Understanding Risk Forum – Mexico City

  Snaps from Matthew Lickiss, from the ice-breaker event for the Risk communication pressure cooker at the World Bank 2018 Understanding Risk Forum in Mexico City. Matthew is a Senior Tutor at the pressure cooker – an interdisciplinary event examining how scientific information and technology can be harnessed to inform local decision making to reduce and manage natural hazard risk. At this ice-breaker, participants were making representations of what risk communication meant to them, as a focus for discussion. Matthew’s involvement in the event stems from CIDR’s work, with University of Reading’s Meteorology and Psychology Departments, in research on the communication or risk and uncertainty (for example mapping volcanic ash for air traffic controllers, and representing soil moisture forecasts for farmers in Northern Ghana).

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Parliamentary event – Designing information for public understanding

Panel session: (left to right) Alison Black, Erik Spiekermann, Barry Sheerman MP, Rachel Cooper OBE, Paul Rodgers

We were delighted by the enthusiastic, capacity attendance on 5 February at a parliamentary event to raise awareness of the importance of designing information for public understanding, and to celebrate our book Information design research and practice. The evening, co-organised with the All Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group, was opened by the Chancellor of the University of Reading, The Right Honourable The Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, and Barry Sheerman MP chaired a lively panel session and discussion (above). Topics ranged from information design that hadn’t worked as intended, through the density of information in legal and regulatory documents, to the use of information design in changing behaviours. The more formal part of the evening was concluded by a presentation from the Dear How to team, Josefina Bravo, Tomoko Furukawa and Sol Kawage, all graduates of our MA Information design course, who are near the close of a year-long challenge to each draw and send to one another a set of non-verbal instructions every week.

Dear How to: (left to right) Tomoko Furukawa, Sol Kawage and Josefina Bravo

We’re grateful to Lord Waldegrave and Barry Sheerman MP, respectively, for hosting and steering us so generously, and to the many parliamentarians, design professionals and researchers, including contributors to our book, who helped make the evening so lively and interesting (more pictures here). We’re looking forward to following up the many new ideas and connections stemming from the event.


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Highlights from student placements

Last year, our graphic communication undergraduate students had the opportunity to undertake some exciting information design placements, including working on an inclusive design research project and designing infographics for the BMJ – (which may be  more familiar to some readers as the British Medical Journal).

We are involved in a cross-disciplinary research project exploring the role of icons in cueing therapy resources for people with aphasia.

Carmen Martínez-Freile explored the appropriateness of different levels of visual complexity in illustrations used in cueing therapy.

Part 3 student, Carmen Martínez-Freile joined our CIDR team to research the role of icons in cueing therapy. Carmen’s research was carried out as part of the University’s undergraduate research opportunities programme (UROP) and a wider research collaboration between Biomedical Engineering, Clinical Language Sciences and Typography & Graphic Communication, which brings together our shared interests in inclusive design and assistive technology. The project is supported by NIHR.

Working with Dr Jeanne-Louise Moys (CIDR), Professor Rachel McCrindle (Biomedical Engineering), Dr Holly Robson (Clinical Language Sciences) and other colleagues, Carmen explored the ways in which different kinds of visualisations might be used in cueing therapy. Carmen’s study explored participants’ preferences for different styles of illustration to help us identify which visual approach to apply to research materials used in assessing the effectiveness of illustrated boards used in cueing therapy. Contrary to existing guidelines, the findings of the focus group suggested that participants preferred simple icon-style illustrations. It is possible that participants’  familiarity with the kinds of icons they see in everyday mobile interfaces is why they found particular icons to be easiest to understand.

Part 2 student, Fenella Astley undertook an information design placement at the BMJ. During her time there, Fenella worked on a number of infographics, including topics such as ‘Faltering Growth’ and ‘World Bank and Financing Global Health’.  She also created a range of other data visualisations for the BMJ, including graphs, charts and forest plots.

Will Stahl-Timmins (BMJ Interactive Data Graphics Designer and a regular guest contributor our undergraduate data visualisation projects) said: “Fenella took on board the house style for infographics incredibly quickly, and having her input allowed us to get further ahead with the infographics schedule than ever before”.

Fenella said: “I particularly enjoyed working within a house style as it gave me an experience in industry which I had never had the opportunity to do before. I also enjoyed working at the BMA house in a professional environment as it gave me an insight into the industry of publishing which I thoroughly enjoyed and would consider as a career in the near future. Working alongside Will meant I learnt a lot during my time there. He gave me helpful advice on the design process, in particular the process of designing infographics. It was also very interesting to attend planning meetings for the journal which gave me a further understanding of the field of publishing.”

Fenella has already applied some of the skills she developed at this internship to her Graphic Communication degree coursework.

We look forward to future collaborations.

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How far has information design infiltrated parliamentary discourse?

Diagram of the ‘English Votes for English Laws’ process

Diagram of the ‘English Votes for English Laws’ process, debated in the House of Commons in 2015 and referred to in the first quotation below

Information design researcher, Karel van der Waarde, whose work has influenced European legislation regarding the design of information communicated in patient information leaflets for packaged medicines, has recently carried out an informal search for references to information design in Hansard, the record of UK parliamentary proceedings. In the last seven years, the word ‘typography’ was not mentioned once. The word ‘diagram’ was mentioned 68 times, although in some cases less positively than others.

Here are some indicative examples.

