Thursday, May 9, 2013

black and white is color

In my work for financial services companies, most of the content appears in black and white. Sometimes preprinted stock is used or color is used for the text, but most often all content is in black and white. So, how is one piece of content distinguished from another? This is where knowledge of fonts and their weights come in because there is color in black text. Try squinting at the following two examples and you will see that they are shades of black. This technique of squinting is good when viewing large amounts of text on a page because you can see how the shades of black work together and how some information stands out.

As you will see, the piece on the left looks grey while the piece on the right is black. This is the color of black and white. Below shows how combing bold and light (light and dark grey) immediately draws the eye to the most important information and guides it through the document.

Next time - UN in LUNA.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

LOCATE - the L in LUNA


In order for any communications to be clear, the user (here i go again) needs to be able to find information that he/she is looking for. That means many things. Among them are:

1. choosing correct fonts
2. management of white space
3. grouping of information
4. understanding the "color" of black and white
5. graphic design (look & feel)
6. placement of information
7. font choice/size/weight of different types of information
8. hierarchy of information

Talking about font choices, weights, and sizes can be a very long, technical discussion. It is the hardest thing a graphic designer has to learn because everything a designer does involves typography. There are hundreds of fonts, some very similar, but they all have their particular nuances. Even Arial and Helvetica although very similar, (Arial is based on Helvetica) are quite different. A deep discussion at this point would be too involved, but if you are interested, I would suggest reading Just My Type by Simon Garfield, a good book that is both informative and interesting. I will go into typography in more detail in a future blog.

White space management is extremely important. Most often, I run into the client who says "oh, here is an empty space, let's add a message" or something to that effect. In reality, finding information on a document or website can be challenging if the page is jammed with text and the eye cannot distinguish areas of content. In fact, I would say that white space is THE most important consideration.

Next to white space, grouping of information is next. I have seen designers put so much space between lines, that each line looks to be its own thought making the a paragraph read as multiple areas. Here is a little example. On the left side the eye sees one group of information  on the right side, the eye is seeing multiple pieces of content making reading more difficult.

next time - the color of black and white and why it is important.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A new view on Information Design

LOCATE/UNDERSTAND/ACT™ or as I refer to it -  LUNA

In an attempt to clarify my work and to simplify my projects, I have created the LUNA process. Over the next few weeks, using examples, I will explain the process and its meaning relative to clear communications. Although I call myself an information designer, I've aways felt that it was difficult for the average (non-designer) person to comprehend easily, and without too much additional explanation, what it is I do and how I make communications more successful.

Let's start with the high level view: 
In order for any communications to be clear, the user must be able to LOCATE the information (content) that they need easily and quickly. Next they then need to UNDERSTAND the information that they found, and thirdly, they need to be able to ACT upon the information they found and understood. Although my expertise is in financial services, insurance and healthcare documents, LUNA is defined in a broad way - any paper document, any website, any smart phone or tablet - in fact - ANY communications. If you can't satisfy ALL three areas of LUNA, then the communications fails. But, more on that in another post.

A note here is in order - I use the word "user", but I'm afraid that might not be the best. I've tried audience, person, customer, etc., not ideal choices. I'm having trouble finding a suitable replacement. 

Any suggestions?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Black Monday, the Day CMS Readmission Reduction Program became effective

Stay away, we don’t want you!

That‘s what hospitals are telling their patients as they get discharged.
Readmissions to the hospital for certain conditions are becoming  
very expensive. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are now getting 
penalized for readmission for heart failure, heart attacks or pneumonia, 

with more conditions being added in future years. 

This year 2,217 hospitals will be penalized resulting in $280 million 
dollars being returned to Medicare. That doesn’t include any state 
penalties they might incur.

Again – why? The federal government found out that nearly one in five 
Medicare patients return to hospitals within a month of discharge and it 
cost the government an extra $17.5 billion in 2010.
That’s right, billion with a “B”!
To help reduce readmissions, hospitals are becoming more pro-active
after discharge by implementing outreach programs to ensure patients  
get follow up appointments, take their medications regularly after  
returning home and sending nurses to visit patients at home.
But, while hospitals are trying many different approaches with varying  
degrees of success, one area often over looked is the discharge process 
itself and the paperwork that accompanies the patient home. If you or 
family member has had a hospital stay, you have seen various flavors of 
discharge instructions. 
While we here at NEPS cannot follow a patient home and help with 
medications (we’d like to, but we don’t have the skills or license), we use 
our expertise in clear communications and information design to make 
documents easier for people to understand and follow. The result is not 
only better for the patients and caregivers, but for hospitals too. Simple 
instructions may help lower the cost of the post-discharge follow-up 
Here are two examples:
First, the following is a section from a seven-page discharge form that 
tells the patient about the blood clot medicine they are taking home. At 
quick glance, it looks like four bullets, but the fourth bullet (10 lines) 
includes the time and place of your next test and the name of your  
physician. The text all runs together with no visual separation and is the 
same font and same point size, making it hard to read and more crucially, 
find important information. The testing/contact information is lost.

