Minimalism Wins Again!

If you missed Bernard Aschwanden’s presentation at our March 17th chapter meeting, you missed out on a lot of good information. Even though Bernard had been sick, he managed to fly here from Canada and present a great talk on minimalism. He introduced some levity into his presentation to keep us all engaged after a lovely dinner and networking. Bernard also imparted a lot of wisdom.

Everyone can learn to write better and write less. You can actually provide more information by doing this, and Bernard proved it!

You might ask, “How does this affect me?” Every technical communicator, aspiring writer, user experience professional, customer service expert, or student should pay attention. Yes, this means you, even if I didn’t list your specific position (that would not be an example of minimalism).

What is minimalism? Wikipedia says, “In the visual arts and music, minimalism is a style that uses pared-down design elements.” It reminds me of the KISS principle: “Keep It Simple Stupid” that I heard so many times in my career. Except that the term minimalism is much nicer and encourages innovative thinking about ideas that can make the information more understandable.

Seriously, Wikipedia defines minimal art, minimalism in visual art, minimalist design and architecture, minimalist architecture and space, literary minimalism, etc. That’s a lot of minimalism. You get the picture, right? And speaking of that, is a picture really worth a thousand words? Yes. Bernard proved that too.

How? You can describe an average human as 5’7″ tall, a Beluga whale as 18′ long, and a Blue whale as 98′ long. If you place this information into a table, it’s easier to explain. Put it into a graphic and WOW, it is so much easier to understand! (See his slides 30 and 31 if you don’t believe me.)

So what’s the point? Bernard identified four main points:

  1. Be brief, don’t spell out everything
  2. Be consistent
  3. Don’t bury important content
  4. Provide closure in tasks

Also, since people want to DO things, it’s important to:

  • Provide an immediate opportunity to act,
  • encourage and support exploration and innovation, and
  • respect the integrity of the user’s activities.

These items above are verbatim from Bernard’s presentation so please don’t take my word for it; check it out at It makes sense!

I wish every technical communicator would review Bernard’s presentation and try to implement some of his suggestions. It would sure make any editor’s life easier!

Check out his tips for getting started using minimalism on slide 39. Take a verbose example and break it up by chunking the information into logical containers. You might remember the information mapping method? Use it to simplify and streamline the content so it makes more sense in fewer words. You might want to introduce some pictures or graphics. While you’re at it, be mindful if your company will be translating the information too.

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re synthesizing complex ideas into meaningful information. I’ll leave you with Bernard’s best piece of advice: What’s the most important thing technical communicators should remember? Why, of course, it’s your audience! Go forth and employ minimalism successfully.

About Martha Sippel

Martha Sippel is an STC Fellow who has developed and presented compelling, accurate technical material for more than 35 years. She consistently receives recognition for her contributions, from the Distinguished Chapter Service Award to international awards for her work on CH2M HILL's intranet and was recognized for being an outstanding mentor to STC's Charlotte Regional Chapter. Martha is a Park Meadows Metropolitan District board director, a South Suburban Park Foundation (501c3) board trustee, a Certified Interpretive Guide (National Association for Interpretation or NAI), and volunteers for the STC Rocky Mountain Chapter (RMC), and her HOA. She served as a City of Lone Tree Planning Commissioner from 2008-2015 and a User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) editorial board member from 2007-2017. As Principal of AzuWrite LLC, she helps design effective user interfaces for websites and web applications and provides user experience, usability, and information architecture expertise to clients.
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