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Good Information Design

Golden Rule: Present info as you would like to have it presented to you.
Note: Not as easy as it sounds.

Right now you're probably thinking "What is 'info design,' and who cares anyway? I know what I want to write and I'll write it."

What you want to write is not what's needed. What's needed is what the reader wants to read.

Sometimes, what you want to write and what the reader wants to read are the same, but many times they're not.

Several years ago Business Week (USA) printed a critique of companies' employment-opportunity websites. BW's condemnation was universal: all the sites were designed to promote what the company wanted to say, which was very different from what job applicants wanted and needed to hear. Efficiency suffered, and the connections between jobs and the right people to fill them were often not made. These sites were failures.

In the realm of informational websites, there are hundreds of similar bad examples.

How many travel websites like this have you seen?

— You click on a country profile and get a page of statistics: population, surface area, latitude and longitude, name of the capital city, yada yada—as in a geography book. Are you a geography student?

— You click on a city profile and get a rambling, rhapsodic 600-word article, as in a magazine. Are you an armchair traveler?

Is this what you look for when you surf the web? Of course not. It's what you'd be looking for if you had picked up a geography book or a magazine. But the web is neither of these.

--> The web is for people actively looking for information.

So ask yourself: if, for example, you were a traveler surfing the web and planning a trip, what would you want to know, in what order, and how should it be organized?

It's a simple question with a complicated answer. The degree to which you answer it correctly, and employ good information design, will determine the quality and success of your website, no matter whether it is about travel, or medical treatment, or weight loss, or pet care.

Web writing is different from other sorts of writing in that you are writing for both humans and machines:

Humans want your text to be informative, accurate, accessible, skimmable and entertaining, and they want the photos to be pretty, because they have brains

Machines (ie, search-engine computers) want your text to be straightforward, machine-comprehensible, consistent and relevant, and they want the photos to have ALT text and captions, because they use algorithms

Keys to good info design:

1. Optimized Hypertext™
Text written expressly for the web, which is surprisingly different from any text you ever wrote for print.

2. Brevity & Skimmability
Forget color adjectives! Web surfers want info and they want it easily and quickly accessible. Web writing should be as concise and trenchant as possible. No extra words!

3. Keyword Use & Relevancy
Search engines want metatag keywords to be relevant to a page's text (which—surprisingly—does not necessarily mean having keywords repeated frequently in the text).

4. Simple, pleasant graphic design
Less is more, simple is beautiful and, unfortunately, transgressors of these rules are legion.


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Tom Brosnahan