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  • Tony Pritchard 4:40 pm on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Angle, Bars, , Constructivism, Contrast, , Gestalt Theory, , Horizontal, , Principle of Similarity, Rules, Vertical, Visual Analysis,   

    Visual Language Tutorial 3 

    Transcript from the ‘Visual Language and Grammar: Composition with Lines’ movie
    Welcome to the third episode of Visual Language and Grammar. In part three we are going to be making compositions with lines exploring distribution of space, implied scale and structure and grouping through the principle of similarity.

    The exercises will be performed on a 150mm square which has been subdivided into 5mm units both horizontally and vertically

    9 Vertical Lines
    In this exercise we will be using 9 vertical lines. Three will be 5mm wide, three will be 10mm wide and three will be 15mm wide. All must measure 150mm high and align at the top and bottom of the square. Now rearrange them into a random order. You don’t need to overly plan this aspect. Random really is the aim. The design looks like a bar code and it’s not so easy to distinguish the different thickness lines from one another. For example how easy is it to see all the medium thickness lines? How could we visually reunite the thin lines together, how could we group all the medium lines together and see all the thick lines as belonging together? And how could we do this without moving the lines back together? One way is to cut each set of three lines to the same height but distinguish each set by making them different heights from one another.

    Gestalt Theory and the Principle of Similarity
    This idea is known as the principle of similarity and is a part of Gestalt theory. The eye detects patterns and makes connections. It sees similar objects as belonging together. This is an important principle for designers as it is their job to make these connections and group visual and information components together. By doing so it helps the viewer to understand what they are looking at.

    Analysis of the Blocks
    I’d like to analyse the proportions of the three different size blocks. Although they are different heights and thicknesses they are related by the number of 5mm square units they are constructed from. The thin line is one 5mm unit wide by 24 units high. The medium size block is constructed from two 5mm units wide by 12 units high. Two by 12 is 24 units, the same as the first line. The thick block is comprised of three 5mm units wide by 8 high. Three times eight is 24 units the same as the previous two. I like this sense of unity and logic underpinning the design. It doesn’t always work and sometimes visually intuitive judgments have to be made. But logic is a reasonable starting point

    Horizontal, Vertical and Angle Lines
    The next set of compositions will be considering horizontal, vertical and angle designs. Lines can appear to look thicker when lying down horizontally. This design has 6 lines. Two 5mm thick, two 10mm thick and two 15mm thick. They vary in width. A sense of balance is gained by the two thick lines bleeding on from the left and the two thin lines bleeding on from the right. The two medium lines are interlocked with the thin lines. Also consider the visual impact of the resulting white space. The term bleed means that a component starts from the edge. Components that bleed on can provide visual tension or dynamic to the design.

    This vertical design exploits contrast. Contrast in the thickness of the components and contrast in height. Contrast is a great tool for designers. It’s a way of getting noticed. We notice big contrasts more than subtle ones. Think about this when using all design components including type. This design has a ‘walking 1, 2, 3 approach’. Because of the contrast in scale the components seem to be walking back and forth in space. There is one thick component, two medium and three thin.

    Combined Lines
    This design combines horizontal and vertical lines of different thickness. You can see how abstract designs such as Scottish tartan are derived. The beginnings of marks that have identity.

    Constructivism, De Stijl and the Bauhaus
    Designs that exploit the angle tend to look dynamic. The angle in this design is 45 degrees. This type of design was prevalent in the Russian Constructivism, Dutch De Stijl and German Bauhaus movements.

    Abstract to Concrete
    Abstract components can be used to express concrete concepts such as rhythm. Or bouncing up and down. It’s time for me to jet off…bye!

  • Tony Pritchard 7:58 pm on May 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Cropping, , , Grammar, Graphic, Scale, Squares, ,   

    Visual Language Tutorial 2 

    Transcript from the ‘Visual Language and Grammar: Squares’ movie
    Welcome to the second episode of Visual Language and Grammar. In part two we are going to be looking at squares and how through use of colour, scale, structure and cropping we can alter our visual perception.

    To structure these exercises we’ll be using a square measuring 150mm subdivided into 15 units of 10mm

    Exercise One
    In this exercise you’ll need a grey square of 150mm. Two black squares measuring 50mm and two white squares measuring 50mm. The effect of laying the white square over the black is that the white square appears to be floating above a black hole. Our visual perception is of three dimensional space on what Edward Tufte calls ‘the flatlands of the glowing rectangle’ which is your screen. If we start with a white square and overlay a black square our perception is that there is a light glowing behind the black square. Here’s that exercise again in full.

    Exercise Two
    For this exercise you will need a 150mm grey square, a 50mm black square, a 50mm white square and two 30mm yellow squares. The yellow on the black is more visible than on the white. This is because of the minimal contrast between the yellow and the white background. We will repeat the first part of the exercise again, grey square, black square, white square, but now with two 30mm blue squares. The effect is the opposite to that of the yellow squares. There is very little contrast between the blue and the black background but increased contrast when on the white background.

    Colour and readability
    This is an important point when considering visibility of graphics and readability of typography. Yellow on white not so readable, Blue on white more readable. Blue on black not very readable, yellow on black very readable. Hey guys chill out, there is a happy medium where blue and yellow can co-exist in harmony on green. Even the crickets like it.

    Gestalt Theory: The Principle of Continuity
    We interrupt the broadcast to bring you an official warning. If you take two square and overlay them, although the eye can’t see the continuing edges, it will make sense of the situation and see the resulting image as two squares one on top of the other. The brain helps simplify visual messages. We don’t suddenly perceive the overlaying squares as a new 8 sided object. This is know as Gestalt theory and is the principle of continuity.

    Exercise Three: Random Squares
    For the purpose of health and safety can you now stand back from the screen. I’ll be throwing some sharp edged squares on screen and those corners could have your eye out. You going to need a 60mm square, a 90mm square and a 30 mm square. Now arrange the squares on the 15 unit grid we’ve been using. Do this randomly disregarding scale.

    Exercise Four: Squares and Scale
    Let’s consider scale. Small to large. This is almost like digital smoke. Again small to large. This is like the square is advancing towards us. Large to small. And the square is walking away from us. Again large to small. This is like a tornado spiraling down.

    Exercise Five: Freeform Compositions
    Try some dynamic freeform compositions using black and white squares proportioned to the grid. Consider various techniques such as overlapping or altering the proportions between black and white areas.

    Exercise Six: Cropping Squares
    Taking our 15 unit grid divide it into three vertically and horizontally. Threes into 15 makes 3 divisions of 5 units each. Crop black rectangles to different sizes and place them within the individual squares of the 3×3 structure. Consider whether the square diminishes progressively and what the developing relationship between each square is. The visual communication course I ran had students from all round the world. Hi guys! One student questioned my assumption of reading left to right and top to bottom in this exercise. In recognition of this I dedicate this next version to the students I’ve had the good fortune to teach. For this next one, I’m pressing the randomiser button.

    When making your compositions look above and below and from side to side to see whether there are significant alignments occurring. I think it’s important there are but hey that’s just my theory. Oh no! See you next time!

