This year Peter Loveland and Melissa Towriss (myself) took part in an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Placement for the Centre for Information Design Research in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. We aimed to analyse how quickly people read and how well they understood information presented in different styles. We also looked at what style people preferred and perceived as suitable for different circumstances. Working alongside Professor Alison Black we created a study in software called Superlab to gather our data.
The applications of this study could be relevant to future learning materials, as we will be able to see what kind of style people will prefer against how they actually perform. The findings could be used in the design of textbooks and other resources to help the audience perform better with memory retention or read faster as well as retaining information.
Throughout the course of the 6 week placement Peter and I have had many tasks to set up the study which we then took around the general public of the University of Reading campus. As designers, we developed the texts that were to be used, ensuring good consistent typography. The text was about PAYE (Pay As You Earn) and was kindly supplied by Government Digital Services as they showed an interest in our study. We worked together in designing the documents, which were to be shown on screen for our study.
Participants first read the text in one of four design styles. They then saw paired comparisons of different styles of the same information (a simple, structured text, as used currently on GOV.UK; a version designed to clarify text structure; a third visualized, with images relating to the text). We asked participants to make preference decisions based on different scenarios (i.e. which style do you think is the fastest to read, which do you think is best for memory retention?). Once the participants had answered the questions they answered multiple choice questions based on the text they read in initially (the preference task acted as a distractor) and we were able to judge how well they had read/remembered the text.
The placement brought a lot of experience and Peter and I highly recommend it to any future students considering taking their degree into research after graduation. It gives a true insight and scope into what stages are involved in research and when you find results at the end it feels very rewarding. Peter and I had the opportunity to work together which is uncommon for a UROP placement but it brought up a new friendship as well as first hand experience of a new world. As designers we are keen to apply what we have learned from this study to our future projects to ensure that our designs are not only aesthetically pleasing but also function in a manner which aids the audience. We hope this research is used to improve instructional materials to benefit others in society.
Sample texts used in the study: designed to clarify text structure and visualized with additional images