LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

August 2022
Volume 18, Issue 8

These are monthly tips on boosting business and professional results.

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Below find this month’s newsletter, hot off the press!

  • Special Message: To Create Compelling Content, First Produce Plausible Personas
  • Feature Article: Seven Ways to Use Information Design to Create Remarkable Audience Experiences

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Note from the Author

Introducing a New Series on Information Design

Collection of colorful crayons
Clients and colleagues often ask me, “What essential things do I need to know about designing information in my area of expertise? Are there universal guidelines I should follow, regardless of my purpose, goals, subject matter, and audience?”

Yes! Although there are countless reasons to create content for technical and business publications, marketing campaigns, Web sites, training, multimedia productions, and more — timeless principles do exist, irrespective of the field in which you work.

Over the years, I’ve studied the most effective information design techniques in a range of different disciplines. I eventually boiled those down into a kind of “secret sauce” in a three-part series of 7 tips that embody the very best elements of:

  • Technical communication and instructional design
  • Marketing, usability, and persuasion research
  • Studies of human achievement in the professional world

Therefore, I urge you to consider using these easy-to-follow recommendations to transform your content creation from a rote exercise into a potent process that fully supports what your users or viewers are trying to do. Every tip you add to the mix will enhance their results with your information, products, or services.

I hope you enjoy Part 1 of this series in today’s feature article, and please be sure to leave your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

To Create Compelling Content,
First Produce Plausible Personas

Before you design information for a group of people — especially folks youve never connected with firsthand — its highly beneficial to produce a few personality profiles for typical audience members, so you can gain insight into how they think.

The User Is Always Right by Steve MulderOne way to divine your audience’s personalities is using a fictional being called a persona. A persona is a believable, lifelike character sketch representing one segment of your target audience. Your audience comprises people who will attend your presentations; use your Web site, hardware devices, software, documents, or instructional content; or who will peruse your marketing materials, for example.

To make sure you understand what your audience really needs or wants to hear, you can “interview” your cast of personas who represent your users, customers, clients, or learners. Each one will tell you a different story about his or her behaviors and preferences that will help you design your content more effectively.

Would you like help with this process?The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas,” by Steve Mulder, explains each step of persona creation, including tips for conducting user research. You’ll also learn how to use personas successfully, such as for making detailed decisions about Web site and information architecture, content, and design. Read on for more ideas...

Feature Article

Seven Ways to Use Information Design to
Create Remarkable Audience Experiences (Part 1)

by Adele Sommers

What’s the “secret sauce” behind designing information that corrals the interest of your users, visitors, readers, learners, or customers — and spurs them to take fast and effective action?

Answer: A timeless set of information-design guidelines that work synergistically, regardless of the medium you’re using or the message you’re conveying — and whether you’re a business writer, technical communicator, instructional designer, interface designer, Web developer, or multimedia content creator.

Drawing depicting "Information Design = User Experiences"

This series of articles will explain seven ways to engage and support your audiences whenever you want them to understand, learn, and do.

You might be creating Web pages, publications, online training, marketing content, or information-based multimedia productions, for example.

Why not move the needle from “lackluster and low-powered” to “remarkable and robust” with the next project you begin?

You’ll see these seven tips rolled out over three articles, grouped into these three overarching themes:

A. Lay a Foundation for Clear Understanding
B. Help Your Audiences Do What They Really Need to Do
C. Add Novelty and Interactivity to Rivet Attention & Motivate Action

Use the first set of tips below to begin designing remarkable user experiences!

A. Lay a Foundation for Clear Understanding

Woman twirling a lasso
To lasso your viewers’ attention
and trigger their ability to comprehend, recall, and respond, you’ll want to begin by:

  1. Learning more about your typical audience members

  2. Structuring information so your target audiences can readily consume it, and

  3. Minimizing the “data dump” effect that occurs when people receive too much information at one time

These foundational principles underlie all types of communication, so they will powerfully support whatever you’re creating. Read on for the details...

Tip #1: Use persona profiles to understand your audience — what makes them tick?

