Information design research in context

It’s not unusual to be asked how information design differs from the wider field of graphic design; and what is research in information design. In her newly published short paper, Research in Graphic Design, in The Design Journal, Sue Walker presents her perspective on the current field of graphic design research and sets out information design research as ‘working out the optimal effectiveness’ of printed and digital communications for different user groups and contexts. She mentions the range of methods, including user involvement in  development, evaluation and application of design proposals, typical of information design. The breadth of research covered in the paper reminds us of the reach of graphic design into our work, cultural and emotional lives and its often subtle (and usually undocumented) influence on our effectiveness and well-being.

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Student researchers this summer

Sigrid Dalland

Sigrid Dalland is currently carrying out research as part of the University’s UROP scheme

We’re delighted to welcome three summer researchers into the Department, Carmen Martinez-Freile, Sigrid Dalland and Louise Lee. The diversity of their research topics demonstrates the scope of the Department’s research. Carmen and Sigrid have just finished their Part 2 year and are working on projects funded by the University’s Research Opportunities Programme, UROP. Carmen is working with Jeanne-Louise Moys, carrying out research, on the design of images used in rehabilitation for people with language impairments, typically in recovery from strokes. She has said ‘It’s exciting to be working on a project with real world applications’. Sigrid (pictured) is working with Rob Banham, compiling an annotated bibliography of the writings of 20th century graphic designer, FHK Henrion. Louise, who has recently graduated, is working with Alison Black on the design of probabilistic maps, as part of the NERC project, ERADACS, which is examining the development and communication of soil moisture forecasts to improve resilience to the drought in sub-Saharan Africa. Louise has commented ‘It’s very different from my student experience, and has been interesting to be immersed in Departmental Research’. We wish them well for the summer.

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New research to combat anti-microbial resistance

We are excited by the success of the research bid led by Sue Walker, Information design and architecture in persuasive pharmacy space: combating anti-microbial resistance (IDAPPS), which she submitted to AHRC, with Reading colleagues Flora Samuels, in Architecture, and Rosemary Lim in Pharmacy, and with Sue Hignett of University of Loughborough’s Design School. The project will consider the communication of information to combat the spread of infectious diseases historically, and work in the contemporary setting of community pharmacies, along with project partners, pharmacy chain Day Lewis, and communication design group, Design Science, to explore the use of pharmacies as spaces to communicate vital health information to wide-ranging audiences. The World Health Organisation has identified antimicrobial resistance as an increasingly serious threat to global public health which, without control, will threaten our ability to treat common infectious diseases and carry out even routine surgical or therapeutic treatments (such as hip replacements or diabetes management) which we currently take for granted.

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Developing interactive eLearning resources

eLearning project team: Jeanne-Louise Moys, Ann Marcus-Quinn and Tríona Hourigan

This week CIDR researcher, Dr Jeanne-Louise Moys visited the University of Limerick. Working with Dr Ann Marcus-Quinn (University of Limerick) and Dr Tríona Hourigan, Jeanne-Louise is developing interactive eLearning materials for a new digital study of typographic differentiation. The bespoke materials will be used in a classroom study measuring the effects of typographic differentiation on learners’ recall and motivation.

In Ireland, there is a paucity of Open Educational Resources for teachers of English at post-primary level so this project responds directly to this need by considering how well-designed digital resources could be used to enhance the classroom environment. It is hoped that the research findings will be used to develop guidelines for future resources and continuing professional development for teachers.

This exciting collaborative project is part of our involvement in the E-COST research network: E-READ. The project team brings together different disciplinary expertise: typography and information design (Jeanne-Louise), technical communication and education (Ann and Tríona). This week the team focused on developing the resource prototype and planning some expert reviews to validate it ahead of carrying out the study in Limerick in the autumn.

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Typographic presentation and how people read legal information

Typographic differentiation in an inland revenue succession document. Image: Department of Typography & Graphic Communication Collection

Typographic differentiation in an inland revenue succession document. (Image: Department of Typography & Graphic Communication Collection)

This week, CIDR researcher Jeanne-Louise Moys shared her research on typography and document design with legal and plain language practitioners at a Clarity breakfast talk. Her talk explored how effective typography can improve how people engage with legal and complex information, as well as contribute to their judgments of credibility.

Drawing on examples of legal documents (including historic examples from the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication collections and a range of current printed and digital examples), Jeanne-Louise explored how typographic differentiation (TD) is applied to legal information.

TD is the way in which designers use variations (such as typeface, size, weight, placement and spacing) to provide essential visual cues for readers. It is a useful concept for effective document design because it can make legal information seem less daunting to readers, support their understanding and help them navigate information. If applied effectively to document or interface design, it can help readers:

  • recognise a document’s genre
  • identify what kind of information they are reading
  • make judgments about whether information is relevant to them
  • identify key information (through emphasis)
  • understand complex information and document structure (through a visual hierarchy of headings)
  • distinguish components in different registers (such as shifts between explanation and commentary)
  • decide whether/how to read a document.