  • Tony Pritchard 11:56 am on May 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chuck Jones, , Dots, , , London, , Visual Grammar,   

    Visual Language Tutorial 

    Transcript from the ‘Visual Language and Grammar: Dots and Lines’ movie
    This tutorial is about visual language and grammar. Language is a method of human communication. I’m using the spoken word to communicate with you. Visual communication is also reliant on a language. A visual language. The components of visual language are things like shapes and colour. Visual grammar is the system that governs visual language. If you wanted to show visual density by clustering dots together. The dots would be the components of the visual language but the notion of expressing density through clustering would be the visual grammar. In Part 1 we will be looking at the dot and the line.

    All the exercises I will be demonstrating will be on a square measuring 150mm. To help structure the elements (dots and lines) I’ll be using, I’ve divided the square up into a grid of 5mm units both horizontally and vertically.

    Red Dot and Grey Line Exercise
    So let’s have our first red dot. And a vertical grey line please. Thank you. Our two components of visual language (the dot and the line) seem to have had a fight and are isolated from one another. The line clings to the left edge and the dot to the right. This sense of the line clinging to the edge is known as visual tension. It’s as if the edge acts as a strong magnet. Ok guys time to make friends. Note how the space either side of the grey line changes. The proportion of white decreases on the right as the left increases. The red dot now looks trapped. The red dot leaps over the grey line and makes their escape.

    Abstract to Representational: The Sun in the Sky
    In this composition, the dot looks like the sun rising in the east. The grey line acts as the horizon. Now it is mid-day and the sun is high in the sky. Time for a cool beer as it sets in the west.

    Abstract to Representational: An Eye
    Placing the line above the dot makes this look like an eye. Raising the line causes an expression of suprise.

    The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Chuck Jones
    For this composition I’ve added a few lines of type next to the right edge. The type clings to the right edge causing visual tension. Type set in sentences also look like black bars of different lengths. The type adds content and meaning but also form to the composition. There is visual tension between the dot and the line and separation from the type. This gives a sense of rhythm, balance and dynamism between the elements. The white space also contributes. Considering the dot and the white space you become aware of the centrality of the dot. The mood of the composition can be altered through choice of colour.

    The Cholera Map by Dr John Snow
    On screen you see what appears to be dots scattered randomly. Some areas have dense clusters, other areas the dots are more spaced out. In Gestalt theory this is known as the principle of proximity. Those dots closer together belong to each other. Some larger dots are sprinkled in. This gives the composition a sense of depth and scale. The grey background circle acts as a focus – like looking down a microscope. The notion of a circle has strong psychological resonance with us. The sun, moon and earth are spherical and are intrinsic to our lives. Are we looking at micro organisms on screen on a petri dish or a galaxy in the sky? If we now add in some lines the composition becomes a little more familiar. The lines give structure to the dots. We begin to understand the distribution of the dots but not the reason for the different densities. By adding type the image is confirmed as a stylised map. The time is Victorian Britain, 1854 to be precise. The place Soho. The larger dots represent the location of water pumps. The small dots signify individual death of people. Hundreds died over a two week period and nobody new why. Dr John Snow plotted the deaths on a map and noticed a particular clustering around the pump at Broad Street. He alerted the authorities and suggested that the deaths may be due to contaminated water. The pump was closed and the deaths declined. A few years later the new medical term cholera emerged as the name for the cause of death. The street has subsequently been renamed Broadwick Street and today the Dr John Snow pub commemorates his decisive act and provides hospitality for the weary traveller.

    Keep Left!
    This final example of applied visual language and grammar begins with a blue dot or circle. An inner white circle is added. Lets add a few lines. A chevron is created – the beginning of an arrow.

    I hope you have enjoyed this presentation. Your mission if you choose to accept it is investigate and apply some of the ideas contained in this video. Consider how you can create visual language and grammar compositions with dots or circles in two dimensions, in three dimensional space or in moving image. Using the green canvas of your lawn you could take different types of balls such as ping pong balls, tennis balls and footballs to make a composition exploring the principle of proximity.

  • Tony Pritchard 4:36 pm on May 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Art, , Color Theory, , Colour Theory, , Fine Art, , Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, The Color Wheel, The Colour Wheel, , Victor Pasmore,   

    The Colour Wheel Tutorial 

    This is the transcript of the voice-over from the movie. This is a version of the colour wheel. It was introduced to me by Geoff White who was taught it by Victor Pasmore whilst at the Central School of Arts and Crafts.

    The equilateral triangle
    The design constructed from equilateral triangles. An equilateral triangle is one which has all sides measuring the same. The internal angles are all 60 degrees. One could equally construct the design using other shapes such as circles or diamonds or squares.

    The construction
    There are five rings to the design. I began by constructing the triangle. This can be done at any size. I copied the painting lent to me by Geoff White. The triangle was 70mm.
    1 I set a 70mm square and deleted the top and two sides, resulting in a single line.
    2 I rotated this 60 degrees and joined the two lines. I then joined the other two points to create the third side.
    3 I then set a circle with a radius of 210mm. I placed the triangle centrally on the vertical. And placed it so that the two base points of the triangle touched the circle.
    4 I then rotated the triangle by 20 degrees around the centre of the circle. This results in 18 triangles.
    5 The four rings inside this are created by progressively scaling the rings by a 70% reduction from the centre of the circle. The outer ring is scaled by 70% to create the fourth ring. Then the fourth ring is reduced by 70% to create the third ring and so on.
    6 A black circle is placed at the centre, this measures 6mm in diameter. And a 50% grey circle measuring 18mm in diameter is placed outside this.
    7 The third ring from the centre is comprised of pure colours.
    8 The first and second ring from the centre have had black added to them making them darker. The first ring has 50% black added and the second ring has 25% black added.
    9 The fourth and fifth rings from the centre have had white added to them. I have done this by altering the opacity of the colour. This allows the white background to show through the colour and thereby lightening the colour. The fourth ring has 75% opacity and the fifth ring has 50% opacity.

    Complementary colours
    Colours on opposite sides of the colour wheel are known as complementary colours. Orange and blue are complementary colours, as are red and green, and purple and yellow.

    I have used Cyan (which is a blue colour); Magenta (which is a pinky red colour); Yellow and Black (K=Key) to mix the colours. This is the CMYK colour system which is commonly used in printing.

    Colour rotation
    As the orange colour moves to red I have added more magenta. As the red moves to blue, cyan has been added. As the blue moves to green, yellow is added. And as green moves to yellow blue is extracted.

    Colour against a white background
    When viewing the colours against a white background, some stand out better than others. The purple contrasts well with the white background. Whereas the yellow is quite faint. The eye finds it quite difficult to detect subtle contrasts where a colour tone is close to the background colour.

    Colour against a black background
    Changing the background to black increases the contrast of the yellow to the background but decreases the contrast of the purple. These types of effects are also influenced by the media used. Colour will appear differently on a computer screen than when printed on paper.

    Although colour is basic to visual communication. It is important to understand its properties and how these change through different situations such as lighting conditions. A little time studying this will benefit the designer and give a more informed basis for choosing colour.

