When the average attention span is only eight seconds, it’s a challenge, as designers, to create deliverables that are engaging to read. How do we get the audience to pause long enough to read the information, have it resonate and then take action? How do we compete with the streams of information coming at them at every second of every day? In short, it’s a delicate balance – one that requires the right balance of images and words. Designers want more graphics and writers want more words.
Here are five basic rules that we use on every designed document:
1. Use headings
The headline is meant to grab the attention of the reader. Putting on your creative thinking cap to write a catchy title is time well-spent. Headings and subheaders divide up the content into smaller, more digestible bits.
2. Highlight key words and phrases (expressions)
Highlighting or bolding key words like ‘act now’ or ‘top 10 reasons’ gets the reader to slow down and read more carefully. Their eyes will scan the document top to bottom, left to right, stopping at these important words.
In addition, phone numbers and websites are important to bold or call out. A good call-to-action (CTA) points the reader to take important action.
3. Use bullet points and numbers for lists
This makes the content easier to read. Meaning, the reader can scan quickly and get the gist of the information in a short amount of time.
4. Use white space wisely
Margins, spacing between paragraphs and around images are important, period. It leads to better readability and understanding. White space allows the brain to rest and focus on one element at a time. It lets the design breathe by reducing the amount of information the reader takes in at one time.
If paragraphs are too long or lines of type are too close together, the eyes tire and you lose the reader. The same goes for how many characters in a line of text. If the line length is too long, the reader may lose his/her place. If the line length is too short, the eye will be traveling back and forth too often, breaking the natural rhythm of reading. The optimal number of characters per line is 45-75 including spaces.
5. Use images to break up text
Images are very important in today’s world. There have been studies where toddlers can recognize popular brand logos including McDonald’s, Shell and Nike. So, at a very young age we know that images are key to understanding the world. As designers, we use images, icons and informational graphics to tell a visual story and reinforce the overall message.
The challenge for any deliverable is to gain the best engagement through legibility and readability and to encourage your audience to take action. Given attention spans these days and dwindling free time, your communications must be a quick read, simple and straight-forward. Of course, we know rules are meant to be broken, but using the fab five rules listed above are sure to help you get your message across and hopefully, understood.