The big green button

In the latest issue of Offscreen Magazine, Amber Case tells an interesting story about a Xerox PARC anthropologist called Lucy Suchman. The story goes that Suchman was tasked with working out why customers found their photocopiers so difficult to understand and use.

At the time, engineers placed every possible control and setting front and centre, giving customers an overwhelming number of options to understand and decisions to make. Most companies ended up hiring someone specifically to work the photocopier.

When Suchman conducted her research, she discovered most customers only wanted to copy a single side of A4. So, she suggested that they created a big green button to do just that. That big green button made sure that most customers got exactly what they wanted straight away. No more confusion.

There are a few articles that suggest this story isn’t 100% accurate. But it’s a great story all the same. And it got me thinking about the Suchman’s big green button as a metaphor for copywriting. Regardless of the truth behind the tale, I think the metaphor holds up.


As writers, we’re often on the outside looking in. That’s tricky at times, because we’re always learning. But it also lets us look at things in a way that the people on the inside – the ones with all the knowledge – can’t possibly do.

When you’re close to your product or service, you want the world to know about all of it. But the world doesn’t need to know about all of it. Most of the world wants to know about some of it. And quite often that some of it is enough. That’s your big green button. And our job as writers is to look for it.

When you focus on your big green button, your writing becomes clear and concise. There’s always a temptation to include every possible feature, service, option or use case. But that’s often the fastest way to take the impact out of your message.

Doing away with 80% of what you could say, in favour of what you should say, isn’t easy. But it’s the best way to be useful.