Recently, I was given an inflatable canoe (or kayak as it is more commonly known as over here in the UK). Last night, my children and I took the box into the garden to empty. First the paddles were put together, then my son and I rolled out the canoe while my daughter unpacked the pump. We found 5 different air valves each labelled with a number. There was no guessing what the next step was, so within minutes we were ready to go.
This was contrasted by a call about a software product a few hours later. Similarly there were a few steps required to use the software, but there were no visual clues, no manual, no print out – we were just supposed to remember what the talking head said in the training.
The people designing the canoe remembered that those of us using it, would be inflating it while camping or at a riverside, where things would likely be or get wet. So in built visual clues of what to do next are vital. The software team forgot this. The visual clues of what to do next could have been built into the software or could have visually displayed on a print out to hang on the wall in my office where I was going to be using the software.
And remember on the canoe, the air valves were just labelled with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The designers did not try to explain how to attach the pump to the valve, they simply labeled the valves. The did not overcomplicate the message, they kept it simple and clear.
All of us in our expertise area often try to communicate too much detail and lose our audience. What can we do to focus the attention of our audience and lead them to the next action? We can all do this no matter what our job is or who our audience is or what we are trying to communicate.
It’s our turn now.