  • Tony Pritchard 12:14 pm on May 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Facebook, Google, , , Interactive Design, Khoi Vihn, Web Design   

    Information Encounters Part 4: Web and Interaction Design 

    In the fourth and final part of this Information Encounters series I look at design for web and interaction. I first wrote this article in 2004 with a first year undergraduate audience in mind. Much has changed in the intervening years: the growth of social media such as Facebook; and the ease of use of online communication such as blogging; has meant that these modes of information transfer have been integrated into our daily experiences.

    The image below is a blog theme designed by Khoi Vinh designed for WordPress

    Website and interaction design

    Website and interaction design are often linked as related activities, however interaction design is emerging as an overarching discipline in its own right. Interactivity is an umbrella term for many situations where there is a two-way flow of information between users or users and things. The term interactive implies that there is an element of something or someone responding to a user’s input and that there is a reciprocal relationship. Information is the base currency of most communication and is central to interactive design.

    The image below is of a simple website design for Hyperkit.

    Putting users first

    When designing for interactivity the designer has to afford particular attention to the potential user of the experience. This means putting the user first and understanding their perspective. Many websites fail to reach their target audience through a lack of user awareness, and misunderstanding the psychology of the medium and its linguistic conventions.

    Sensorial interaction

    We interact with the world through our five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. They influence our intellectual and emotional understanding of all we encounter. The smell of baking bread in a supermarket or the interior of a new car can influence our purchasing decisions.

    The image below is of the Famous Grouse Visitor Centre by Land Design. Digital water reacts to the pressure exerted by visitors. The technology involves seismic floor sensors which trigger data projectors.

    Typography on the net

    Information is the backbone of the web and typography is the interface by which we gain access to knowledge. The web designer attempts to make information navigable, interactive and where possible customised to the end user. Designers require an understanding of the ways in which typography functions differently within screen and print environments. Legibility and readability are important concerns for both situations – text on screen is not as readable as in print and. Typefaces designed for print will not always translate well onto the screen and specially designed fonts for screen use are prevalent. Text that extends across the width of a browser window is difficult to track and tires the eye, however multi-column setting that requires vertical and horizontal scrolling probably won’t get read. A type size of 9 point in print is acceptable but would have people squinting if used on screen. There are a number of ways to display type on the net such as html text and graphic text. Graphic text is a low-resolution image of type. It won’t print out cleanly, can’t be copied or edited, won’t re-flow and can’t be indexed by search engines. A good site designer will check their site on various machines, in different browsers and on different platforms because factors such as colour and html type can display differently between screens.

    Writing for the net

    There is more to writing for the Internet than simply transferring print documents to screen via a pdf. People don’t browse the net in the same way as they do a magazine. The text has to be written shorter in length with additional headings; broken down into smaller paragraphs; links added; and sequenced over a number of pages. A clear and consistent style of writing should be adopted throughout with consideration given to: tone of voice; language; and cultural context, particularly when information is intended for a global audience. It was reported that some early internet users, unfamiliar with the language of the web, left websites when confronted by a button saying go. The intention was that they should go to the next link not leave.

    A diagnostic activity

    Website design can be viewed as a diagnostic process analysing the purpose and function of a site and removing extraneous elements. The website often acts as a catalyst for evaluating the structure of an organisation and all aspects of its presentation through other media such as print. It is a sobering thought for organisations to realise that someone viewing a page on their website is one click away from leaving. User consideration is a compelling argument for businesses that want to stay in business.

    Aesthetics versus usability

    There is much debate over the relative importance of the appearance of design and usability. The early dot com crash was in some part due to a misunderstanding of the web. The fashion for Flash-based sites is highly seductive as they look and sound cutting-edge. Appearance is a powerful marketing tool and companies feel obliged to invest in trend-setting animated sites to remain competitive. Many designers previously concentrated on the front-end graphics believing this sufficient to attract attention to a site. What became neglected was the job of guiding people through the rest of the content. Attractive and entertaining introductory pages that were winning awards weren’t helping to sell company’s products and services. People now know the difference between Flash and html sites. If people are searching for information or want to buy something and they get a Flash intro screen they may just stop there.

    Information or entertainment or both?

    A visitor to a music-based website might expect to have an experience equivalent to a pop video. The site may be an infotainment site and catering for a particular audience who may have leisure time to casually surf and engage with the fun elements of the site. An information-orientated site might not work in this instance. Clear access to information might lead to a limited experience, it might not lead to chance encounters with other content.

    The curse of information design

    In ‘The Curse of Information Design’, Scott Jason Cohen makes a plea to remember imagination, intuition and chance when all the talk is off usability. Information architects, user experience consultants and usability experts provide useful guidelines on well-structured sites. He warns us that ‘Jackson Pollock and John Cage would run screaming from the web for one reason: there is no room for the happy accident’. Creativity can be seen as a dangerous thing on the web, it’s a business gamble. A novel presentation or pioneering interface might engage the potential visitor or simply confuse them. You might lose a customer so convention persists and a site that might have introduced new ways of conveying information is abandoned. Cohen suggests an alternative vision. ‘The Internet is the single greatest collaborative effort ever in the history of mankind. It is a funhouse mirror of our collective imagination’. Usability is an important issue but it should not be used as an argument against innovation within a growing discipline.

    Database sites

    One of the advantages of this medium is the ability to summon and reconfigure information according to individual choice. Searching for information can equally be highly frustrating. Database sites need some parameters so as not to overwhelm users with data.

    Design for intuition

    When a user arrives at a web page they scan for words and images and expect to be able to click selections. These are normally links to other items on the page or different pages. The onscreen arrow may remain in the same position. The designer can choose to exploit this by ensuring another related link is at this location on screen. An unrelated link might seem counter-intuitive. The convention of clicking is now an intuitive action and we expect a response to result. Clicking a thumbnail enlarges an image. Click again and it disappears. Virtual environments use analogies of the physical world. Home is where we start most of our journeys. A link back to a home page is a reminder of a starting point. We enter or exit buildings through doors.

    Search engines

    Search engines help people find things on the web. They are like vast libraries and allow us access to limitless information. Search engines locate and index sites through html. There are now strict protocols governing the way sites are indexed. Google assesses websites through: site name; page titles; html text; images with alt tags; meta tags; and key words. The site is scored and rated on these criteria and placed in a hierarchical index. Ratings are subject to constant change and have led to bidding wars for keywords and sponsored links. Websites can also be registered with search engines so that they are indexed in advance. Linking to a site that is already indexed by a search engine will also ensure that your site will be found through your link. Popularity or contextual ratings increase the chances of appearing higher in search results, the more people viewing and linking to your site the more popular your rating. Websites are not only to be judged on their appearance and content but also how well they have complied with search engine indexing systems. A good website designer will not overlook the ‘under the bonnet’ engineering that will ensure the information gets seen.

    Who hasn’t Googled themselves? How many times do you come in the top ten?

    Interaction design

    Interaction design is still in its infancy. As with any new discipline there is a period of experimentation and testing the technology. The outcomes may have no specific commercial or utilitarian application. These are attempts to understand the implications of the medium for the wider world. Public acceptance of interaction design will be reliant on knowledge of potential users’ and their reactions to new concepts. How will they know how to interact? Will they be curious or phobic?

    The image below is the L’Oréal Poetry Harp by the Small Design Firm. Pluck a string and a digital stream of type is released extolling the virtues of women.

