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Designing information and managing attention October 27, 2006

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in News.
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Two key ideas inform the field of information design: attention management and meaning making.

On the Web, the scarce resource is human attention and to triumph is to get people to look at the site. Cyberspace has become an information and news jungle that demands new mediators. The challenge is to help users see the big picture by filtering and communicating useful information in insightful ways.

Attention Management: Attention is the currency of the 21st century and “Attention Management” the discipline of the future for content presenters. The issue is not more access to information but more human attention. In the information industry, how the media manage attention will be the key determinant of success.

Bandwidth may approach the unlimited and compression the infinite, but our time to take in information does not change substantially. A crucial variable will be our ability to concentrate on multiple stimuli.

Attention management is the art of directing behavior by generating focused mental engagement. Professional communicators, consummate politicians, and savvy marketers have long known that information must be packaged and presented well to make a “good read” or a “good show.” The media industries offer many lessons.

Hollywood weaves entertainment value into movies. TV features serialise short narratives to hook viewers. Publishers plump for tabloid books and memoirs, while advertisers employ frequency, repetition, and slogans to drive their message across. Competition for attention from other sites means online news pages must be lean and fast. Web usability studies show that users want quicker access to information without the bells and whistles.

More than ever, information professionals must sieve and weave the master narratives from the chatter and the chaff.

Meaning Making: The digital landscape is changing the way people acquire knowledge. In print communication, typographical clues help to construct meaning. With the unit of information shifting to bytes, knowledge acquisition, once based on book learning, is becoming non-linear.

As the Web opens up myriad worldviews, journalists, editors, and information designers are being called upon to turn information to useful knowledge. Traditional information-processing agencies, from newspapers to networks like CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and BBC, have made it their business to make sense of the world for readers and viewers via various strategies to manage attention and present information.

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