In her 2011 book, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D. combines her favorite psychology theories, concepts, and research about people along with her experience in interface design in order to help designers develop more intuitive and engaging products that match the way that we read, think, and interact with information. Here are a few tips that I thought might be helpful for families to design Dear Birthparent Letters that connect.
- People perceive that things that are close together belong together. Organize your text and layout. If you are writing a paragraph about your pet, then include picture with that pet next to the corresponding text, not two pages later. This same sentiment could also be applied to photos. For examples, couples are encouraged to emphasize their connectedness as a family through close proximity, overlapping, hugging and touching. Look like you enjoy the company of the person next to you to convey a sense of unity, rather than appearing as two buddies or separate entities.
- Color can influence what people see. Be mindful of the color selections in your letter, and what they may communicate. Avoid dark clothing or background colors that may look too serious or gloomy. Utilize color palettes that convey a sense of warmth and complement your cover photograph. Studies have shown that solid red and blue together are hard on the eyes, so avoid this text/background combination. Also, color can be used to help add emphasis to areas of text that you want to stand out. For example, use blocks of color to separate headers and paragraphs or sidebars/captions from the main text or photos.
- Whether you like it or not, people will filter your information.Weinschenk says, “People process information better in bite-sized chunks.” You cannot control how long birth mom reads your letter, so make each element count so that the information that is most important shines through. Break up text into chunks using bullets, short paragraphs, and photos. People have selective attention spans. Utilize bold text to indicate the information that you want them to pay attention to. Avoid long paragraphs and allow breathing room between them.The easier you make it for people to find your information, the more likely that they will engage with that information. Readers often filter by location, so be sure your City/State, contact information, and web links are clearly visible on all of your marketing materials. Save ALL CAPS for when you really need to get someone’s attention, such as in headlines. If people have trouble reading the font, then they may not understand your message.
- People learn best from examples. Don’t just tell people. Show them. It’s great to mention your activities and favorite pastimes, and how much you love children. However, you can help to create a visual picture in your reader’s mind by including pictures that help to illustrate this. Have you considered creating an adoption video or marketing your campaign online?
- People pay attention to faces. Use them appropriately. In the age of social media apps like Instagram, it has become a trend to post close-up pictures of yourself (a.k.a. “selfies.”). If you’re an avid user, it’s likely that after seeing too many similar posts, you become somewhat bored and scroll past to go to next user’s post. The same can be said for the photo collection used in your letter. Don’t overwhelm the reader with “selfies” and posed group shots. Candid and action shots work best to illustrate your text. Striking a balance between posed photographs and action shots, that show you engaged in an activity and/or interacting with a child, helps to create a visual variety that helps to lead a reader’s eye through your text.
- Stories help to create images in people’s minds. Tell your story using anecdotes that invoke emotions and empathy. This is more compelling than just listing factual data. People process information more deeply and remember it longer if there is an emotional connection.Check out this example:
“Our names are Pat and Hal. We met in college. We have known each other for 10 years, and have been married for five. “
Once more, with feeling:
“We fondly recall the day that we met at the campus bookstore 10 years ago. Pat tripped and fell, dropping all her books on the floor. Hal, noticing this out of the corner of his eye, knelt down to help pick them up. That kind and thoughtful gesture turned into a great conversation, and the rest is history!”)
Can you see a difference?
In closing, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People delves into several common communication issues that I consider daily when reviewing client letters. The book offered some useful perspectives into how the readers, our birth parents, might interact with Dear Birthparent letters when received. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is creating any type of product designed to engage others.