The Power Of Nice


Is there a more maligned word in the English language than nice? Yes, I’m sure you can think of a few. And please do keep the fruitier ones to yourself, this is an all-ages magazine for goodness-sake. But here’s the thing. Aside from perhaps neat and (whisper it) cool, I can’t think of another seemingly innocuous word as roundly reviled as nice, widely considered the crown prince of meaningless platitudes. For many people, nice is a bland shrug of a word which evokes pastel colours and noncommittal opinion.

And just to avoid any confusion here: this isn’t an article about Nice, the fifth most populous city in France. Which, come to think of it, also evokes pastel colours and – I don’t know – open top sports cars? Nor am I writing about Nice, the vaguely coconut-flavoured, roughly rectangular, sugar-besprinkled biscuit, which is in no way reviled. Certainly not in our studio.

No, I’m writing about nice, the humble and much demonised adjective which according to the Oxford English Dictionary means ’giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive’. And in many contexts, this demonisation is quite right. After all, who wants their nine month-long brand identity project to be reviewed on launch as nice? Stunning, certainly. Genius, yes please. Gob-smacking, most definitely. But nice? Not quite the linguistic high-five you were hoping for after all those days, weeks and months of blood, sweat and toil. In this context, the word nice might as well be a devastatingly deployed meh.

However, I’d argue that nice – in certain contexts – has a power all of its own. For example, if you take a moment to read some of the client comments on our website, you’ll probably notice that a theme emerges. Nearly everyone says how nice Baxter and Bailey are to work with. Now, you might think “nice to work with” sounds a bit innocuous. But for us, it’s the highest praise. Because we see being good creative collaborators as the very essence of what we do. Perhaps you do too.

Almost always, the branding projects we take on are challenging and pressurised, with a lot at stake. Our clients are, invariably, demanding; they want nothing less than great creative ideas, based on rock-solid strategic foundations. For most projects, creative specialists – photographers, illustrators, film-makers – need to be brought on board and effectively managed, to do their best work. Deadlines are, more often than not, tight. (Sometimes budgets, too.) Projects grow arms and legs as they progress, unexpected curve-balls are thrown into the mix at the eleventh hour. Tensions are high. Reputations are on the line.

If, at the end of a project, our client feels that working with Baxter and Bailey has been a pleasure, we know that – on every count – we must have done a pretty good job. If, after all of that tension and pressure, after all of those arms and legs, our client can describe us as nice we feel a great sense of accomplishment. Because that means they’ll be more likely to work with us again, and that’s when the best work happens: long-lasting client relationships built on trust, experience and delivery. And niceness.

So let’s hear it for nice, a four-letter word which we should all aim to build back into our lexicon of design business terms. Try it. It’s nice.

Matt was invited to write this piece for issue 272 of Computer Arts magazine, a monthly newsstand publication covering all aspects of contemporary design.