As health communicators, we try our best to, well, communicate
with our audiences. We aim to motivate behavior change among our
audience by delivering messages that resonate with them. To do
that, we try to get in their heads, figure out who they are and
what they want, and then give them that. Often, we'rereallygood at
it. Sometimes we're not.
That's why I attended the Center
for Health Literacy's third annual conference, Plain Talk in Complex
Times, in Arlington, VA, earlier this month. Across the two-day
conference, I learned so much about how to create materials that
patients want to-and can-read. But the most eye-opening
presentation for me was one by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. of the Weinschenk Institute.
Dr. Weinschenk is a behavioral psychologist who has written
several books about how the unconscious mind works in the decision
making processes and how that impacts the way people interact with
websites and other materials. At the conference, she provided
attendees with the top 10 things health communicators should know
about people and their unconscious minds. Here's a recap:
10. People do as little as possible. It's not
that people are lazy, just that our brains are asked to do so much,
so to protect ourselves, we take in only the information that is
necessary. It's instinctual, not purposeful. For example, we may
know that a penny is copper colored and that it's smaller than a
nickel but bigger than a dime. Beyond that, we're less sure what is
written on a penny or which direction Abe Lincoln's face is
9. Too many choices equals no choice at all. As
communicators, it's really easy toovercommunicate. We think we need
to tell our audience everythingwethink they need to know. But by
giving them too much information or too many choices of where to go
to get the information, we freeze them, and they often make no
choice at all.
8. Most mental processing is unconscious.
Figuring out how to communicate more effectively may not be rocket
surgery, it just may be brain science. Most absorption of
information happens without us even knowing about it. That's why
it's important to provide our audience with visual clues so that
they can orient themselves to the material.
7. People can remember/deal with no more than 3 to 4
things at a time. The idea that people can remember seven
things plus or minus two is an urban myth. Our brains simply can't
hold that much information. This means the information we present
must be the most important, and the instructions must be clear.
6. People use peripheral vision to get the
"gist." In a nutshell, this means that people need context
to best understand something. Although it's true that a person will
scan a website and focus on the center of the page, side columns
with callouts or images are also important. It's where people go to
help them understand what they are looking at and to make sure that
they are in the right place.
5. We pay attention to faces. Our brains
have a section devoted to reading and storing faces. It's called
the Fusiform Facial Area (FFA). Facial expressions like other body
language help us determine who is friend and foe, who is acting
nicely and who isn't. So, human beings really like to look at
faces! Studies show that materials or websites that feature faces
are better received. We recognize faces and can more easily
identify or empathize with the person in the picture.
4. Hard to read or overly decorative fonts=task is
hard. Typography is important (can you hear the cheers of
designers everywhere?). If the font is hard to read (such as a
script font), the reader interprets the task as more difficult.
Remember, we want them to think what we're asking them to do is
3. People use look and feel as the first indicator for
trust. If a material or websitelookswelcoming and easy to
use, a viewer or reader is more likely to trust it.
2. People have mental models. We expect things
to work a certain way. For example, we know how a book works or
which way to turn the faucet to get hot water in the sink. Imagine
if you've never seen an e-reader. How might you imagine it should
work? As best we can, we need to work within the parameters that
people expect us to.
1. People expect technology to follow human-to-human
rules. We want technology to engage with us as people do.
When technology is too complicated, or if it malfunctions, we risk
losing our audience.
So what's the lesson? People aren't really all that complicated.
They want information and tasks to be simple and useful. They don't
need to know everything we think they need to know. And we can
learn a whole lot by listening to them!