Quality, Not Quantity, Should be the Focus

An image of an echidna, carrying a large boulder, Atlas-style, on its back.

I still blame high school English teachers

Despite our societal move towards quick, easily digestible, and readily accessible content structures, there’s still one outlier that seemingly prioritizes quantity over quality.

The report.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending UX Centre Stage, an event put on by Ladies that UX London. And the keynote speaker was Joe Natoli. In discussing the reporting tools we use, he said something that really resonated with me about how we use tools to overwhelm, rather than inform.

If you know me, you’ve likely come across me staring at a report and grumbling. Usually I’ll be saying something to the effect of, “Most of this is just filler! There’s one page of content, surrounded by 100 pages of fluff.”

Unfortunately, that’s all too often the norm. And I’m not sure who is to blame -- is it us, as content creators and analysts? Is it clients, who equate volume to quality? A while ago, in the midst of a 200+ page report, I made the comment that success was merely putting this printout on a scale and whether or not it met a certain weight would determine whether or not it received a thumbs up. The quality was secondary.

Honestly, what we should be striving for is something much less ambitious in scale, but far more ambitious in value. After all, what are we supposed to be doing in our reporting?

Inform, Don’t Overwhelm

Our goal is to inform. We should be providing actionable items and insight, based on our research and expertise. We should be striving for a deliverable that allows its reader to quickly read through, understand the context, and know what to do next.

Instead, the standard is to overwhelm.

Again, I blame high school English teachers and that fetishization of word count. A perfectly succinct, one-page, 125-word airtight argument? Sorry, you failed, because we wanted an artificially inflated 1,000-word response.

Early on, we’re taught more is better, when that’s not always the case. Less can be more if it’s tight, well-crafted, and insightful.

When you actually look hard at those massive reports, what are you actually seeing? A lot of non-specific boilerplate content, repetitive explanations and illustrations, and a whole lot of self-serving content. But what’s actually read? Definitely the executive summary. Maybe a few highlights. All the rest is mainly for show and it’s likely never to be read by anyone but the writer.

Be Succinct

Fortunately, all is not lost. One of the clients I’m currently working for has prioritized succinct reporting. We’re in the midst of a significant user experience testing project, but what they want in return is a high-level, PowerPoint style overview of our findings. Why? Because they know the target market is senior-level management, who simply don’t have the time or the desire to consume three trees’ worth of content.

That’s what we should be aiming for. I think we’d all rather focus on energies in providing content of true value to the end user -- distilling all our research and efforts into something that can be immediately consumed and understood. Something that provides value to the end user in comprehension and action.

Quality over quantity. That’s the ideal -- no matter what your English teachers may have taught you.

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