Information Encounters Part 2: Print

Printing is a mechanical process by which an image (text or pictorial) is transferred onto a substrate (most commonly paper). It is a method of reproducing an image many times for distribution. Printing can occur in many formats primarily relating to a particular function: books, magazines, posters, brochures, newspapers, reports, forms, maps, ballots, instructions, packaging, timetables, manuals, guides, dictionaries, statistical presentations, telephone directories, encyclopedias, business stationery and catalogues.
The illustration is a road map designed by Joel Katz that reads both ways

The end of print?
Print still persists in a digital age despite the existence of more efficient ways of storing information. Proclamations of ‘the end of print’ have often been declared within the very medium of print. One medium does not necessarily supersede and replace another. Radio, television, print, the Internet and exhibition environments co-exist as equally valid venues for information. There is more to the medium of print than purely a means of storing and conveying information. Items such as books have an object quality – they are tactile artefacts with presence and enhance the experience of information.

‘Escaping Flatland’
In the introduction to ‘Envisioning Information’ Edward Tufte poses the following question to information designers. ‘The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?’ Tufte is challenging designers to escape the flatland of print, and expose the power of what Philip Morrison has called the ‘cognitive art’ of diagrams, maps and charts.

The theory of data graphics
Edward Tufte suggests that ink should be dedicated to the essential elements conveying data. Redundant ink is that which can be erased without loss of data. Ink is often used to ‘enhance’ the data and make it more visually appealing but it shouldn’t impede the communication of the data. Data-ink ratios can be calculated by subtracting redundant ink from the total area of ink used.

Form design
Forms are often the means by which people apply for an entitlement. Forms that use clear and accessible language and minimise visual complexity will appear more approachable and enable the rights of the people in most need. The use of structure, rules, colour and typography should be employed to enable the user access to information and not as decoration. Colour and tints can be used to clarify various sections of a form. Rules can be employed to link related entries and create subdivisions between different information. A grid structure can bring order and rationalise the number of alignments. Typography should be used to clarify meaning and provide emphasis to key parts of the information.
The illustration is of a redesigned invoice by Boag Associates for the British Royal Mail. Since the redesign payment speed and customer satisfaction have improved with reduced helpline calls.

Information that is compared within rows or columns is set as a table. Cross rules help guide the eye horizontally across a series of related information. Down rules are better for situations where there is a stronger need to compare data vertically. The use of both cross and down rules can inadvertently focus attention on the resulting net-like structure and detract from the presented information. The use of two rule weights, one heavier than the other, is useful when making clear divisions within the same table.

In their book ‘Up Against the Wall’ Ian Noble and Russell Bestley assess the importance of the poster as a unique and enduring form of printed information.  ‘From the agitational and political to the promotional, persuasive and informational, the poster in all its forms has persisted as a vehicle for the very public dissemination of ideas, information and opinion’. In 1989 the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Holland appointed 8vo to design their posters. The only information that would appear on each poster would be the exhibition title, the date and the museum name. A singular image was selected for each poster. Type and image were fused together through what 8vo described as ‘visual engineering’. One was not subservient to the other; both served the purpose of attracting attention and imparting information. The posters had to be clear and legible from a distance this meant working with constraints such as minimum type sizes. Letter and word space were reduced to allow for an increase in size.
The illustration is of a poster designed by 8vo for the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen

It has been argued that in an age of instant information newspapers principally inform opinion rather than provide news. At the end of the 1980s, David Hillman of Pentagram redesigned the UK newspaper, The Guardian. The re-design was more than just a make over – it influenced the quality and tone of the paper’s editorial stance and how it was perceived by its readership. Newspapers had changed little since the 1920s. The advent of new technologies during the 1980s revolutionised the production of news information. The designers set out five criteria for the design to meet: it had to be ‘readable, well-organised, clean, simple to put together, and distinctive’. For Hillman ‘readability is a matter of respecting the way the eye moves around a page: it starts top left and works down and across’. Space is highly controlled and at a premium. A newspaper has to contain a lot of information and there is little room for excessive white space. The information designer sets the parameters for the design: the grid, a masthead, typefaces, captions and use of pictures. Beyond this the sub-editors, who take control and work to tight deadlines, are more concerned with fitting words and images into limited space. The Guardian originally employed a highly flexible 24-column grid structure, which allowed for eight and six-column structures to co-exist enabling the change of pace that keeps a reader interested. The change in grid differentiates between types of information such as news, features, finance and comment. Justified text is a convention of newspapers. The use of a range left, ragged right setting signals a less formal attitude for a different type of information.
The illustration is of David Hillman’s original redesign for The Guardian

