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Project Communications: A Visual Understanding

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The purpose of communicating with any stakeholder is to build his or her understanding of a project. But there is a huge gap between looking at a written message and understanding its contents.

The PMBOK® Guide differentiates between the:

•    Message -- what you want to communicate
•    Medium -- the way you send the message and
•    Noise -- things that interfere with comprehension.

The concept of noise disrupting communication is easy to appreciate when you are talking with a stakeholder, either face-to-face or on the phone. But what many project managers fail to realize is that the same principles apply to written communication.

A significant body of research suggests a well-designed document can communicate up to 80 percent more information to your stakeholder than one that is poorly designed.

Consider these elements when designing your next project document:

Page layout: In most cases, the eye starts naturally at the top left of a page and flows down to the bottom right. Ignoring this flow disrupts the natural reading pattern and reduces comprehension.  

Clutter: Multiple fonts, font sizes and colors may create a great visual impression but fail the communication test. The best combination for text color is a black font on white background.

I find that serif fonts, like Times New Roman, are easiest to read in the body of a document. Sans serif fonts like Ariel look cleaner in headlines. Use one of each with minimal embellishment to reduce noise.

Page design: Leave plenty of white space at the margins, between paragraphs and around images. Place key messages in headlines, use diagrams wisely and caption them effectively.

Designing an effective document layout is an art -- you need to balance creating an attractive document with making the information inside easy to read and understand.

Do you think document design can impact your project's communications with your stakeholders? Why or why not? Tell us about your experience.

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2 Comments

This is surely a good post. A well presented documented gives an incentive to reader.

I would also like to add that a few diagrams add variety and ease of comprehension. Further, highlighting what is most important leaves reader with longer retention. I am even planning to change a few font combinations and hyperlink color on my blog. Any suggestion for look on my blog will be most appreciated.

I think the key to any document is its content, however, a document with a good layout that makes it clear and more objective, has a great impact on content that wants to be communicate. I also think that the results presented in graphical form have more impact than tables with data.

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