Much Ado About Minimalism

Or perhaps that title should be Little Ado about Minimalism?

For those of us in the content creation world, we’ve been hearing and dealing with minimalism for years now.  We all know we should do it, but what gets in the way of actually doing it?

Minimalist View of Minimalism

For the few who may not know, minimalism is writing less. Period.

Okay, that may not be enough.  To extend this, minimalism tells us to write just enough to satisfy the consumer of that content and nothing more.

Did you hear that part? NOTHING MORE.  That’s where we get tripped up the most.  Nothing more means we don’t describe every detail, every possible use case, or every corner case in our content.

The other critical part to hear – Satisfy the customer.  That doesn’t mean satisfy your manager, or the marketing manager, or the engineer who wants every aspect of her creation in full detail.  It’s the customer that matters.

Know the Customer

If you ask the people you work with, most of them will feel they know who the customer is.  Most are right, in some shape or form.  But, to take the idea of minimalism to the extreme, minimize your customer.

That doesn’t mean a sci-fi shrinkray, that means understand your customers in the aggregate. Again, ignore the cornercases. Find the personas that match your most common customer.  Find out what they need. What do they come to your website for? What are they looking to gain out of taking your product training course?  Aggregate, and then simplify.  Find out the top tasks they need to complete.

Focus on Learning by Doing

Now that you feel you know your customer, and you know what they need to understand, the next step is  creating the right content.  The big issue here – stop lecturing them.  Whether you are writing training material or technical documentation, focus on the task they need to be able to repeat or adapt to their own needs.  Limit your content to that task, and just enough background information (lecturing) to understand how to do that task, and how to recover when errors occur (troubleshooting).

The End Result

So what do we have after all this? We have:

  • Significantly less content overall (covering the top tasks for your average customers)
  • Focused content on solving real-world needs
  • Improved findability when your important, user-focused content is no longer cluttered by extraneous material and corner-case details that the majority of your customers don’t need.

Is it perfect? No. Will there  be unhappy people, internal and external? Yes.  Will most of your customers be very happy? Most likely, yes, and that’s what we’re focused on here, getting our customers reading less and doing more.

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About Sandra Durham

Information architect and content strategist.
This entry was posted in content strategy, minimalism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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