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Why we love sheep pictures

Why we love sheep pictures

By Matt Arozian

My colleague Kristina Sussman just completed this beautiful brochure for the Office of the CIO at USDA.

ENC's Brochure for the Office of the CIO at USDA

USDA OCIO Brochure.

As you might expect, it’s packed with pictures of farming, forestry, and food—the primary elements of USDA’s mission. It also includes a lot of screenshots and diagrams depicting the IT capabilities the OCIO offers to USDA organizations.

And then there are the sheep:

The sheep as depicted in the USDA OCIO brochure.

Two-page spread from the USDA OCIO brochure.

These guys are a big hit. They’re in the brochure. They’re in the hallways on the flatscreen displays. They’ll probably be on the home page of the OCIO website. Why are these sheep so popular? For our client and general public it’s certainly because they’re just so darn cute. But at ENC, we love them for a different reason—they solved a big problem for us.

Much of our work revolves around technology, which makes finding good photos difficult. Most technology pictures are chilly and devoid of human interest. Technologies such as software don’t exist in a physical form you can photograph (many don’t even come in boxes anymore). And even if you could find an interesting picture of it, the technology isn’t actually the point. It’s a means to an end—and usually that end is some type of real impact on real people.

The capabilities described in the OCIO brochure certainly depend on servers, networks, and IT security, but their impact lies in the way they ultimately keep kids healthy and citizens safe. Technology is understood by the intellect, but its real value is felt by the heart. To convey that value, we need to communicate emotionally as well as intellectually.

This leads us back to the big problem. In a brochure or on a website, the intellectual stuff is usually conveyed by the text—all the facts, details, and benefits—and perhaps a few charts or diagrams. The emotional content is best delivered with images, especially pictures of people. Picturing people presents the problem: representing all their vibrant diversity.

In our country, we have government by and for all the people. It’s wildly inappropriate to neglect diversity in a government publication. So how do we communicate emotionally when space and context limit our ability to represent diversity? In this one particular case, the sheep were the answer.

In one image, they convey the full emotional scope of the OCIO’s capabilities: food, clothing, economic security and the need to protect all of those things. They represent diversity in their own way. Even though their wool’s all the same color, the animals display great individuality in their attitudes and personalities.

Notice too, that they’re looking squarely into the camera, making a direct connection with the viewer. And finally, they’re composed in a great photo that’s perfect for that two-page spread and as the flagship image of the brochure.

Good design is purely intentional and carefully calculated. Nothing is left to chance. We owe it to our client to communicate their messages with all the power, tools, and methods we have available to us.

We love the sheep for making it a little easier to do that job a little better.

About Matt Arozian

VP of Strategic and Creative Services specializing in messaging

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