Depth and Accessibility

I struggle sometimes—especially when starting a new project—at intuitively sussing the proper balance between depth and accessibility for whatever it is I’m presenting.

These two attributes aren’t inherently in opposition: it’s possible to present complex concepts and topics in a concise, casually attainable fashion so that most of what you want to convey translates well to anyone who might even superficially engage with it.

Often, though, that engagement is limited by other factors like the time, energy, and resources the folks on the other end of your communications have available (or are willing to spend on the thing you made).

Thus, while they might learn a lot about nuclear fusion if they invest 15 minutes in your video explainer, that duration and level of attention might be asking too much; we live in a world of endless and appealing distractions of all shapes, sizes, and mediums, after all.

They may be willing to toss a minute or two your way, but no more than that. And that minute or two could be a ceiling, not a floor: if you fail to capture and hold their attention from the get-go, 10 or 20 seconds might be the most you can hope for, and even then you may be working with partial attention not complete, absorbed focus.

The theory here, then, is that there’s a push-pull relationship inherent in any such communication, and finding the appropriate balance for your intended audience is a perpetual struggle, lest you deliver density to folks who want a base-level understanding and send superficial factoids to those who would prefer more-complete analysis.

Compounding this concern is the fact that we tend to prefer depth in some correspondences and shallow-but-useful knowledge-nuggets in others.

I subscribe to a handful of music-focused newsletters and I truly value their recommendations, but I’m not looking to become a scholar on any of the musicians or the genres in which they operate.

What I’m looking for, then, is a superficial takeaway from people who have a great depth of music knowledge. The folks making these recommendations write scholarly papers on this industry and the work it contains, but I’m subscribing for what amounts to a list of links (from which I derive a huge amount of value).

I also subscribe to a fair number of geopolitical publications, however, and in these I find less utility in superficial takes, instead preferring well-constructed arguments and predictions, paired with analysis from thoughtful, informed people.

These writings are long, involved, require a decent amount of background knowledge to parse, and are exactly what I’m looking for: a stark contrast to my music publication preferences.

Figuring out which of my projects and publications are serving which audiences, who has what needs, and how best to promote these digital goods to the right people is quite the undertaking.

Many people prefer to maintain a fundamental understanding of what’s happening in the world, for instance, only diving deeper into a subject when it becomes more vital to their practical everyday concerns.

Pitching a publication that helps readers maintain this sort of global situational awareness can be tricky, though, because you don’t want to imply that the content is watered-down or reduced in value: it’s (hopefully) useful work focused on a different outcome.

And this can be extra-tricky when it comes to serving audiences that are expert in many fields, and who thus wouldn’t want to be associated with something that might be construed as serving up a “dumbed-down” version of whatever’s being covered.

I prefer to engage with “simplified” music-related content, but the idea of not getting a “pro-grade” version of something can be rankling to some—a preference that I would argue is limiting (those who do this deny themselves a baseline understanding of anything they don’t have the time, attention, or interest available to fully invest themselves in), but it’s one that seems to be fairly common, nonetheless.

There’s no perfect balance here, and I find myself regularly reassessing and rebalancing existing projects based on feedback from those engaging with my work, and I think that’s the best one can hope for, though the better one’s understanding of one’s intended outcome and audience from the get-go, the fewer fundamental rewirings you’ll tend to have to perform, over time.

If you found value in this essay, consider buying me a coffee :)

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