    A new model of information communication

    Interaction design allows users to experience communication in far more fluid terms, and invites people to immerse themselves in an experience where they are central to the construction and interpretation of meaning.


    Immersion refers to intense experiences that engage us at the deepest levels and draw us into an alternative world. Immersive experiences can equally be as simple as reading a book, listening to music or watching a film or play.

    Embracing multi-disciplinary thinking

    Interactive experiences exist within real time and real space. Andy Cameron of Fabrica describes this as ‘real space overlaid with another, virtual layer of responsiveness’. Interaction design is where related disciplines such as product design, fine art, graphic design, architecture and interior design converge.

    Everyday interactions

    We encounter interactions daily. A good interaction allows us to perform a function and move on. These are ones that, although we may not consciously notice, have been carefully designed to ease our transactions. Stand next to some lifts and watch bewildered people wonder what floor they are on. Stand next to a machine and watch someone frustratingly repeat stages over and over again not comprehending what’s going wrong.

    Travel cards

    The cost of implementing travel card schemes is very high. They are used by significant numbers of people and are responsible for generating the network operator’s income. Ticket machines use data transfer systems and often accommodate alternative methods of reading information. One type of travel card maybe fed through the machine whilst another read on top. Some systems inadvertently cancel out the other and prevent the correct information being recorded.

    Fire extinguishers

    The design of the fire extinguisher is an example where the architect, product designer and information designer have not communicated together. The architect builds the building, the product designer designs the extinguisher, and then the information designer designs the graphics and labels. The ability to operate this device in an emergency is vital, yet our concern for clear communication of information and its relation to the product and its environment remains wanting.


    Lifts are often designed at great cost specifically for the building they are being installed in. Some lifts have poorly designed information feedback such as the position of the floor announcements. We expect to hear a bell as we arrive at out floor. When we leave the lift we expect to see the number of the floor as we exit. Signs and directories offer additional help as we navigate to where we want to be.

    Mobile phones

    We interact with mobile phones via a series of messages displayed on the information panel. If one wants to send a text message there is a clear sequence of operations we expect to follow. The number of stages and the logical sequence to execute an action should facilitate ease of use.

    Hi-fi systems

    The fascias of hi-fi systems are often overloaded with knobs, features and lights. The quantity of features can compromise sound quality. Knobs can be confusing particularly if they are in a row and are identical. It is useful to create a hierarchy of knobs for example the on/off and sound knobs being most important.

    Life caching

    Camera phones and digital recorders have enabled people to record all aspects of their life. The ability to digitise all forms of media allows for a uniform method of storage. The memory required to store digital information is no longer such an issue. With broadband technology this information can be uploaded to the Internet and shared with a global audience.

    Interactive is the future

    Television is becoming more interactive; soon traditional services will become a smaller sub-division of the interactive umbrella. Radio and TV are on demand; if we miss a programme we can play it again at our convenience. Networking between communication devices such as mobile phones and computers are prevalent and enable responsive customisation of information. It should however be remembered, for all this technological focus, that there are still places in the world that haven’t heard a dial tone. What does all this mean for them?

    Below is an image from Body Movies by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Note how readily participants interact with each other’s shadows in ways they wouldn’t in other social encounters. This piece is a reminder of the street theatre of previous generations.


    The Art of Experimental Interaction Design, Andy Cameron

    Digital Information Graphics, Matt Woolman

    Hypergraphics, Roy McKelvey

    Typography on the Net, Keith Martin

    Interview with Biggles, Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design, London College of Communication

    Web Design is 95% Typography, Oliver Reichenstein

    The Curse of Information Design, Scott Jason Cohen

    How to Save Your Life, Jack Schofield

    Botez Co

    Small Design Firm

  • Tony Pritchard 11:44 am on April 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Casson Mann, Emery Studio, , Museums, Olafur Eliasson, Ruedi Baur, Science Museum, , Tate, Wellcome Wing   

    Information Encounters Part 3: 3D Environments 

    Learning in public environments such as museums is largely self-directed. It requires voluntary participation whilst surrounded by distractions. Visitors explore exhibitions at their own pace and view things on their terms. An exhibition must have compelling reasons to engage the viewer such as: personal interest; useful information; and entertaining and challenging tasks. Impersonal tone of ‘voice’; passive displays; over-use of jargon and terminology; and too little or too much information should be avoided. The design of museum and gallery environments requires an understanding of the psychology of human learning, attention, motivation, memory, perception and behaviour. Learning results from exposure to information and the acquisition of skills or knowledge from study or experience. The impact of information design can be measured in terms of what the individual can demonstrate as a result of a particular message. The success of an exhibition can be ascertained by: observing visitors’ reactions; questionnaires and whether answers are one-word responses or an articulate understanding of the exhibition; and exit interviews.
    Emery Studio has described exhibition design as presenting a narrative ‘as an immersive, stimulating environment and communications experience…a theatrical evocation’. This image for the Lab 3000 Digital Design Biennale shows information in the form of a 70-metre infinity symbol.

    Connecting to the familiar
    The design of exhibition content should help the viewer interpret the information by connecting new concepts to familiar ones and indicate why and how the information is of use to them.

    An exhibition is not a book on a wall
    The traditional museum exhibition was often prepared for high-level scholarly activity by academics and experts. Detailed information was provided with little intervention on behalf of a wider viewing public. This approach often rendered information inaccessible and created a barrier between the institution and its potential public. Labels that used technical jargon or academic language were often going unread. Exhibition planners now take a visitor-centred approach. They focus on creating immersive environments where the amount of information has been considered and structured into key themes that aid subsequent memory. The writers of labels have to consider that visitors will be reading the labels standing up and will rapidly tire if not written in an accessible and concise manner.
    Casson Mann collaborated with Nick Bell and David Small to create the Cabinet War Rooms at the Churchill Museum

    User research and testing
    Research in the early twentieth century analysed visitor movement, behaviour and learning. Visitors navigated the exhibition as intended but little was actually learnt from the experience. The average viewing time of each exhibit was between10-25 seconds. Attention was random and provided information was not always examined. Hands on and interactive displays engaged visitors’ interest more, but their attention focused on trivial elements. Exit tests revealed that many visitors couldn’t recount their experience and often left with a negative attitude. Visitor surveys can establish certain demographic statistics such as age, income and education but may reveal nothing about attitudes and perceptions. Front-end evaluation of an exhibition should take place to establish trial groups’ prior knowledge, attitudes and preconceptions whilst examining their time constraints, curiosity levels and thinking styles. Sample material such as mock-ups, labels and layouts should be prototyped and used to measure visitor reaction, motivation and comprehension of the proposed designs.

    Measuring success
    It is assumed that attendance figures are the best indicators of an exhibition’s success. But high attendance figures may be due to a successful marketing campaign or a particular controversial element. The American Association of Museums’ Standards for Museum Exhibitions has stated that an exhibition ‘is successful if it is physically, intellectually, and emotionally satisfying to visitors’.

    Distraction and disposition
    Visiting an exhibition is a social activity and as such the displays will be in competition with normal human interactions. Visitors may become distracted by other competing attractions such as places to eat, tired children or the car on a meter. Availability of time will effect visitors’ disposition, most visits last between one and two hours. Despite being a leisure activity museum visits can be both physically and mentally draining.

