Our February 26th event explored the principles of structured information design for developing static visual information, which you can apply to any medium — including printed text, interface designs, or Web content. These techniques help us create messages that enable our audiences to interpret, retain, and apply information quickly and accurately.
Why is this important? As a consumer, if you have ever wrestled with baffling product information, or missed the point of a memo or a company procedure, you may have observed that the inability to understand and act on information can have significant consequences. This event explained how a poor visual presentation can stand in the way of people understanding and taking action.
Whether you use plain text and graphics, HTML, XML, or some other format, it doesn’t really matter because the end result is the same — it is some kind of visual display. Non-static visual media, including multimedia video, animations, and audio-visual presentations, have different sets of guidelines and supporting research, so we plan to save those topics for future discussions.
This session covered two parts pertaining to structuring textual and graphic information, which are expanded in the summaries below.
In Part 1, Adele Sommers covered:
In Part 2, Bruce Mills covered:
Part 1 Summary
“Designing Information to Help People Act Quickly”
Today's media-saturated world challenges people to comprehend and respond quickly to a plethora of visual messages! Did you know that more than 300,000 new book titles appear annually, and over 18,000 magazines exist just in the U.S.? Our colleagues, employees, and customers are all overloaded and attention-limited! The competition for their attention is fierce, and not likely to subside any time soon.
For this reason, it's quite possible that our news-based and "how-to" information — such as memos, newsletters, policies, procedures, instructions, user manuals, and system interfaces — may just be adding to audience overwhelm instead of helping people perform. After all, we also want people to view our persuasive information, such as advertisements, marketing blasts, and commercial announcements. Multiply that by the number of competitors we have who are doing the same exact thing, and it's easy to see why our materials don't receive attention!
To remedy this situation, we need to "grab people by the eyeballs" and give them more control over what we submit for their attention. We must enable our audiences to scan, skip, and retrieve — and then act on the information fast, before the relentless demands on their time force their attention to shift elsewhere.
The information we design must be "high-impact" to get attention, but also "low-bandwidth" in terms of the effort and brain-power required to process it. The easier the information is to process, the more readily people will:
As part of the solution, this article discusses five powerful information design techniques that can boost our audience's ability to interpret and respond.
First, What Shortcomings Do We Find in Business Information?
On more than one occasion, you've probably encountered a puzzling user manual, bewildering procedure, baffling software interface, or confusing memo. Therefore, you've probably seen plenty of examples of dense, crowded text; long-winded, rambling sentences; a convoluted writing style; and a confusing layout.
Why do these things matter? A poor visual presentation can delay or even prevent someone from understanding and taking action! The consequences include:
Information design principles can come to the rescue by:
Five ways that information design techniques work their magic include 1) classifying, 2) chunking, 3) simplifying, 4) arranging, and 5) illustrating -- all approaches used in what's called "structured writing." The table below briefly discusses each method.
A Fascinating Source of Business Diagrams
One of the things I shared in my presentation was an intriguing collection of diagrams, maps, charts, and other commonly used business visualization tools I came across at an interesting site called Visual-Literacy.org.
The international team who compiled that collection devised an ingenious way to display it from a central map. To see it, you can follow this link to "A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods."
At first glance, it resembles the familiar periodic table of physical elements; however, that is where the similarity ends. Each cell in the this "periodic table" represents a different type of business diagram. When you move your on-screen pointer over each cell, an example of that diagram opens in a floating layer, and remains visible until you move your pointer away. The effect is very clever and innovative!
What are the benefits of this collection? For one, if you have forgotten what a particular diagram looks like, or you want to research which type of business tool might best serve your needs, these examples are excellent memory joggers and great sources of information.
Copyright 2007 Adele Sommers
Part 2 Summary
“10 Steps to Designing Effective, High-Impact,
Structure the message — key communication objectives must be well defined, structured and appropriate for graphic interpretation
Select presentation media — evaluate the context and application environment to determine optimal presentation medium and media:
6. Simplify and clarify:
10. Prototype and Validate:
Copyright 2007 Bruce Mills
Designing High-Impact, Low-Bandwith Messages to Help People Act Quickly
|Date:||Monday evening, February 26, 2007|
Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the 2002-07 president of the San Luis Obispo STC chapter, and has been an independent business consultant and technical communication contractor for the last ten years. Adele is the principal of Business Performance Inc. (LearnShareProsper.com), which specializes in business publications, tools, and education. She helps individuals and companies enhance their results in the areas of performance tuning, strategic planning, project management, information design, quality assurance, instruction, performance support, usability, and leadership. Contact Adele at Adele@LearnShareProsper.com.
Bruce Mills, B.F.A., M.B.A. is the principal of Lone Pine Studio (LonePinestudio.com) in Paso Robles, providing graphic design, Web design and development, illustration, technical publishing, documentation, marketing, and business consulting to clients in SLO County and beyond. Bruce has evaluated, used, developed, created, and marketed computer graphic systems and software since 1979 holding a series of creative and executive positions with training, communications, marketing and manufacturing organizations. Bruce has been an independent contractor and consultant since 1998. Contact Bruce at Bruce@LonePineStudio.com.