User testing for content: when users skim read and when they don't

For at least two decades, I have been conducting think-aloud interviews with users to test their understanding of content.  

I have tested - and continue to test  - a diverse range of topics, for example: cycling safety, exchange-traded funds, denied insurance claims, superannuation fees and charges, and many others.  I have watched how people read letters, landing pages, statements and brochures. 

As part of this experience, I have learned how people actually read.

It is a myth that all users skim read information

Content creators are often advised to write for skim readers who navigate via headings.

My experience is that this is a false assumption. In the user tests I have conducted, I have seen many times that while some users do skim read, others users read carefully, while some don't read at all.

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What do people want when they ask for sustainable products or investments? 

If you are a researcher, marketer, communications specialist or product developer you may be wondering how to make sense of what seem to be competing trends in sustainability.

The first step is to realise that what people mean by sustainability is probably different from what you mean.

This is what it means at your workplace

  • If you work in an organisation that specialises in (say) vegan foods, it is likely that you will think about sustainability within the context of agriculture and perhaps the ethics of killing animals. If you work in investment, sustainability for you might  equate to socially-responsible investing so you may avoid investing in gambling for example. If you work in fashion, you may be working on creating substitutes for leather, perhaps. There are many other examples where what sustainability means to you depends on where you work.

  • Brands that offer sustainable products and the competing brands that don't 'take sides', and argue against each other in simple black versus white terms. Some of those brands then take that black versus white discourse to the public. 

This is what it means to everyone else

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The neuroscience of making sense of each other

The drive to make sense

One of my current preoccupations is sense-making, the drive that people have to make sense of things, so  I am always on the look-out for more information about it.  I was therefore delighted to find this piece from Leonhard Schilbach http://semioticon.com/semiotix/2015/02/toward-social-neuroscience/ about how human beings make sense of each other, especially how we do that during social interaction.

Two neural networks

It seems that we have two distinct neural networks which help us make sense of other people:

  1. Mirror neurons which we use to make sense of other people based on our own understanding of ourselves; and
  2. A Mentalising Network where we have a ‘third person’ grasp of other people’s mental states.

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