TMI (Too Much Information)--
and How to Deal with It
An artist named Ken Auster
has this to say about painting miniatures:
Painting miniatures, I eliminate detail and provide less information....This works for viewers, too, because they expect less information in a small painting.
Twitter is, of course, the ultimate "miniature." But most writing projects involve decisions about what to do with too much information. Stuffing it all in the piece--whether it's website copy, a report, a speech, or whatever--can dilute your message or cause people to stop reading.
This fall, I am taking a course in Information Architecture, taught by information design guru Thom Haller. An important topic is how to deal with content, which almost always means too much of it.
The book Simple and Usable: Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design by Giles Colborne presents an interesting way to come up with a solution.
As a metaphor, Colborne uses a DVD controller--that confounded device that presents us with three dozen or more buttons when most us use maybe five. Colborne asks job applicants how they would simplify the device. While he is hiring information designers, the idea resonates for writers and our similar challenges.
He says people's solutions fall into four main categories. Consider them when you are figuring out how to treat a lot of information.
1. Remove In the case of the controller, it means eliminating the buttons/functions that are rarely used. In writing, it may mean excluding extratraneous information. (A friend of mine uses a quote from Elmore Leonard in her email signature: "I leave out the parts that most people skip.")
2. Organize For the controller, regroup and rearrange the buttons in a more logical fashion, as learned through usability testing. In writing, it may mean a reorganization of an article or other publication or new navigation structure for a website.
3. Hide For the controller, Colborne says, some people propose physically hiding buttons behind a panel. On a website, it could mean that readers who want to delve deeper click onto interior pages.
4. Displace You may decide to transfer buttons/information elsewhere, perhaps to the TV screen in the case of the controller. For writing, you may use an Appendix, a second volume, a document available upon request, etc.
Chances are you are working on a piece right now that involves "TMI."
As Giles Colborne says: Remove, Organize, Hide, Displace. Which one of these will work best for your readers?