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

October 2019
Volume 15, Issue 10

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Note from the Author

Information Design Is Still One of Our
Greatest Challenges!


Global exchange of informationTwo decades ago, we were still in the midst of praising the “Age of Information.” The Internet had just provided everyone with a powerful new venue for exchanging ideas. The electronic self-publishing phenomenon began democratizing the world of information distribution.

The innovations in global connectivity ultimately meant that anyone with Internet access plus a blog, newsletter, or social media account could broadcast a nearly unlimited volume of content and opinions to the rest of the world.

So, where are we today? The amount of available information has long since exploded and is still continuing to grow exponentially. We have moved well past publishing into an age of attempting to attract or retain awareness, interest, and concentration. That’s because human attention has become one of the world’s scarcest commodities!

This means we’ll always be battling stiff competition whenever we try to capture our audience’s eyes and ears. The quality of our information design — which must be clear, crisp, and instantly understandable — determines whether or not we’ll recruit a focused and responsive audience.

If the information you create requires your readers or viewers to interpret and swiftly respond to promotional ads, instructions, situations, or systems, I hope you enjoy today’s feature article, “Designing Information to Help People Act Quickly.”

And as always, please be sure to join the ongoing conversations by leaving your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele
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

A Quick Intro to Structured Authoring Techniques

Want some ideas from the pros? Information Mapping is a widely respected, research-based, and highly effective communication methodology that can help you and your team organize and design your content to be as crystal clear and easy to understand as possible.

Instead of grappling with stacks of dense, incomprehensible documents that are too long, inconsistent, and poorly written, you can standardize the approach your team takes by adopting this leading-edge tool set. I’ve been using structured authoring techniques for many years, and have found them indispensable for working with many of my clients. For further details, check out the video linked below:

Information Mapping@ intro video

If you feel inclined to learn more, there is plenty of online training available on the Information Mapping site. Read on for related insights...

Feature Article

Designing Information to Help People Act Quickly
by Adele Sommers

Today’s media-saturated world challenges people to comprehend and respond as rapidly as possible to a plethora of visual messages! For example, did you know that hundreds of thousands of new book titles appear annually in the U.S. alone? Online broadcasting has skyrocketed, with countless platforms on which to self-publish or self-promote.

If you’re in the business of producing content, you’ll want your audiences to view both your how-to information, such as training materials and reference guides, and your persuasive information, such as advertisements, marketing blasts, and commercial announcements, with as few distractions as possible.

However, your colleagues, employees, clients, and customers are overloaded and attention-limited! The competition for their attention is fierce, and is not likely to subside any time soon. That’s why it’s so important to cut through all the clutter!

As part of the solution, this article introduces five powerful information design techniques that can greatly increase your audience’s ability to quickly interpret and act on what you have to say.



But First, What Shortcomings Exist in Typical Information Design?

Man confused by reading memosOn more than one occasion, you’ve probably encountered an incomprehensible user manual, a confusing memo, a bewildering procedure, or a mind-numbing software interface.

That means you’ve seen plenty of examples of dense, crowded, long-winded, run-on sentences; convoluted writing styles; and crammed layouts!

Why do all of these things matter?

A poor visual presentation can delay or even prevent someone from understanding and acting on your message! The consequences include:

  • Less interesting and less productive interactions that rob people of their time.
  • More mistakes and errors because people can’t accurately interpret what they’re reading, while the potential for harm and dissatisfaction skyrockets.
  • Customers and employees going elsewhere, especially since there are plenty of competitors who can do the job better! But why let this happen to you when there are effective remedies available?

Information design principles can come to the rescue by:

  • Easing the burden on the viewer’s brain by reducing the information overload.
  • Working within the typical limitations of a viewer’s short-term memory.
  • Using other extensively researched principles of perception and learning.


What Can We Improve Using Effective Information Design?

To remedy these areas of concern, we need to “grab people by the eyeballs” and give them more control over what we submit for their attention.

5 techniques help our audiences scan, skip, and retrieve information, and act on it, fast!
This means we must help our viewers or readers scan, skip, and retrieve — and then respond to the information quickly, before the relentless demands on their time and attention force their focus to shift elsewhere.

To accomplish this, the information we design needs to be “high-impact” to garner attention...

But it also must be “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 correctly

Five information design techniques that work like magic for this purpose include:

1) Classifying
2) Chunking
3) Arranging
4) Simplifying, and
5) Illustrating

These are all methods used in what’s called “structured information design.” The sections below briefly explain each one.



Technique 1: Classifying

Classifying organizes content into five distinct and actionable types, including: facts, concepts, processes, procedures, and principles.

Technique 1: Classifying organizes content into 5 distinct types
By categorizing our content into these five types, we can create segments of content that support one another.