“Has she had a chance to look at the diagram that the Leader of the House has so helpfully distributed? In box 3, in a circle that is half orange and half green, there is a letter P, which apparently refers to ‘Further Ping Pong, if required’.”   Alex Salmond MP, July 2015

“There was a wonderful diagram of the interconnections between all the new bodies in the health service. It was like Spaghetti Junction.”  Baroness Tonge, February 2012

“That is perhaps because it is quite easy to draw some sort of diagram—an organigram—on a page showing the relationships, but that is not necessarily what real life is like.”   Baroness Hamwee, January 2017

“I cannot help thinking that if a diagram is needed to explain legislation, its supporters are in some sense doomed.”   John Pugh MP, June 2012

The last quotation by John Pugh MP parallels a similarly disparaging comment in 1994 by Betty Boothroyd, the House of Commons Speaker, “I have always believed that all members of this house should be sufficiently articulate to express what they want to say without diagrams” (see post at Macro-typography). It does seem, however, that thinking is moving forward to alternative or complementary ways of presenting information where words alone are difficult to navigate. Karel notes that in many instances where the word ‘diagram’ is used, the speaker is asking for clarification, ‘maybe a diagram would be helpful’.

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Forms design and the history of forms

We are delighted to be able to point you to a video of one of a series of seminars for masters students and postgraduate researchers in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. The seminars, covering a range of topics, are given during the academic year by Professor Emeritus Michael Twyman.

This seminar focuses on the design of forms and its history, and draws together the Department’s research interests both in the history of printing and graphic communication and in the design of information for its users. The seminar demonstrates the use of material from collections and archives, which has been a key part of the Department’s approach to teaching and research since the 1970s.

We are grateful to the Friends of the University for funding the preparation of this recording.

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Information design and architecture fight anti-microbial resistance in community pharmacies


A new research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) begins today. Colleagues in Typography, Architecture and Pharmacy at Reading, and in Human Factors at Loughborough, are working with a science communication agency, Design Science and the Day Lewis pharmacy chain to ‘improve the knowledge and understanding of Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR)’.

The project introduces the idea of ‘persuasive space’ which brings together the use of space in document design and the use of space in interiors (in this case community pharmacies) as mechanisms for engaging people with AMR.

In discussion with pharmacists and clinicians we will select aspects of AMR that are relevant to people’s everyday lives and seek ways for effective explanation, such as

­– How to reduce antibiotic misuse
– How to raise the awareness of handwashing and ensure it is done effectively
– How to help prevent the spread of specific infections, for example, tuberculosis

We look to the past for inspiration, using material from Typography’s world-leading Lettering, Printing and Graphic Design collections. We have been inspired by Otto Neurath’s work using public spaces to engage people with information, including a series of charts about the prevention and treatment of TB for the National Tuberculosis Association in the USA in the 1930s. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century printed ephemera about microbes and hygiene will provide additional routes to understanding past approaches to public engagement with science.

The project has ambitious outputs, including a competition where teams of architects, information designers and pharmacists will work on prototypes for the use of persuasive space in a community pharmacy. The winning solution will be installed in a Day Lewis pharmacy and we will elicit feedback from pharmacy workers and customers. We are also planning an exhibition to display archival material, along with the competition entries.

Information Design and Architecture in Persuasive Pharmacy Space: combating AMR [IDAPPS] is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from November 2017 to December 2018. Contacts: Prof Sue Walker (PI) s.f.walker@reading.ac.uk; Prof Flora Samuel (Co-I) f.b.samuel@reading.ac.uk; Dr Rosemary Lim (Co-I) r.h.m.lim@reading.ac.uk; and Prof Sue Hignett (Co-I) S.M.Hignett@lboro.ac.uk


The charts illustrated above are from the ‘Fighting Tuberculosis’ exhibition produced for The National Tuberculosis Association in the USA in 1938. As well as the design of the charts, Otto Neurath and his team designed the space in which they were to be viewed, and provided guidance on how they should be set out.
Each chart measures 920 x 610 mm.
Otto and Marie Neurath Collection, University of Reading
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Reading and the diverse ways we engage with information

Jeanne-Louise Moys represented CIDR at the recent E-READ ‘Books and screens and the reading brain’ in Vilnius. The conference engaged with an exciting range of research into reading across different platforms, genres and contexts.

As part of the proceedings, Jeanne-Louise co-presented the material design process for her current investigation into eLearning – a collaborative project with Dr Ann Marcus-Quinn (University of Limerick) and Dr Tríona Hourigan (Department of Education and Skills, Ireland). The collaborative project explores ways of designing and testing research materials that are representative of real information and reading contexts rather than artificial ‘laboratory-style ‘experiments.

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Designing for Europe

Information designers, typographers, type designers, and europhiles will be interested in Paul Luna’s talk at ATypI in Montréal last week in which he presented materials from Reading’s archive of the graphic designers, Banks & Miles, whose work included communication design for the, then, European Economic Community, later, the European Union. Paul’s talk draws comparisons with Banks & Miles’ work on the UK Consumer Association’s magazine, Which. In both cases, there was a need to communicate statistical, usually tabular, information clearly, within the constraints of hot metal composition, and while working to ‘furious deadlines’. Paul describes the partnership working between authors, editors, designers and printers that made clear communication possible; in his words, delivering information that was ‘straightforward, clear and pragmatic’.

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New publication on data presentation

September’s edition of the Royal Meteorological Society journal, Weather, features a paper (lead author, Matthew Lickiss) on the development of our quick guide to presenting data and uncertainty. The guide was developed during the large, NERC-funded project RACER, in which our part was a collaboration with meteorologists on the communication of the risk and uncertainty of extreme meteorological events. While our research covered people’s use of information in decision-making across scenarios ranging from volcanic ash to impassable ice, the guide (downloadable here) presents very basic principles, applicable to all data communication.

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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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