One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do we convince our stakeholders that they need to speak the language of the audience?”
Concerns about dumbing things down, using plain language and keeping copy short make sophisticated stakeholders nervous. Used to showing their language skills in long prose and spectacular use of the comma, they rarely want to concede that saying it simply might be better for their target audiences.
So if you’re a communicator whose job it is to make things as simple as possible for your audience, what do you do?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I happened to be reading a Fast Company article about Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Program. It occurred to me that their basic premise — design for people who are impaired to make it easier for EVERYONE to use — could be applied to content as well.
Connect the Dots … For All
What do the bendy straw, OXO products and email have in common? Give up?
They are all products designed for people with disabilities or limitations. Joseph Friedman created the flexible straw in 1937 so his young daughter could reach her drink on the table, Sam Farber dreamed up OXO for people with arthritis and Vincent Cerf had a deaf wife and wanted to ease communication with her via email.
The idea of inclusive content was the subject of a blog post on the Creative Bloq back in 2012. It focused on a great list of things you can do to make your content more inclusive including empathetic, descriptive, explanatory, informative, different, etc. And these are all good ideas. But I think there’s a larger idea at play here.
The idea of universal, or inclusive design, at its heart is about figuring out the simplest solution to a problem. Design is the resolution of a problem within a certain set of criteria. Content’s main purpose is typically to give a user enough information to make the next decision: "Do I keep reading?, Do I follow the call to action?, Do I do more?”
And in order to keep people moving along this chain, you need to TELL them what to do. Connect the dots for them.
Explaining Universal Content to the Stakeholders
Behind your stakeholders’ demands to keep it at a 26 grade reading level is fear. They don’t want to sound simple because people may think their thought process is simple. But remind them that educating people to understand enough to buy a product, or understand a service, is far different from teaching them to be experts in it. The whole goal of content is to share enough information so people can make a decision, not get a PhD in the subject.
So when thinking about universal, or inclusive design, try and apply those concepts to content. By making things simple for everyone to read, understand and absorb, you make them more easily understood to all.