TD also helps explain how documents carry genre associations, which influence readers’ assumptions about credibility, provenance and tone. For legal documents, it plays a key role in establishing a sense of authority and helping readers identify what kind of information they are presented with.

Jeanne-Louise’s presentation also highlighted how principles for enhancing clarity and simplicity in writing, such as using shorter words and sentences, are important from a typographic point of view. Her research suggests that the typographic texture of information influences people’s assumptions about information complexity before they start reading. She found that people made assumptions about how interesting or difficult information was based on the length of words, sentences and paragraphs, even when they couldn’t read the text because it was presented as a third-order approximation of English (i.e. nonsense words that mimic the character combinations or real words).

Her presentation concluded with some key tips for making legal documents more accessible, such as:

  • Write considerately and simply – shorter words, sentences and paragraphs
  • Use legible typefaces appropriate to the kind of display or output
  • Avoid setting text with a very long line length
  • Use lists to break up visually dense and complex paragraphs
  • Create a clear structure and visual hierarchy (signposting)
  • Use space and alignment to support and clarify structure and hierarchy
  • Allow sufficient ‘breathing space’
  • Develop texture and emphasis but don’t overdo it or over-fragment the information – emphasis should be helpful not confusing
  • Avoid setting text in full capitals (caps are considered ‘bad practice’ in terms of inclusive design)
  • Consider alternative formats for users with disabilities and ensure that appropriate cues about structure are built in for text-readers.
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Typographic presentation and legal information

Jeanne-Louise will be talking about the importance of visual cues in legal document design, like the use of emphasis in the indenture shown here. Image from the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication Collections

We’re looking forward to Jeanne-Louise Moys’ invited talk to Clarity, the international association promoting plain legal language. The talk will discuss research on the impact of typographic presentation on people’s perceptions of documents, carried out as part of Jeanne-Louise’s PhD, which she has applied in a range of contexts.

Tickets for this free event, on 14 June,  are available now.

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Visualising Knowledge, Helsinki

Visualising Knowledge logoSome of CIDR’s work will be presented today at Aalto University’s annual day seminar, Visualising Knowledge. Alison Black will start the day with a talk, Representing technical information for everyday communication, which will be based on CIDR’s recent work in information design to improve healthcare processes and to communicate meteorological forecasts.

 

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New book on design for health

Congratulations to the editors of the newly published book Design for Health, Emmanuel Tsekleves and Rachel Cooper of Lancaster University’s design-led research centre ImaginationLancaster. The book forms part of Routledge’s series Design for Social Responsibility (edited by Rachel Cooper). It includes chapters by CIDR authors Sue Walker (reviewing the current and historical contribution of typography & information design to health communication) and Alison Black (an information design case study of work with renal specialists at Royal Berkshire Hospital to design documentation to support treatment of acute kidney injury).

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Communicating soil moisture forecasts in Ghana

Sample materials from ERADACS project

Our first set of materials, communicating climate and soil moisture forecasts, is ready for field testing in Northern Ghana. This is a first design outcome of one of our collaborative projects with meteorologists, funded by NERC, who are drawing together data on climate and land surface in order to provide improved seasonal forecasts for soil moisture. The project, ERADACS (Enhancing Resilience to Agricultural Drought in Africa through improved Communication of Seasonal Forecasts), has set out not only to improve forecast skill but to ensure forecasts are communicated in the most usable way to people making decisions about what crops to plant and when to plant them. The project is in partnership with the Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and NGO, Evidence for Development. University of Reading brings expertise in modelling climate and weather, satellite derived observations of rainfall from the TAMSAT group, a tradition of agricultural extension research and, from the perspective of information design, a heritage of  investigating the most accessible ways of communicating new information.

As field work gets underway we are conscious of the work in the 1950s of the Isotype Institute. Marie Neurath worked with local communities in West Africa, developing visual educational materials, initially about the constitutional impact of independence and subsequently to support public education campaigns regarding health and farming.

 

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Dementia Guide goes national

Today the Dementia Guide for Carers and Care Providers, the product of a collaboration with Health Education England Thames Valley, goes national at the Dementia 2020 conference, Royal Society of Medicine, London.

The guide can be downloaded from Amazon for Kindle, and is available from iTunes and iBooks store.

For some years now we have been working with healthcare professionals on research projects relating to dementia care, from which one output was the Handbook for Dementia Carers developed with Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust, to meet the information needs of carers in the Berkshire West region. Launched in 2014, it was subsequently adapted for use in the Essex region by Essex Healthwatch. More recently, we worked with Health Education England Thames Valley, to create app and ebook versions to extend the handbook content to professional as well as family carers.

The publicity materials for the conference exhibition stand (shown above) were prepared by Part 3 students in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, Francesca Britton and Alice Watkins.

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