Publication design: books
Information within books is structured in a linear sequence from front cover through the preliminary pages, contents page, chapters, sections and index. The contents page and index act as key reference points for locating information. Pages contain type, photographs, illustrations and graphics that are brought into a coherent structure through a grid. Headings and subheadings indicate a hierarchy within the text and act as milestones measuring progress through the information. Colour and graphic devices are often employed to create clear divisions within the page. Colour coded sections referenced into the contents page help reinforce navigation through a publication. Page numbers, running foots or heads help locate the reader within a section. Derek Birdsall, ‘the doyen of British book designers’ describes designing a book as ‘a process of discovery’ in which you put yourself in the ‘position of the reader’. Birdsall suggests that, ‘the design is not inflicted on the content – it is derived from it’. We visually ‘read’ pages before reading the words. Techniques to convert browsers to readers include: bold or large headings often in colour; large introductory paragraphs; pull-out quotes; special case studies on tinted panels add further context; and key information presented in bullet point lists.
The illustration is from Notes on Book Design by Derek Birdsall and shows his redesign of the Church of England’s Common Prayer Book

Publication design: magazines
Magazines are published on an ongoing basis. As such the design specifications set down have to encapsulate eventualities that may occur in future issues. There is a need to establish a firm identity but there is also the necessity for change in order to sustain interest. The grid structure should allow a high degree of flexibility, capable of handling diverse elements whilst maintaining and endorsing the personality of the magazine.
The illustration is from an article on Richard Hollis published in Eye Magazine

United States ballot design
In the United States, over 4000 district counties separately ‘design’ the form voters use to elect a candidate to arguably the most powerful position in the world. Jessie Scanlon, a contributing editor to Wired, points out that ‘ballots aren’t designed by a designer…instead, county officials oversee their production, and the ballots are put together according to each state’s election code…by people who have no idea how to use graphic design to convey information’. The Californian election code abandons an alphabetic ordering of the 133 candidates in favour of random order. Whilst this may seem fair, Scanlon describes this as ‘information design insanity’ and suggested a rotation ‘through the trusty A-Z from district to district…[would] ensure no one candidate benefited from being at the top of the list and also that no frustrated voter gave up on finding the name they were looking for’. The election for the President of the United States in 2000 was surrounded by controversy regarding the design of the Palm Beach County voting ballot. Republican George W Bush eventually triumphed over the Democratic candidate Al Gore in a very close presidential race. Some declared that the confusing design of the ballot had decided the presidency. The design required voters to punch out a hole next to their preferred candidate. The printed circular guide for hole punching was out of alignment with the names of the candidates. Interviews with voters subsequently revealed that they had felt confused by the design. Some had punched the wrong hole or had assumed that they had to punch two holes, one for president and one for vice president. 19000 ballots were found to have had two holes punched and discounted as spoilt votes. The official who was responsible for the ballot had sent out samples for comment and no one responded. Usability testing indicates testing by using and not just looking. The instructions for use read: ‘…they are to punch the hole next to the arrow next to the number next to the candidate they wish to vote for’. By asking a sample of people to perform the task any difficulties in comprehension would have been revealed.
The illustration shows the confusion caused by an ill-designed ballot paper

Maps, charts and diagrams

Dr John Snow and the London cholera epidemic of 1854
During the first two weeks of September 1854 an epidemic broke out in central London that claimed 500 lives. A number of the deaths were located at the junction between Broad Street and Cambridge Street. This was also the site of a public well where people would draw up water. Dr John Snow acquired the records of 83 deaths in the area and plotted them on a map. By doing so Snow had taken quantitative data and made it visible. By visualising information Snow revealed that all but 10 of the 83 deaths were within close vicinity of the Broad Street pump. He then set about explaining the anomalies. Snow alerted the authorities, who intervened by removing the pump handle thus disabling its function. Some have attributed this act as the decisive moment in the termination of the epidemic. Snow had established the link between the transmission of the epidemic and impure water

The Challenger space shuttle disaster of 1986
In January 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded after take off, killing all seven astronauts. The cause of the explosion was linked to two defective sealing rubber O-rings that allowed inflammable liquid to leak and catch fire. Various data had been collected on previous missions including: date of launch, temperature, wind speed and O-ring damage. The data was displayed according to launch dates obscuring the connection between temperature and O-ring damage. The visual representation of the data, which also incorporated a graphic code, focused attention on its appearance rather than revealing its meaning. Edward Tufte has reassessed the data and maintains that a scatter-plot graph that maps O-ring damage against temperature clearly demonstrates the link between the two. The colder the temperature the more O-ring damage is likely to occur. Challenger was launched on the coldest ever launch date. Had this information been conclusively demonstrated, using appropriate and effective visual means, the decision to launch Challenger could have been postponed and the lives of those seven astronauts saved.

Accessible information
The Royal National Institute for the Blind has produced clear print guidelines for making information accessible through design. There are two million people in the UK with a sight problem. Making information available in an accessible way to people with a visual impairment enables them, as citizens with equal rights, to make decisions and lead independent lives. There is legislation under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) that requires compliance from public bodies. The act aims to bring to an end the discrimination disabled people can face in their daily life.

Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte
Notes on Book Design, Derek Birdsall
Magazine Design, William Owen
Boag Associates Website
Royal National Institute for the Blind Website (Clear Print Guidelines)
Directgov Website (DDA)