"Visuals convey critical information to the user without getting lost in the marketing gobblydegook that so many organizations insist on putting on EVERY page."
It's one of the best cliches out there-- "A picture is worth a 1,000 words." (Except for the freelancers creed, "You get what you pay for".) If you're paid by the word (I'm not) you may be invested in ignoring the pictures, graphics, videos, etc. But the simple truth is that healthcare marketers cannot continue to ignore the visual opportunities they have on their websites to communicate with consumers about a myriad of healthcare issues. And I'm not just talking about the standard pictures where the doctor looks lovingly into the patient's eyes.
Karl Gude, a super-cool visual journalist, who has been creating news graphics since the late 1970's at Newsweek and other major publications, demonstrated this at the Center for Plain Language's 2009 Symposium. He talked about information design in terms of communicating quickly and simply to the audience about what exactly is happening in a graphic.
What totally blew my mind was this set of graphics about 9/11. Look at the first, simple napkin drawing (click on the pictures to make them bigger):
And now look at the sophisticated graphic Karl and his team created at Newsweek:
Which "drawing" says it better? I would argue that in some ways, the napkin conveys the exact angle the planes hit the buildings far better than the elaborate graphic.
Much of what we think of as visual content in healthcare is animated graphics of surgeries, complicated videos, detailed drawings. Simple can be better. In using pared-down graphics to explain what will happen when you prepare for surgery, what the layout of the hospital looks like from an aerial point of view, what the process is for a radiation or chemotherapy treatment, you get to the point--quickly. Visuals convey critical information to the user without getting lost in the marketing gobblydegook that so many organizations insist on putting on EVERY page.
Now I'm obviously not trying to put the writers out of business. I'm saying think smart about content strategy. As Kristina Halvorson says in her book "Content Strategy for the Web, "Content includes text, data, graphics, video and audio. Online it's shaped and delivered by countless tools (such as animation, PDFs, streams and so on)."
And all of it needs to do 2 things:
1. Support a key business objective
2. Support a user in completing a task
Sometimes the only thing a user/patient wants to do is understand. To get it. To prepare for what is about to happen to him or her. And better graphics and details of what to expect during any kind of healthcare encounter is one way to get there.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
On Friday I attended the Center for Plain Language's 2009 Symposium at the National Press Club. I also really enjoyed the training session given in the morning by John Strylowski, a plain language expert.
Some of the rules of plain language are exactly the same as the rules for good Web writing. In fact, the definition of plain language is "Communication that your readers can understand the first time they read it." On a Web page, when you have an average of 2 seconds to catch a user's attention, plain language is vital.
One of the main elements of plain language is the use of "you" and other pronouns to engage the reader. As a healthcare Web writer, I always struggle with the use of you when writing about difficult medical conditions. For example, the following sentence is scary, "Your doctor will open you up to examine your bowel for evidence of cancer." As opposed to, "The physician will examine the patient's bowel for evidence of cancer."
I posed this question to John during the training. He agreed that context is critical, and one must decide, based on the content, if the use of the pronoun "you" is appropriate.
I have a few rules for the use of you in healthcare content:
1. If you're going to use it, be consistent! Use it throughout the page and don't switch halfway through the site.
2. Always use on logistical pages, like "What you need for your first appointment", "Communicating with your doctor", "What to expect at your procedure".
3. Use the "in their shoes" rule. Imagine you are a patient or the parent or spouse of a possible patient. Imagine how YOU would feel reading the content. If you get nauseous, or nervous, or just plain weirded out, change it.
What do YOU think? When do you use you? And when don't you use you?