before discharge sample
Think about a patient as they are being discharge from the facility and 
with a nurse who is going over seven pages of information. The
patient may still be suffering from the effects of the procedure 
medication and might not be fully aware. Maybe there is a family 
also in that meeting. But that family member might not be 
with the
patient 2, 3 or 4 days after when the patient needs to refer 
to the
discharge papers. It will be difficult trying to weed through 
seven highly
illegible pages.
Now look at the revised sample.
nwh patient care sample
Notice the use of different types of fonts– bold and light – to distinguish
information and allow the eye to find relevant groups of content. In
addition, the proper use of white space creates separation so the eye can
focus on each group and quickly and easily find the appropriate 
information. Here too, a larger font size is used, making readability easier 
even for olderor visually impaired patients. This is all accomplished while 
taking up lessspace on a page thus giving the patient fewer pages to read. 
Together, all these factors can help improve the chances of success in 
keeping patients from being readmitted.
Equally as critical in this type of document is the order in which 
informationis provided. We recently reviewed a card sent home with a 
chemotherapypatient to help them understand and manage the after 
effects. The first item on the 5 ½ x 8 ½ sized card was:
“How it is given: Into the vein”
This information is entirely irrelevant in this context and yet it is given the
most prominent position on the card. What is relevant is what side effects
can be expected, a list of symptoms that should prompt a call to your 
doctor, and a list of recommended behavior or things to avoid. Fully half of 
this information was on the back of the card, including all the information 
about when you should call your doctor. The very last bullet on the back 
side of the card was a warning about avoiding the use of “aspirin or aspirin 
containing products”. Since this is a common OTC medication that many 
use without thinking, and taking it can lead to complications for some, 
this warning should be much more prominent.
Ultimately, we designed the card to look like this with all information on 
one side and the most critical having the most prominence.
Although the penalties are capped at 1% this year, they will go up to 2% 
next year and 3% the following year. Hospitals must do whatever they can 
to minimize the penalties, but also improve healthcare and reduce medical 
errors. While outreach programs and personal visits and phone calls can 
prove effective in preventing readmissions, they are expensive and not 
always available at the exact time they are needed. Why rely solely on 
multiple people and processes as a costly band-aid (pun intended!) on the 
post-discharge end when clear communications can result in increased 
understanding of and adherence to follow-up activities?
In our own way, we are playing an important role in making information 
clearer, readable and easier to understand for all involved, while cutting 
down on preventable post-hospitalization complications.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Creating a delightful customer experience with effective customer communications management.

When was the last time you had a “delightful customer experience”? Chances are good that a big part of your experience was created by a special “someone” who contributed that little something extra, without which, there wouldn’t have been a wonderful experience worth remembering. In today’s world of customer communications, the challenge is figuring out how to add that special “something” extra into the processes, designs, and technologies used to deliver relevant, impactful communications that delight the customer.
Fundamentally, the entire customer communications management process can be separated into two buckets. The technologies and the people. Or, said another way, the tools and the expertise; the bow and the archer, the kitchen and the cook, etc. Few of us would argue that Julia Childs easily created delightful customer experiences using some basic tools any of us could also pick up at a local grocer…a chicken, some herbs, and butter (and more butter). It was Julia’s expertise that made her meals quite different than anything you or I could possibly create.

Simply put expertise matters. And that’s wonderful news to anyone willing to invest their time and energy into building customer communications management skills that can help create more delightful customer communications experiences. One critical aspect of effective customer communications management that’s often overlooked is Information Design, which simply means making information easier for the intended audience to both understand and act upon.
Check out an article I wrote for the Insurance and Technology Magazine at:

Friday, January 28, 2011

ID Doc's comment on Plain English is greek to some

This article brings to light some of the problems and challenges with the understandability of financial documents. The new requirements while a good start as  plain language experts, Annetta Cheek and Joe Kimble have said, I would like to expand upon one area that Joe touched on. As an information design and clear communications expert, I employ plain language in all of my work (mostly financial statements and forms) but I need to stress the importance of other aspects of clear communications such as readable fonts, points sizes large enough, but not to large, for comfortable reading, proper use of white space within the document and a clear hierarchy of information. For example, text written in all capital letters has been proven to be hard to read and slows down the process of getting through a document. While underlining seems to be a way of emphasis, it dates back to typewriters when it was the main way stress important information. In today's world we can use other techniques like larger point sizes and bolding for emphasis. Besides, in today's world, underlining often means a link to another page in the internet. Another issue is the audience. For most documents, there are multiple audiences. The document should be able to comfortably address all audiences.