Why Simple is Better in Communication and Web Design

simpleAccording to some sources, we are exposed to as many as 3,000 messages a day from websites, email, text messages, billboards, direct mail, Facebook, Twitter, TV, radio, and on and on.

As a result, we no longer process messages the way we did 10 or 20 years ago.  Instead of reading and giving each message our full attention,

  • We scan to glean the main point
  • We skip over boring or complicated parts of messages
  • We try to process more than one messages at the same time
  • We get distracted by other things
  • Often our top priority is to finish processing all the messages rather than be impacted by any of them
  • Unless we respond immediately, we forget the message almost immediately.

This is not intentional.  It’s just the way our brains have adapted to this new reality.

As consumers of messages we understand this.  The challenge as communicators, web developers, and leaders is to translate this understanding to the messages we generate, the websites we develop, and processes we create.

Communicators…

If we want people to respond to our messages, we need to communicate in simple bite-size chunks.

  • Get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Use as few words as possible. Link to any additional info that may be helpful.
  • Format messages for scanning with headings, short paragraphs, and bullets.
  • Avoid acronyms, theological phrases, technical terms, and insider language some recipients don’t know.
  • Make the next step clear and as easy as possible.

Web developers…

We need to make our websites as intuitive as possible.

  • Don’t make people think.
  • Don’t try to make them read instructions.
  • Think long and hard about the menu structure & text from the user’s perspective, so people can quickly and easily find what they’re looking for.
  • Make forms as short as possible.
  • Cut the fluff – eliminate as many pages and as much text off each page as you possibly can.

Communications (and websites specifically) have a tendency to bloat.  People want to add more but rarely want to reduce.  It takes real intentionality and tenacity to make things simple and keep them that way.

Discussion

  1. What changes have you noticed in the number of messages you process and the way you process them?
  2. How important is it to you to make your communications and website as simple as possible?
  3. What suggestions do you have for keeping things simple?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

6 Responses to “Why Simple is Better in Communication and Web Design”

  1. I couldn't of said it better myself Paul!

    That's exactly why my communications blog is called Clear & Simple, (insert shameless plug) http://www.stevefogg.typepad.com because I think as communicators we've added to the clutter and noise that is out there. It's our responsiblitiy to simplify our communications to increase the effectiveness.

    I agree with your last point that we often don't lead people into an obvious next step. If we want our communications to be effective, we need to help people respond.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jan 5, 2011 at 11:08 pm

      Thanks Steve! You are one of the leading champions for making communications simple.

  2. Regarding #3, I believe that one of the big reasons we see online messaging to be confusing or convoluted is that this busy-ness of current culture has also affected how we craft communications. For many, it is rare to be able to be real thoughtul about what we want to communicate and figure out the net takeaway we are intending — before we create the messaging. Just publish! is the new paradigm these days.

    I find that spending some more time upfront against these strategic factors often helps find the simpler message for the job. It is hard to dedicate the time and focus, but rarely a waste of resources when it is done!

  3. Good post Paul.

    The only point I would disagree with is that we should eliminate as many pages as possible. Having many page can be a good thing (especially from an SEO perspective). Consider any blog. Adding fresh (and good) content regularly is very important to the success of any blog, but every new post is another page. On non-blog sites, often times the designer would be well served splitting up longer pages into smaller, more focussed pages. That would add pages to a site, too. Or think about Wikipedia or ehow.com. They have millions of pages and are adding more every day, but I wouldn't consider that a problem. So, I think the number of pages is not issue, but whether the pages serve a purpose.

    All that said, I would agree that removing unnecessary pages from processes on a website (check out process, sign up, etc.) is good.

    Kenny, great point! What's the point of spending any time creating a message if it won't accomplish what we want? Much better to be thoughtful and get better results from the message.

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