Information overload – presenting reports and large documents in a user friendly way

Overhead view of designer working on laptop with drawing pad

2020 saw a huge increase in the amount of content published digitally. As organisations adapted to new ways of working, we saw a massive shift away from a requirement for printed content to screen optimised content including pdfs and ebooks. This was especially evident when it came to large documents and reports.

Presenting the kind of content that typically gets included in these large documents can require very different approaches depending on the end use, but in all cases it’s important to ensure that it makes it as effective as possible for the end user to read and understand the content. 

Our starting point when we work on a large document or report is based around how we can best get the content included in it to “stick” with the reader.  Only 10-20% of written content is retained over time compared to 65% when the information is presented visually so it’s important to look at how we can break up text with illustrations, graphics and charts. Alongside this we also look at how the content can work with assistive technologies and audience engagement. 

When it comes to developing a large document or report of your own, these are some of the key considerations we recommend you take into account:

Provide context for the content:

It’s important that your document is set in context. To do this effectively it needs introducing with a simpler, less detailed layer of content that sets out:

  1. why this is important for the audience
  2. what benefits reading it will bring them
  3. what they need to do next. 

This layering of information is important to enable people to digest the key messages and calls to action. Key information could also be made accessible using different methods such as video or animation.

Make use of graphs/infographics:

Using elements such as graphs and infographics alongside large sections of heavy text helps the reader to digest the information being presented much more efficiently. It can also help cater for readers who assimilate information in a more visual way.

Use photography to reinforce your brand:

Photographs are great tools to reflect your corporate brand values. Using people focused imagery on the cover as well as throughout the document helps present an authentic style ‘in tune’ with your audience group. 

Think about navigation:

Using tabs and bookmarks can provide quick access to core content and assist the reader with finding their way around the document. Where a document has large amounts of text heavy content it can benefit from clearly separating it into chapters or sections.

Bring some colour:

Bringing colour to your document isn’t just about making it look nice. Where your reader may suffer with visual impediments effective use of colour and contrast can help with legibility of content. For example, you should ensure that there is enough colour contrast between the text colour and background page colour to ensure it is legible.

Additionally you could consider using colour to break up key sections of the document, making it more accessible and easy to navigate for the end user; as well as making it more visually appealing.

Use white space:

It might seem counterintuitive, but when confronted with a page full of images and text, your eyes will automatically be drawn to what is different. Since it’s difficult to comprehend a large amount of information at one time, white space between paragraphs and around blocks of text improves readability and comprehension by 20%. 

In text heavy documents like annual reports and strategies, it is important to strike the right balance between content and legibility.

Making use of these hints and tips can not only enhance the look and feel of your document, but there are also some wider benefits too:

  • Saves time: a well produced and designed document is faster for people to process and a more enjoyable experience for them to read. 
  • Increases clarity: there’s likely to be improved clarity of any information in the document aiding with understanding of complex concepts.
  • Greater retention of information: As pointed out earlier in this post, only 10-20% of information is retained when dealing with words alone, so by factoring in visual elements you could be increasing information retention by up to 40%.

And of course, having a well written and presented document or report is only the starting point, and you should also be considering how it can be effectively published and distributed as well. 

A great example of how we put the principles outlined in this post into practice was our work with the Environmental Services Association to produce their first ever annual report which you can read about in more detail here.

If you want to find out more about how DTW can assist with helping you to take your documents and reports to the next level fill out the quick form below and one of the team will be in touch to discuss further.