Knowledge Management and Beauty

A conversation I’d like to hear more of in the knowledge management and exchange (KME) [1] space is this: It is worthwhile to spend time on design of knowledge products. People will more readily absorb knowledge that is presented in a pleasing way. You aren’t going to share your knowledge effectively if looking at your newsletter makes people’s eyeballs hurt.[2] “Look and feel” isn’t about being pretty or cool; I see it as a genuine make-or-break issue for successful knowledge management.

Look and feel—which I think of as shorthand for the Venn diagram overlap of usability, user experience, and design—is important. In my experience, most people who are vocal about the importance of look and feel are designers, so I think non-designers take that opinion with a grain of salt. “Sure, *you* think it’s important to avoid flashing-spinning-screaming things and Comic Sans, but I love my ideas, and I’m the client.” (There are many excellent summaries of this client/designer tension, including The Oatmeal’s How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell, so I’ll spend no more time on it.)

I think more people in the KM(+/-)E sphere should be concerned about look and feel—and not just about websites. Anything I produce—from an email to a print piece to a website to a conference presentation—has a look and feel. Considering look and feel, finding out what people think about it, and improving it where possible is critical to effective knowledge management and exchange.

Someone looking at a website for the first time decides in 1/20th of one second whether it looks good. That instant carries over into judgments about quality, usefulness, and reputation of a site and its content. So creating a positive first impression is a crucial first step to improving knowledge use and exchange.

If a website design makes me feel overwhelmed, I’m going to leave (that’s why I picked Google over Yahoo in the search engine wars back in the day—Google gave me a clean search box; Yahoo garbaged the search up with news and entertainment and travel options and and and…). If a brochure has jarring or out-of-context art choices (e.g., a combination of stock photography and clip art), I probably won’t read it. If a presenter is reading words from her own slides, she loses my attention. I don’t get the benefit of the attempt at knowledge exchange. In everyday life, that’s as much my fault as yours—but if you call yourself a knowledge manager, invested in knowledge exchange and uptake, it’s your responsibility to think about whether that initial 1/20th of a second will make your audience think that your website/brochure/presentation is worth more seconds, or even minutes or hours, of their attention.

[1] At some point circa 2011, I started seeing the abbreviation “KM” for “Knowledge Management” being replaced with “KME,” “KM&E”, or “KM/E”—meaning “Knowledge Management and Exchange”. The change didn’t fully take hold—”knowledge management” gets over 13,000,000 results on Google, vs. just under 6 million for “knowledge management and exchange”. I had always read the “…and exchange” as implied: To me, there’s no purpose in managing knowledge unless people use and exchange the knowledge I’m managing. Go back to reference point.

[2] I realize this whole topic marginalizes people with visual impairments. I don’t know the accessible equivalent of “look and feel”. I should probably educate myself much more on that front. Go back to reference point.