For example, we often need to know certain facts and concepts before we can understand and apply procedures.

Here’s a breakdown of what each one of those five types of information refers to...

  • Facts are unique, standalone bits of information. For example, this sentence, “Over 300,000 new book titles appear annually,” describes an unambiguous and precise collection of details that, when taken together, comprise a fact.
  • Concepts represent general categories or classes of ideas or objects. For example, “dog,” “book,” and “weather” are all familiar concepts, and each represents many specific subtypes with unique characteristics. For instance, there are many distinct breeds of dogs, numerous book genres, and myriad weather patterns that all have specific identities and attributes.
  • Processes illustrate how something works from a high-level point of view; theyre often depicted as flow diagrams. Common examples include physical processes that highlight how a piece of equipment works, and organizational processes that show the stages of a particular job or activity.
  • Procedures are instructions that explain in detail how to do something. They typically reside below the level of processes, and identify the step-by-step actions required to perform a given task. They also can include conditional decision-making rules that specify what to do under certain circumstances.
  • Principles are laws, theories, or guidelines that shape our interpretation of the world, such as in the physical, business, or behavioral realms. We often use principles to evaluate facts or data, for example, and develop relevant processes or procedures.


Technique 2: Chunking

Chunking breaks our content into smaller, more digestible messages.

Technique 2: Chunking organizes and groups content into collections of digestible blocksWhy does chunking matter, and exactly what does it mean?

Human short-term memory is limited; we can process only about 3 to 4 chunks of input at one time! That means we tend to “glaze over” when we’re bombarded with too much input at one time.

However, when we “chunk” content into smaller bites, we can reduce the data processing overload for the readers or viewers of our content.

In essence, chunking organizes and groups content into collections of digestible blocks. For example, an instruction guide on how to train a dog might contain three or more basic chunks: a fact about the number of dogs in a given breed, one or more concepts that provide definitions or detailed descriptions of that breed, and one or more procedures that list the steps for performing the actual training.



Technique 3: Arranging

Arranging text and graphics with visual cues helps people quickly scan, skip, and retrieve the precise details they need.

Technique 3: Arranging text, graphics, and visual cues helps people interpret quicklyExamples of visual cues include bulleted lists, tables, white space, headings and subheadings, labels, bolded text, section dividers, groupings of related items, relative size, and hierarchies.

A combination of cues helps viewers direct their gaze to exactly the places it needs to go to find the most relevant information — fast.

The research-based principles of visual perception that led to the development and refinement of this technique began with the important work of the Gestalt psychologists in the 1920s. Their experiments revealed that the use of spatial cues in visual media focuses human attention quickly and efficiently!



Technique 4: Simplifying

Simplifying uses very direct, “plain talk” to get ideas across unambiguously.

Technique 4: Simplifying content uses very direct, "plain talk" to get ideas across fastYou should avoid “corporate-speak,” “academic-speak,” and a meandering writing style when you want people to respond rapidly.

Instead, use “plain talk,” which involves the active voice and clear, simple words and phrases.

Specifically, the active voice uses a noun followed by a verb to show who is taking action, as in:

“The technician removes the tray from the table.” (Do not say, “The tray is removed from the table.” That’s an example of the passive voice because you can’t tell who is supposed to take the action.)

Likewise, the instructions in procedures should be short, direct commands, as in: “Remove the tray from the table.” There should be no ambiguity about who is taking the action. When you’re using a command, it’s implied that the person who will be taking the action is “you.”



Technique 5: Illustrating

Illustrating reinforces or replaces text with graphic imagery.

Technique 5: Illustrating reinforces or replaces text with graphic elements Have you heard the maxim, “One picture is worth a thousand words”?

A substantial body of research shows that using carefully crafted illustrations is more efficient and effective than prose to show procedural steps or depict key product features.

Excellent examples are the quick startup guides that come boxed with many types of devices.

Quick startup guides minimize or eliminate the need to have any familiarity with a particular language because they show all of the steps in a purely graphic format.

In conclusion, when designing your own how-to or persuasive information, try using structured information design methods to help your viewers interpret your message and take action as quickly as possible. By applying classifying, chunking, arranging, simplifying, and illustrating techniques, you’ll greatly boost their chances of success!

Copyright 2019 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

“Guide to Boosting Productivity and Effectiveness”

"Guide to Boosting Productivity and Effectiveness" by Adele Sommers
Are you looking for a cookbook of great ideas for boosting your staff’s capabilities, eliminating hassles, streamlining procedures, and developing cutting-edge processes?

My Productivity Success Kit offers a compendium of “how-to” techniques for increasing your organizational effectiveness.

This comprehensive special report includes 36 pages of tips, best practices, checklists, and worksheets that will help your business gain a potent competitive advantage!

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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