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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Simplicity rules | Russ Meyer, Siegel+Gale

Referring to Google, Amazon and Apple, Meyer writes:
Their brand success can be directly tied to simplicity, to making life simpler for their users. They adhere to a set of simplicity rules to define their brand experiences. These rules are worth considering for any brand trying to simplify their customer experience and drive customer satisfaction, commitment and connection.
The advice in Meyer's blog can be applied to product design, marketing, branding and other things that affect and interest customers. But I considered his comments in the context  of plain language--writing (and designing) documents in a clear, concise way that meets the needs of readers (as well as the writer).

Some pertinent excerpts from his blog and my related comments:

1. Consider the context
Every brand thinks it’s the most important thing in its user’s life. Seldom is this true. A user’s experience with a brand is just one event in an action-packed life. Good brands map out their customer experience looking for opportunities to simplify and eliminate steps, confusion and complications in ways that add value. Great brands look to where the brand and the experience fit within their user’s overall life, seeking to make not just the experience easier but a user’s overall life easier. ...
In their focus on the needs of the reader, writers in plain language focus on what their readers want and need to know. They don't try to say more than they have to. Like you, readers are bombarded with all kinds of information from many sources. Like you, readers have much on their mind at home, at work, at school and at play. And like you, they don't have the time and interest to read, understand and act on all the information they get.

So, reading your document is probably not the highest priority for many potential readers. Your readers' needs and wants should influence what information gets the most emphasis in your document. And your readers' needs and wants should influence what information you drop from your document.

2. Go deep
Simplicity is not just eliminating steps, clarifying language or using intuitive graphics. Brands that succeed due to simplicity understand that everything must work together, clearly and seamlessly. ...
Plain language principles emphasize testing a document before publishing and distributing it. The production process or should include steps for staff and management review--correcting and improving the content, structure, language and design of a document. 

But before completing and distributing a significant document, we should make sure it's tested by a sampling of targeted readers? Is it clear to them? Does it make sense? Do they get your point? Do you get the response you were seeking? And do they discover errors in accuracy, grammar, style and spelling?

3. Avoid “feature-itis”
Rather than continuing to add incremental features to a brand experience over time, great brands stand firm once they reach a level of simplicity, resisting the urge to add brand “bells and whistles.” ...
Plain-language writers pay extra attention to choosing not only the information to include but also the information to leave out. They cut points and information not clearly relevant to their program or project. Cutting nonessential information also saves time for writers, their reviewers and editors, their readers, and people or vendors translating their document into another language. A key question to ask: "Do I really need to say this?"

Usually, the main point should be easy to find--at the beginning of the document. Tell readers early: the conclusion and whatever readers should do with the information. By getting the most important information upfront, readers can find what is important to them and then decide how much more detail they want.
This article is featured today (Oct. 17) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

For more information on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.  It describes seven steps for using plain language:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.

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