A recent 2017 The Onion article opens with the following headline: Nation Shudders At Large Block of Uninterrupted Text. Of course, we all know The Onion, the Chicago-based satirical newspaper that pops up in our inboxes daily. In fact, we all know it well enough to know that it is satirical. And that we therefore do not have to believe it.
The article goes on to say,
Unable to rest their eyes on a colorful photograph or boldface heading that could be easily skimmed and forgotten about, Americans collectively recoiled Monday when confronted with a solid block of uninterrupted text.
Oh, the horror. Collectively recoiling when they could find nothing to latch on to; no hooks, photographs, headings. Only words. And a large uninterrupted block of words, at that!
It gets worse,
"Why won't it just tell me what it's about?" said Boston resident Charlyne Thomson, who was bombarded with the overwhelming mass of black text late Monday afternoon. "There are no bullet points, no highlighted parts. I've looked everywhere—there's nothing here but words."
Nothing here but words? Who wrote this? Someone with his or her finger on the pulse, perhaps? Exactly!
Truth in satire
In fact, what The Onion is really trying to say here might not be as satirical as one would assume. Perhaps what they’re saying is real – a reflection of the new way society consumes media – an obstinate reluctance to consume information that doesn’t conform to their terms.
Today’s audiences, unless they’re reading a novel, no longer read large blocks of text. Their glossary of communication devices has expanded. What they really want today – and it’s the new normal – is a plethora of informational methods, text being just one of them.
They want an experience that comes loaded with infographics, illustrations, YouTube videos, pop ups, expandable things, collapsible things, hovering things, haptics that shiver or pulse in their hands… and the list goes on. Then, and only then, will they consider your great wall of text. This is especially true of websites.
Enter the Content Strategist
The job of copywriter, which existed for most of the 20th century, has become the content strategist of the twenty-tens. Today’s content strategist writes to empower, not impress. He or she creates content with the users’ needs and journey top of mind.
In addition, he or she clearly defines the goal of each section or paragraph before writing, asking: “what is the desired outcome?”
Today’s content strategist also understands that the reader has a scanning mentality and so writes accordingly, with powerful, memorable headlines, and subheads that function as informational hooks, stopping off points, while at the same time employing the “inverted pyramid” writing style where the reader gets the gist of the section before deciding whether to take the plunge.
He or she also writes in short four-line paragraphs, with no more than 40 - 70 words per paragraph and no more than 15 - 20 words per line. And, when necessary, he or she, will employ the concept of “progressive disclosure” as an overarching methodology.
According to UX expert Joe Natoli, Interactive design of any kind means walking a very fine line between not enough information and information overload. At the core of that balancing act is one of the most important principles of UX and Design: Progressive Disclosure.
It means that everything in the User Interface should progress naturally, from simple to complex. Why? Because this mimics the natural way the brain processes information, successively; we build upon each subsequent step of experience and learning, adding to what we know.
This means that only the necessary or requested information is displayed at any given time, in other words, users only want what they need right now. They only need enough to take the very next action, and what they’ve asked for.
Information presented to someone who isn’t interested in it — or isn’t ready to process it — is noise. It’s distracting.
Natoli goes on to say that as most of us know, too much of anything is too much, and this is no different. Offering too many choices at the same time results in cognitive overload, which results in people choosing nothing. It’s known as “choice paralysis” among cognitive scientists, and it’s often the main reason new apps, sites or other digital products fail.
The Onion article concludes with,
"If there were anything worthwhile buried deep in that block of impenetrable English, it would at least have an accompanying photo of a celebrity or a large humorous title containing a pop culture reference."
Our point exactly.
Blue Water is an DC-Headquartered experience agency with an expertise that extends across many industries, achieving thought-leadership prominence in verticals such as Transportation, Healthcare, Finance, Association and Public Sector. Our deep understanding of landscape, trends, challenges and competition facilitates our ability to hit the ground running from day one.