    Visitor motivation
    The factors that effect a visitor’s motivation to engage with an exhibition can be subtle: the lighting level; text legibility; how busy it is; general visibility of items; use of jargon; the ability to engage with the exhibition theme; and personal relevance. Fatigue, confusion and stimulus overload affect visitors’ motivation to explore further.

    Information overload in the museum environment
    An exhibition where too much has been selected can overwhelm and tire the visitor. It is estimated that museums only ever exhibit 10 percent of their collections at any one time.

    Focused (mindful) and random (mindless) attention
    To absorb information and learn, people need to focus their attention. At exhibitions viewers don’t have the advantage of an expert to elucidate upon key points. The ability to interpret and understand information is related to the design of the content through labels, graphics and interactive elements. People do not just read things for the sake of it there needs to be convincing reasons to focus attention. Visitors to an exhibition tend to respond more immediately to the sensory aspects (sounds, visuals and textures) than to the more abstract nature of textual information. Written information needs to be presented in a format that is concise, understandable, and enjoyable. Those researching into this area make a distinction between mindful (highly selective) and mindless (casual and random) attention. Higher levels of attention are partially responsible for the transfer of information to long-term memory.
    Studio Dumbar designed this exhibition at the Museum Valkhof. The museum also has a special Junior Lab where children can engage in a hands on experience.

    Memory and recall
    The ability to recall information declines as the number of exhibits increase. The more time a visitor spends examining the display the more likely it will be remembered. Learning and the ability to recall information are enhanced when audio-visual methods are used. Many of the graphic techniques that are used are often aimed at entertaining and don’t necessary result in sustained engagement with the content. Visitors may just end up activating all the fun bits but learn and remember nothing about the overall intention of an exhibition.

    The importance of goals
    A goal provides an incentive to expend energy on pursing a particular activity. Goals can encourage us to focus our attention onto unfamiliar information and integrate it with existing knowledge. We explore and learn through our senses building a body of knowledge. We look for more complex challenges and experiences to extend our learning further. Transforming new information into personal knowledge allows us to define and achieve further goals. Learning is intrinsically rewarding because it is empowering. Exhibitions are places of dense information that require layering to avoid sensory overload. Providing achievable goals allows the visitor to navigate at their pace through manageable amounts of information whilst relating it to an overall context.

    Succeeding through failure
    Visitors expect exhibitions to be rewarding experiences. Making mistakes and failing in a public environment can feel like punishment and lead to negativity and the desire to abandon the task. The visitor may develop a dislike of the topic the exhibition is attempting to popularise. A few errors are inevitable but we can learn from these. Error allows us to discount certain options in the future and increase the probability of success. Systems that provide alerting or warning messages offering encouraging commentary facilitates a positive attitude to error and enables success.

    Exhibitions are in competition with other forms of entertainment such as theatre, concerts and sporting events and perhaps there is a tendency for entertainment to dominate educational aspects. Thoughtful design can ensure a closer integration of information and entertainment (infotainment) and make the fun elements contingent on the understanding of the provided information.

    The wow factor
    In order to gain and focus attention onto new information there is often the need to wow the audience first. The wow factor can aid later recall of information, as we like to remember pleasurable experiences. Well-known objects such as the Mona Lisa draw attention. Exhibitions are now designed for multi-sensorial experiences that induce an emotional response. Interactive devices often provide the wow factor, although non-technological interactions such as the handling of objects allow visitors a real connection to other times and places.
    The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson had many visitors awestruck – the ambience created by swathes of warm soft light from a vast setting orange sun resulted in people entering a trance-like state.

    Exhibition planning
    The design of a major exhibition is rarely the provenance of an individual. A content expert originates the concept and selects the content of an exhibition. A graphic designer co-ordinates the two-dimensional aspects of a three-dimensional environment. A three-dimensional or exhibition designer considers the floor plan and the physical environment. An educational specialist considers the possible educational outcomes for the general public. A writer/editor will consider specific styles of writing for the audience being addressed. Media specialists will provide the communication channels for various aspects of the content.

    The influence of architecture
    The architecture of a building plays a key part in the navigation of an exhibition. Corners, corridors and atriums provide opportunities to entice the inquisitive explorer further. The placement of each object is carefully considered for its impact and its ability to provide a link to another aspect of the exhibition. Often a key object will be placed at the end of a corridor in order to direct visitors past less familiar material. The walls, floors and ceiling can all contribute to the flow of an exhibition. If large group educational visits are likely to occur, gathering spaces at key points will need to be factored in.
    This image is of an exhibition designed by Ruedi Baur on the theme of depliage.

    A good story
    A good book or film with an engaging narrative, interesting characters and plenty of surprises holds our attention. Story telling is a key device used by exhibition designers who recognise the importance of immersing the visitor into the exhibition theme and experiencing the narrative as a central character.

    Exhibitions maybe viewed out of sequence – allowing the visitor references back and forth from where they came and where they are heading is vital if the overall context is to be appreciated.

    New media and the exhibition experience
    Technology is used to enhance visitor experience through: virtual guides, computer displays and interactive devices. Not all visitors want to engage with new media. They may be self-conscious of being the source of noise and therefore a disturbance to others. People often enjoy exhibitions at their own pace, a simple label allows a visitor to consider ideas and review them without the feeling of being left behind.
    The Wellcome Wing at the Science Museum was opened in 2000 and engages visitors in technological experiences.

    The effectiveness of textual information is determined by: the type size; the typeface used; the contrast between the type and its background; environmental lighting; where and how the information is located; and use of space. Any additional clutter will scatter the visitor’s attention. The use of language and how it is structured also plays a part in how effective the information communicates. Short paragraphs sufficiently spaced will be easier to read. Clear and unambiguous headings will attract visitors to read on. The amount of information should be such that the visitor doesn’t feel overwhelmed, with a clear distinction between ‘nice to know’ and ‘essential to know’ information. The viewer will appreciate careful layering of information and information-free zones where they can contemplate what they have learnt.

    Word count
    The exhibition design team carefully considers the number of words presented to a visitor of a museum. Too much text will lose the interest of the visitor. Too little text and the content might remain uninformative.

    Text size
    There are many different types of readers attending exhibitions, not all will have perfect vision. Guidelines from the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) are available for advice on readability and minimum type sizes. Although type size for captions rarely go below 18pt, RNIB would recommend a size closer to 30pt for people with visual impairments.

    Textual navigation
    There are usually three to four levels of information. Designers of exhibitions consider each level carefully and ensure that it is possible to gain information at any one of the levels for example the level of headings.

    Text height
    People are different heights, the tall often have to bend over whilst the small stand on tip toes. The usual recommended height for labels is 1.5-1.7 metres from the ground and no less than 1.0 metre.

    Colour palette
    Colour often creates the ambience for an exhibition. It has to be considered for technical issues such as readability and cultural significance particularly when staging an exhibition in a country where the traditions and customs are unknown.

    This article has mainly focused on the design of information for museums. More commonly information in 3D environments is encountered in places such as: the streets of towns or between cities; train stations and airports; supermarkets and department stores; and visits to trade shows. These are perhaps more ruthless environments where there is much competition for our attention. The principles of engagement and clear communication still apply.

