It can be hard to admit, but here goes: you're not as good at multitasking as you think you are. Study after study has supported this fact. The average person gets interrupted about seven times an hour, and this has a devastating impact on productivity, costing them three hours and 12 minutes per day. This is in part because it can take anywhere from five to 30 minutes to refocus your attention. Even sitting close to someone who's multitasking can reduce your intelligence by 17 percent.
As a result of all this new information, more and more people are seeking strategies for multitasking less. But there's one thing many marketers and executives are missing: they're not helping their customers multitask less. Instead, they're sticking to the same cluttered, text-heavy designs as always.
Simple, clean design can improve comprehension, engagement, and retention. Here are three ways your visual content may be overloading your audiences with information--and losing their attention.
1. You're including too much information.
I've written a lot about how text-heavy design fails to engage. Visual content should minimize text to avoid seeming like a reading assignment. But here, I'm not just going to talk about the quantity of text; I also want to talk about picking the right information to include--and leaving the rest behind.
Many marketers think that if they have plenty of data, they should share most or all of it. That's simply not the case. Sharing the most compelling data -- and that data only -- is much more effective. One powerful data point is infinitely more memorable than five moderately interesting points. And if you surround that powerful point with weaker data, you'll actually just bury it. You'll make it less memorable in doing so. Keep it simple: include the best, most fascinating or important information only.
For instance, this motion graphic from PEMCO talks about how to plan a family fire drill. It focuses on three of the most important elements of any drill. If the motion graphic had included all the details of how to detect a fire, why it's important to stay low to the ground, and how to stop, drop, and roll -- sure, this information would have been useful, but we might not have remembered the steps to a well-organized fire drill by the end. The more information the piece includes, in fact, the more overwhelmed the viewer becomes. Instead, this motion graphic has one goal, and sticks to it -- and because we have just a few things to remember, the piece might actually help families be safer in the case of a fire than a motion graphics that's weighed down with information.
2. You're using too many visual elements.
Neuroscience research has found that the working memory can process as many as four different sources of stimuli at one time. More than that, however, the mind begins to strain and comprehension decreases.
One of the most common design mistakes in infographics and other forms of visual communication is including visual elements that don't do any work. But not only are these unnecessary, they might actually be decreasing the comprehension and engagement of readers by providing too much stimuli at once. Instead, include just a few compelling visuals at a time, and make sure they work in harmony.
3. You're burying the lead.
In great design, organization is everything. You need to offer your viewer simple and clear guidelines for where the eye should go. A cluttered piece of visual content overloads the viewer and leaves him or her confused about where to look. When the hierarchy of the design isn't clear, viewers find it difficult to know what's really important.
Burying visuals that provide key clues as to the topic of your visual content is one of the most common errors. I've seen infographics with the title halfway down the graphic, or with their most compelling illustrations near the bottom. Provide clear visual cues as to your topic right away and you'll hook your target audience faster. You'll also help them know from the start what to expect from your content so that they can move through the information with greater ease.
Are you committing one of these errors in your visual marketing? Follow the rules of simple design and you should see more engagement and better retention of your message.