Skimp on the Details

Crosswalk signThe photo in this post is a crosswalk sign in Topeka. Take a good look at all those instructions …

Also note that the crosswalk sign talks to you, too. When the light is red, you are told every few seconds “Do Not Cross the Road” or something like that.

And then when the light turns green, and you get that little “walking dude” icon that means you can cross the street, there’s another voice that starts talking. This voice sounds … um … let’s just say he has a bit of a rural accent, and he tells people wanting to cross the street something to the effect of “it’s now ok to cross the road, and to look both ways” … or something like that (I have yet to actually understand what the guy says).

My favorite part of the crosswalk sign is the arrow with the “To Cross Push Button” instructions. The arrow makes it look like you actually need to cross the street to push the button … in order to cross the street. Hee.

So … doesn’t everyone know how to cross the road when there’s a crosswalk sign? I mean really – you push the button and wait for the signal to walk … right? This is pretty simple stuff, and it really doesn’t need four lines of text and two different voice recordings to help you successfully get across the road.

Guess what? Sometimes, we do the same thing to our customers. Too many instructions. Signage with detailed explanations. Websites that provide way too many details about a library service.

How about our library catalogs? There might be too many details there, too. For example, I just looked up “The Hobbit,” and found this line of text:

Description: 271, [4] p. : ill., maps ; 21 cm.

I can hear our customers now – “Oh great! This book is 21 cm tall  – just what I was looking for!” Not to mention the full MARC record that’s attached. Our customers are just clamoring for that.

What do our customers want? Well – the book. Probably with a simple button that says “check out now” or something similar. At this point, many of our customers are pretty familiar with the “add to cart” idea of a shopping website, and checking out something on a library catalog website is pretty similar.

Here’s your assignment – take a look at a set of instructions for something your library does, and see how much detail you can remove while still making those instructions useful. I’ll bet you will be surprised!