    The Studio of Saul Carliner (website not active)
    Emery Vincent Design, Jackie Cooper
    Space Graphysm, Hiromura Masaaki
    Museum Graphics, Margo Rouard-Snowman
    Information Design, Robert Jacobson
    Interview with Bridget Allison, exhibition designer
    Ruedi Baur
    Emery Studio
    Studio Dumbar
    Casson Mann
    The Science Museum

  • Tony Pritchard 11:24 am on April 18, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Boag Associates, Books, , Derek Birdsall, Forms, , Magazines, , Newspapers, , Posters, , Tables,   

    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)

  • Tony Pritchard 12:16 pm on April 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Band Aid, , Broadcasting, Eric Gill, Ethiopian Famine 1984, , Michael Buerk, The Guardian, The Sun   

    Information Encounters Part 1: Broadcast Media 

    Jef Raskin has pointed out that ‘information cannot be designed’ but what can be designed are the ‘modes of transfer and the representations of information’. We encounter information in many different environments such as books, television, smart phones, exhibitions and websites. Each shapes our experience and perception of information. In this four part series I’ll be considering the different information environments and how information is fashioned accordingly. This first installment looks at broadcast media.

    Auntie Beeb
    The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is known around the world for the high quality of its information provision. Lord Reith was the first Director-General of the BBC and his directive that the company should aim ‘to inform, educate and entertain’ remains the principles to which the BBC still aspires. In March 2003 they published the BBC News Style Guide and distributed it to all their radio, television and online journalists. The guide, which gathers together some of the institution’s best practice, outlines the key issues when using the English language to communicate information through the written or spoken word. Richard Sambrook who was Director of BBC News at the time of the publication’s release introduced the guide with the following statement. ‘Every time anyone writes a script for BBC News they are potentially touching the lives of millions of people – through radio, television and the internet. It brings with it responsibilities. BBC News is expected to set the highest standards in accuracy, fairness, impartiality – and in the use of language. Clear storytelling and language is at the heart of good journalism. Keep it plain and keep it simple’.
    Image: The original BBC Broadcasting House opened in 1932 and featuring statues by Eric Gill.

    Timed information
    Broadcasters receive and gather vast amounts of information in the form of statistics, words, pictures and audio recordings. This information is then greatly simplified and synthesized into digestible chunks of broadcasting. There are often limited chances to convey messages. Broadcasters are constrained by time and think in terms of seconds and minutes and not word count as with the print journalist. Commercial radio stations may typically have only three minutes each hour to broadcast eight to ten news stories.

    Broadcast writing
    Broadcast writing adopts a conversational style. The advice is to use words of few syllables and aim for the widest possible audience in terms of what is likely to be understood. Radio and television are generally not the medium for in-depth essays. Journalists have to take complex information and convert it to the essence of the story. Difficult terminology should be paraphrased in a way that an audience will understand. The top line must encapsulate the whole story and act like a bait to catch the listener’s attention. The key words must also be carefully selected. Words like government, council or policies turn most people off. Many editors subject articles to ‘the pub test’. Would a listener recount the story in the same language in the casual setting of a pub?

    Linguistic gymnastics
    Journalists have evolved a peculiar language that is seldom heard in conversation. The following are examples of ‘journalese’: ‘quiet but tense’; ‘glaring omission’; ‘rushed to the scene’; and ‘moment of truth’. Industry chiefs hammer out 11th hour settlements. People are rushed to hospital and fight for their lives. Sustained fatal injuries means the person has died – so why not say so? These are attempts to ‘sex-up’ the story. The BBC encourages the use of clear and simple language, which is written in a natural style for the ear rather than the eye.

    Pictures and words
    Television journalists are working in a bi-medial format. Writing with pictures is different from writing without them. Writing for Ceefax or online is different from delivering a radio broadcast.

    Historic moments are often encapsulated in a single word or phrase uttered by a journalist. The use of the word ‘Gotcha’ expressed a sense of retribution at the sinking of the Argentinean warship Belgrano and not regret at the loss of life.
    Image: How The Sun reported the sinking of the Belgrano.

    People power live on TV
    UK Citizen Diana Gould confronted the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher live on television regarding the sinking of the Belgrano. The encounter on this broadcast was later reappraised. You can see this reappraisal by scrolling across the options at the end of the video below.

    A conduit for information
    A journalist is a conduit for the information they are conveying. A radio journalist adopts the view that they can see what you can’t and their duty is to describe the scene. A television journalist doesn’t need to depict in such detail. The skill is in knowing when to speak and when to remain silent. Michael Buerk’s report for the BBC on the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 inspired the band-aid movement. He said very little. The pictures told the story and he gave factual information such as how many people were affected. It is not regarded as good practice for television broadcasters to talk over everything.
    Video: Michael Buerk’s 1984 report on the Ethiopian famine which inspired the Band Aid charity record.

    Analogies to print
    In terms of sequencing information certain aspects of television and radio presentation are roughly analogous to print. The front cover of a book attempts to establish the identity for the content in much the same way the music or opening titles do on broadcast programmes. The key stories at the top of the programme act as the contents page. In radio and television these preliminary enticements are called a tease. A newspaper vendor’s stand might announce ‘Verdict in pedophile case’. It won’t tell you whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty. You have to buy the newspaper to find out. Television and radio broadcasts announce the headlines at the top of the programme and tell people what is in the news today with the enticement of more detail later.

    Presentation of broadcast information
    The television presentation of news information is constantly changing in order to maintain public interest. With the expenditure on technology broadcasters are keen to create impressive displays. Sets often have a huge graphic information board and sweeping semi-circular track. As a story arrives on screen it is accompanied by what is called a ‘slug of a story’ for example ‘Iraq bomb’ might appear on screen as the announcer is describing the scene. Although these may seem like gimmicks the intention is to make politics and hard news more accessible. If the news programme is on a commercial channel, consideration is usually given to the advertising that precedes or succeeds an item. In the past there has been unfortunate scheduling. The song ‘Disco Inferno’ once followed a radio news item on a fire in a disco.
    Image: Nicholas Owen on BBC News 24 discussing the potential impact of YouTube broadcasts on the British 2010 General Election. The news ‘slug’ at the bottom is keeping viewers informed of breaking news.

    Writing for different audiences
    The same news report is often written several times for different audiences such as: children, the world service or a pop audience. Whether the news is broadcast on a local, national or global scale will influence the information conveyed. A global audience will appreciate being told the proper names and titles of people and full information on locations and organisations. Information is now broadcast internationally 24 hours of the day crossing time zones. Stating the time or using the word foreign would have little meaning to a global audience.
    Video: How a children’s TV channel reported the death of a presenter.

    Local level information
    Information is also available on a personal level, a text message can be sent to the BBC from a mobile phone and bespoke information tailored to individual interests can be returned. News information is also going ultra local as well with information being provided at the level of the small community. The term glocal refers to the ability to scale from local to global.