Your audience comprises the people who will engage with your content. They represent a mix of backgrounds, skills, personality traits, and so forth. Some might be tech savvy; some might not. Some might be very familiar with your topic, others not. Some might be older, others younger. Some might think “pink,” while others think “green.”

So, you’ll need a way to identify the people you’re trying to attract, and then accommodate their needs accordingly. If you don’t, they won’t be able to consume your content very easily — and probably won’t urge their colleagues, clients, students, or friends to consume it, either.

Enter the persona, a fictitious but realistic character who symbolizes a typical member of your target audience. Your audience probably has several such people in it. Aim to create a persona profile for each representative audience member.

An artist painting four personas

You could do this through interviewing, market research, or even imagining a composite based on people you know. If you take this process seriously and give it plenty of thought, you’ll discover what makes each type of audience member tick. You can then design an approach that addresses each persona’s primary needs, wants, questions, and concerns.

But what if you’re short on time or insights? Consider at least these two key emotional angles, which are at opposite ends of the human motivation spectrum:

  1. What worries, problems, or challenges could be keeping each persona up at night? Those are the sorts of issues that they’ll be extremely eager to solve.

  2. What are each persona’s primary goals, hopes, aspirations, and dreams? Those represent the driving forces that inspire them to keep going every day.

Ponder what matters most on both ends of the spectrum for each persona. Then design the types of information and features that would best support each persona’s needs — without interfering with the others.

To learn more about creating persona profiles, read The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas,” by Steve Mulder.

Tip #2: Structure information to help people scan, skip, and retrieve what matters

Man looking surprisedAs information creators, we need to “grab people by the eyeballs” and give them more control over what we are submitting for their attention.

For example, 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!

An excellent approach to this “eyeball management” problem involves structured authoring (also known as structured writing). Five of its core methodologies appear below:

  1. Classifying of information organizes content into five actionable types: facts, concepts, processes, procedures, and principles. These are the building blocks for information design.

  2. Chunking breaks crowded or detailed content into smaller, more digestible messages. Be aware that the limits on human cognitive processing restrict our ability to manage more than a few messages at a time (see more below).

  3. Simplifying uses very direct, “plain talk” to get ideas across fast. You’ll want to avoid all types of dense, convoluted “corporate-speak,” “academic-speak,” or a meandering style of writing when you want people to act quickly!

  4. Arranging text and graphics with visual cues helps people scan, skip, and retrieve efficiently. Examples of visual cues include white space, bulleted lists, tables, headers, bolded text, labels, dividers, hierarchies, groupings, and relative size.

  5. Illustrating reinforces or replaces text with clear, relevant graphic elements. Using crisp images, such as photos or drawings, will increase comprehension significantly in any context.

To learn more about structured authoring, read my related article, Designing Information to Help People Act Quickly.”

Tip #3: Strive to minimize audience overload, especially in training and presentations

Another way to boost comprehension is by reducing what’s known as “cognitive overload.” Research published in the mid-1950s seemed to show that our short-term “working memories” can process about “7 plus or minus 2” chunks of input at a time. (Think of this as the number of items you could remember to buy at the supermarket, for example, without having to write them all down.)

We can process only 3-4 chunks of information at a timeNearly 50 years later, however, a new wave of research showed that in reality, we’re capable of consuming only about 3 or 4 chunks of information at once. That’s not very much processing power (and explains why we make so many lists)!

But information design principles can come to the rescue by easing the burden on our audiences’ brains. Working within typical limitations of short-term memory reduces the information-processing load.

This means that the content we design must be “high-impact” to grab 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:

  • Retain the information

  • Retrieve it from memory under the right circumstances, and

  • Apply it or act on it in the way you intended!

To learn more about minimizing cognitive overwhelm, read my related article, Overcome Audience Overload with Presentation Design Best Practices.”

In Conclusion...

With a little imagination, and by regularly applying the three techniques above, you’ll powerfully support your audience’s ability to consume whatever it is you’re producing. Each aspect provides an additional layer of clarity to help you whip up a recipe for authoring success. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Copyright 2022 Adele Sommers

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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