Sometimes your message is unclear because it’s overly complicated, leaving the reader/viewer confused as to what you even mean.

Ambiguity is another issue, where the reader may think they understand perfectly what you’re getting at. In this case they’re not confused, but they’re also taking something different away from your message than you intended.

I can give you a good example with a handle I’ve used. Sort of as an homage to a character I’d created in games and short stories, I wanted to evoke imagery of swords clashing and of sharp wit — something like a warrior poet. I thought that “ironscribe” seemed cool in this regard and it spoke to me. After the fact, though, most people’s reaction to it was that I was drawing a comparison to TV shows like Iron Chef. The interpretation then was that I was calling myself a hardcore writer, to which a few people commented admiringly about the boldness.

It’s not what I meant, but I can totally see why they’d read it that way now. I stuck with it because I was okay with their interpreting it that way, but it was a reminder to me of the importance of considering different ways people might read a message. If the interpretation had been offensive or embarrassing, of course, it would’ve been a much bigger issue.

Another of my favorite examples is the kitchenware brand CuisinArt. To me it’s clear it’s supposed to be “Cuisine Art” with a deliberately dropped ‘e’. The custom spelling causes confusion for some on how to say it, and even in their commercials they pronounce it kweezin-art (rather than kwiz-een art). Kweezin reminds me of ‘queasy’. For a food-related brand, an association with queasiness is the absolute last thing you’d want.

An ambiguous message is more dangerous to a brand or statement than being over-complicated because it’s unpredictable. At least when it’s too hard to understand it creates a sort of full stop. It’s not good, but it’s not potentially as bad as a loose cannon message.