    Ambiguity seems ever ready to surface and confuse. Some 2000 years ago the Roman theoretician Quintilian wrote that ’one should not aim at being possible to understand but at being impossible to misunderstand’. The following were extracted from broadcast reports. ‘For the second time in six months, a prisoner at Durham Jail has died after hanging himself in his cell’. ‘Sixty women have come forward to claim they have been assaulted by a dead gynaecologist’.

    Some advice
    When delivering information in the form of news it is a good idea not to taint it with personal opinion. The audience can decide whether something is good or bad news by themselves. Journalists are also advised not to introduce an item with a negative thought such as ‘it is likely to be of little interest to many people’. Why then would anyone begin to listen? Beginning a story with ‘As expected’ is inadvisable as it suggests the outcome is predictable.

    If the audience is unfamiliar with acronyms associated with a particular sphere of activity they will feel excluded. The full name should be spelt out first, then resort to the acronym thereafter.

    Active and passive voice
    There are situations where an active voice will enliven a sentence. A passive voice can mask an idea rather than state it explicitly. Politicians tend to adopt a passive tone of voice for example they are more likely to say ‘mistakes were made’ rather than ‘we made mistakes’. A subtle change in wording distances the individual from responsibility.

    Similar sounding words
    Certain words in the English language look and sound very similar and can lead to mistakes in conveying meaning for example; affect and effect; principle and principal and stationery and stationary. A good dictionary is advisable.

    Confusing choices
    Many of us struggle between the choices for certain words. When would you use fewer or less? What is the difference between that and which? When is it right to use may or might?

    Cue and intro writing
    Continuity between news items is vital. This often relies on what is called a cue or hook. The cue writer and correspondent need to be aware of what each other are doing so that the two match seamlessly. If the cue is a repetition of the first sentence of the report it will demonstrate a lack of good planning and an unprofessional attitude. Likewise some forethought is required when picking up from the exit of a piece.

    Numerical and statistical representation
    The writer Hilaire Belloc said that ‘lucidity is the soul of style’ and it is worth keeping this in mind when conveying complex data through broadcast media. Television uses the graphical representation of data to good effect often with animated sequences that reveal other levels of information. Newspapers provide sequential information taking the reader from the headline through introductory texts into further levels of detail contained in diagrams and charts. Radio, a medium of sound, does not have the advantage of graphic representation. It is difficult to visualise numerical information without seeing it. Too much statistical information can numb the listener and lose their sense of the story. People need to understand the broad trends in simplistic terms for example are the numbers going up, down or remaining the same? People are more likely to remember the number 3000 rather than 2993 or 3006. Mixing numerical systems such as percentages, decimals, fractions and real values will not make much sense to many people and will fail to inform the viewer or listener.

    Sensitive language
    When broadcasting information one should avoid causing unnecessary offence through thoughtless use of insensitive language. The BBC Producers’ Guidelines covers such areas as gender, ethnicity, minorities, disabilities, religious groups, sexual orientation and age.

    The rhythm of sentences
    Reading out aloud sentences intended for broadcast is important to avoid unfortunate rhythms and rhymes. A series of even length sentences can sound like a staccato proclamation. Pronunciation needs to be clear as common words are often mispronounced. Contractions or negatives can sometimes sound like a positive. It is acceptable to spell things out in broadcasting. If spelling out ‘weren’t’ to ‘were not’ makes the information clearer then the objective of clarity over rules expedience. Sibilance is a hissing sound that derives from speaking words out aloud with a preponderance of the letter ‘s’.

    Words are tools of the information trade. Using the right word to express precisely what is meant is not being pedantic. If the listener can’t have faith in the means of expression what faith can they have in the facts that are being conveyed? Where there is an alternative short word it should be used in preference to the longer alternative. Here are a few examples: ‘make’ instead of ‘manufacture’; ‘about’ not ‘approximately’; and ‘pay’ rather than ‘remuneration’. Vogue words demonstrate fashion consciousness in language but don’t always lend themselves to clear communication. Current vogue words include: fashionista and pivotal. Time is of a premium in broadcasting and one should consider single words that represent whole phrases. ‘Leaves much to be desired’ means ‘poor’. ‘By virtue of the fact that’ means ‘because’. ‘With the exception of’ means ‘except’. Concise writing is a virtue. Sometimes there is unnecessary repetition of meaning in the combination of words for example: new innovation; close scrutiny; and exact replica. John Allen, who compiled the BBC News Style Guide, concludes that ‘simplicity is the key to understanding…short words in short sentences present listeners and viewers with the fewest obstacles to comprehension’.

    Information Design, Robert Jacobson
    The BBC News Style Guide, John Allen
    The Guardian Style Guide
    Interview with Martin Shaw, Course Director Postgraduate Diploma Broadcast Journalism

  • Tony Pritchard 9:53 am on April 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ben Shneiderman, , , Claude Shannon, , , , , , Hans Christian von Baeyer, Information Visualisation, Interactive Tree of Life, Map of the Market, Munsell, Nico Macdonald, , Polar Diagram, , Science, Steve Holtzman, Steven Rose   

    The Science of Information Visualisation: a provocation 

    What is a Science?
    Taking the broadest definition, a science can be described as the systematic organisation of a body of knowledge that describes the physical world. Knowledge evolves and is established through the collation and testing of data with measurable outcomes. This becomes integrated into existing information or corrects previous assumptions. The number of Bachelor and Master of Science courses related to the field of information study pay testament to the notion that the design and visualisation of information straddles the boundaries between art and science. Information visualisation is not the mere decoration of factual information. It is elemental to the construction of meaning and how it is perceived. It’s what Richard Saul Wurman calls ‘the design of understanding’.
    Image: Viral Blocks by Diego Baca is an interactive program, which was created to inform users about the subject of genetics and viruses. It presents this visual information as 3D animations, making it easier to understand abstract concepts and promoting learning through an engaging and enjoyable experience. The program utilises Processing language and Lego’s computer brick.

    The Art and Science of Visual Representation
    Art and science are often seen as being polar extremes requiring affiliation to one or the other. This is a false dichotomy. The Information Design Café, a place on the Internet for the exchange of views, values both as integral partners and regards information design and visualisation as ‘the art and science of presenting information so that it is understandable and easy to use: effective, efficient and attractive’.

    From Philosophy to Physics
    Jef Raskin, who created the Macintosh project at Apple, states ‘the founder of information theory, Claude Shannon, moved information from the realm of philosophers to that of physicists by showing that the term could be given a clear definition’. Shannon quantified what information was and qualified the means by which information was encoded, transmitted and decoded. This is not to sever the philosophical roots of communication or to suggest that this is the complete picture, but to acknowledge information study as a science as well as an art.

