What techniques have you found helpful in addressing the Curse of Knowledge?