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    Thin Is In, for Business Writing and Presentation

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    Take a look at the Beatles in 1964, arriving in New York for their first U.S. television appearance (on the Ed Sullivan Show). Note those skinny ties and narrow jacket lapels. Now skip over the broad sweep of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s to today: Thin is back in style.

    That's as true of business writing as of haberdashery. Text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook have driven us to write leaner copy. People just don't have time for lengthy messages. With its PLAIN Writing Act, even the U.S. government is driving this push for succinctness.

    Happily, the shift to leanness is also making information presentation increasingly visual. Graphic elements like headings and bullet lists have become commonly accepted for highlighting key points, of course. But well-designed infographics are used more and more to make complex data digestible. Further, with increased bandwidth available, online audio and video are replacing text for quick consumption of information. (I recently repaired my washing machine, for example, after watching a home-appliance store's YouTube video.)

    Given the rise of smartphones and tablet computers, this trend toward "thin" is only going to continue, especially online. Short text is helpful text. Multimedia options that help viewers quickly find what they need (as opposed to multimedia dress-up) will be rewarded with more visitors.

    For a further glimpse of this slim-lined future, take a look at HTML5. It's a match made for mobile computing. The days of Flash-heavy or (heaven forbid) Flash-only sites are numbered.

    If you're writing for the Web, or anyhow influencing your company's Web presence, and you're not already browsing with a mobile device, it's high time to start. It's the only way to really understand how well your site works for your visitors, or doesn't. You may also want to begin chanting this mantra: "Thin is in."

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by JonoMueller