Chiasmus and the Poetic Pagination
~ 24 January 2005 ~
So the boss comes to you and says the company needs a new product brochure. Apart from the part where you ask him how soon and he says “Yesterday!”, you have no idea where to begin.
Ever found yourself in a corner like this?
Such was the predicament I found myself in last August while working on a new product brochure for AdvancedMD. Though I had most of the content on hand, I had relatively no idea how to present the content.
The typical song and dance followed — examine the content, analyze the objectives, thumb through other brochures, weed through a few portfolios online, and so on. But none of that seemed to produce ideas for a logical content flow on this particular piece.
It seems the most useful inspiration is often found in the most irrelevant places. And that was exactly the case with this brochure. In the end, I turned to a medium free of pictures and sales pitches. I found inspiration in ancient literature of all places, borrowing a style of communication used more frequently than we realize: the chiasmus.
Though at first it sounds complicated, a chiasmus (pronounced ky-as-mus) is relatively easy to understand and almost as easy to execute. Technically speaking, a chiasmus is described as introverted parallelism. But if that makes absolutely no sense to you, no worries. Here’s some less-technical jargon: A chiasmus is a pattern of words or ideas stated once, then stated again but in reverse order.
Try this example: “Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed.” In bold are repeated ideas, and it should be obvious that the ideas are repeated in reverse.
Make sense? Work with me people! I promise there’s a strong tie to the product brochure featured in this article.
Back in September 2004, I presented a poem in memoriam of 9/11, The Fallen Will Forever Stand. Repeated here is that poem:
Knowing I’d someday author the very article you’re reading now, I intentionally wrote this poem as one giant chiasmus. Here’s the same poem, but with a breakdown of the chiastic structure:
Apparent by now is the fact that a chiasmus is 1) well-structured and 2) layered with repeated ideas “pointing” to a central theme. And that’s essentially the point of a chiasmus. It forces one to organize thoughts and ideas, and to present them to the reader in a structured, meaningful format.
That’s fine and dandy, but how does all of this relate to a product brochure, you ask? Simple. Of all the ways to organize the pages of a brochure, why not add a chiasmus to the mix?
The Poetic Pagination
If a chiasmus forces one to organize thoughts and ideas in an artistic format, it seems the logic of such can be applied the pagination structure of a product brochure. So for this particular brochure, I took a chiasmus format and ran with it.
Shown below in numerical order are the pages from this 20-pg brochure, with a breakdown of the chiastic structure:
Now, the chiasmus in this piece isn’t perfect, but it sure is close. Repeated ideas lead to a central theme, which in this case are seven reasons to choose AdvancedMD. Here’s a snapshot of the center spread:
Just before printing, pages 14–15 (the second ‘D’ above) were drastically redesigned to produce a revenue cycle model that could very well replace the seven reasons as the central theme. Nonetheless, the idea still has merit.
What to make of all this? Good question. In fact, one might argue that the chiasmus does nothing to strengthen a theme nor focus reader attention. Perhaps that argument holds water. And I don’t recommend any of us use the chiasmus all too frequently, unless warranted.
But at the end of the day, one thing’s for sure: The chiasmus sure beats the typical song and dance.
NoteA technical element in one or more of the diagrams above has been labeled incorrectly according to common practices. I’ll send a signed copy of the brochure featured in this article to the first person to spot the error. UPDATE: Kudos, Michael B. See comments.
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