    Scientists need Vision
    When scientists fail to explain a particular phenomenon of the natural world through laboratory experiments, they have to look to other methods. They have to turn off the Bunsen burner, take off their goggles and white coats to employ visualisation as a method of understanding what they encounter. Unfortunately this is not always an innate skill amongst scientists. There is an argument that information visualisation techniques should be part of the core curricula, not only for all university subjects, but also as part of a child’s education at school. We have arrived at the point where visual literacy is an essential skill in an increasingly visual age. Interestingly vision is the word used as a metaphor when a shift in paradigm is required. Not that surprising though as scientists themselves tell us that sight has 85% dominance over the other senses. What is surprising is that successive British governments fail to acknowledge visual methods as intrinsic to solving many of the challenges facing society. They pay lip service to design as the gloss on the surface that momentarily deludes the public. They see subject disciplines as separate and unrelated and fund accordingly. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) describe the ‘strategically important subjects’ as science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the so-called STEM subjects. Science is a label, albeit one with current cachet. It shouldn’t be important, but it is, that we equally label aspects of visual communication as a science for it to be taken as a serious and ‘strategically important’ subject. There is some hope – US President Obama has appointed Edward Tufte as a special adviser to the White House. Who would the next British Prime Minister appoint? What examples can we offer our politicians of the importance of the visual to scientific methods? Who were those pioneers who dared to cross the borders, to and fro, to understand and explain the perplexing phenomena facing them?

    Is there a Doctor in the House?
    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.
    Image: The Cholera Map by Dr John Snow shows the geographic distribution of death by Cholera.

    ‘Nursing is an Art…the Finest of Fine Arts’
    This heading is a quote by Florence Nightingale, an English nurse with a talent for mathematics. She plotted the daily loss of life during the winter months of the Crimean War on her own invention – the polar diagram. Nightingale presented this visual information to the Ministry of War as evidence of soldiers dying due to disease and poor nursing and not as a result of their immediate battle wounds. Charts, diagrams and graphs are seen as the domain of the mathematician but, in terms of visual communication, are owned in equal measure by the information designer.
    Image: The Polar Diagram by Florence Nightingale shows preventable death represented by the blue wedges, deaths resulting from wounds in red, and death due to other causes in black.

    The Periodic Table
    Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev is credited with devising the arrangement of all known elements into the Periodic Table. Elements had been grouped in two ways previously – either by their atomic weight (hierarchy) or by common properties such as metals or gases (category). Mendeleyev’s discovery was that these two methods could be combined in one table. It has been suggested that Mendeleyev was inspired by the game of patience, in which cards are arranged horizontally in suits and vertically by descending number. Using this concept he arranged the elements into horizontal rows called periods and vertical rows called groups. This visual display of information demonstrated two sets of relationships depending on whether one was reading the table up and down or from side to side. Elements are organised vertically to express chemicals with similar properties for example metals sit one on top of each other. The horizontal rows are organised by the number of protons in their nuclei, known as the atomic number. Hydrogen has one proton and therefore has an atomic number of one and is placed first in the top left corner. Mendeleyev’s invention allows the relationship between elements to be understood through visual means. In the book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, Bill Bryson describes the Periodic Table as ‘a thing of beauty in the abstract, but for chemists it established an immediate orderliness and clarity that can hardly be overstated’. In the view of Robert E Krebs who wrote ‘The History and Use of Our Earth’s Chemical Elements’ the Periodic Table is ‘the most elegant organisational chart ever devised’.
    Image: The Periodic Table by Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev demonstrates the strength of visual cross referencing.

    New Information Landscapes
    Physicist Hans Christian von Baeyer opens his book, ‘Information: The New Language of Science’ with the following: ‘information gently but relentlessly drizzles down on us in an invisible, impalpable electric rain’. Our lives are becoming progressively intricate and the inability to filter complexity is leading to information fatigue and sensory overload. Journalist Nico Macdonald explains that ‘most of us still try to comprehend this glut of data using representations from the era of print – many based on text rather than image. Our ability to present information in a useful and intelligent manner is falling behind our ability to create and distribute the raw data’. We need new innovations to move beyond placing printed information behind glass screens. Information geographers must fashion a new digital landscape and one that can be traversed visually. Macdonald suggests ‘evolution has left humans with brains that are as much visual as they are analytical, able to distinguish and group objects by size, colour, shape and spatial location. Our brains are adept at identifying patterns’. The dilemma for designers is how to present information, retaining its levels of complexity, yet making it accessible. Information visualisation attempts to present vast quantities of data through interfaces that allow information to be filtered and manipulated to the needs of the individual and the moment. Words are exclusive and contingent on an understanding of language; images are inclusive and more widely recognisable and understood. Hugh Dubberly states that ‘when we design things more complex than single objects – systems, sets of elements, interactions and pathways – we need a new approach.’ He believes design ‘needs now to be more about making complex, abstract ideas visible than about creating objects’. Information visualisation uses visual metaphors such as graphic sliders and fish eye lens views to alter the intensity of different aspects of information. This new era of information visualisation could borrow an idea from motorway signage, that of progressive disclosure. We do not need to see the entire database of information rather we need interfaces that provide gradual access to levels of information.
    Image: The Interactive Tree Of Life is an online tool for the display and manipulation of phylogenetic trees. A phylogenetic tree, also known as an evolutionary tree, is a diagram with a complex branch system. The tree demonstrates the connections between biological species based on their genetic characteristics.

    Map of the Market
    Much of the design on the net has focused on graphic navigation systems but once you encounter information it is often in the form of text or graphics that adhere to a print tradition. Map of the Market, an example of a treemap, was created for The website features an interface comprised of rectangular subdivisions which resemble an aerial photograph of land use. Each rectangle or ‘field’ represents one of 600 companies organised within industry sector clusters. The size of the rectangle relates to the company’s market capitalisation. Each company’s fortunes are represented by colour. Red indicates a fall and green a rise. Additional rollovers and clickable items provide up to date news stories and in-depth information pertaining to each company.
    Image: The Map of the Market by Martin Wattenberg represents the use of colour and area as powerful visual tools in creating an interface to complex information.

    Film Finder
    Ben Shneiderman at the University of Maryland challenges his students to present vast datasets in visually approachable and useful ways. The Film Finder project required students to propose an interface for accessing information from a database of 10,000 films. Devices such as A-Z range sliders enable information such as film or actor details to be viewed in alphabetical order. This is known as ‘direct manipulation’ of information. The interface features a timeline with film genres colour-coded. Additional buttons allow for films to be viewed by certificated rating and awards.
    Image: Film Finder by Christopher Ahlberg, Staffan Truvé and Ben Shneiderman

    Information Sculpture
    Steve Holtzman, a leading commentator on digital developments, describes the concept of designers and artists working in the digital medium as ‘sculpting in ones and zeros’. Holtzman continues ‘…information is now, in this information age, taking its rightful place beside energy and matter as a fundamental shaper of the world we live in. Of the three, only information is at the heart of who and what we are. It is a manifestation of our humanity that, in digital form, is sculpting new worlds. Self-expression in digital form is, literally, a process of information design’.
    Image: Colour Volume by Timon Botez utilises the knowledge of physics software specialist Justin Manor. Botez re-imagined Munsell‘s three-dimensional colour system to analyse and disassemble selected works of art into volume representations.

    Colour Science and Theory
    Colour can be described in terms of its physiological, psychological and socio-cultural effects. Colour theory covers aspects such as: hue (primary, secondary and tertiary colours); saturation; tone; complimentary colours; temperature; advancing and receding colours; vibrancy; and harmony. Students of design will often undertake many different colour exercises in order to experiment with and understand the effects of colour. It is also important to understand how colour changes through different lighting conditions and media such as print and screen. Scientists can describe the biology of the eye and the mechanics of the brain but how does this lead us to feel emotion or touch our soul or leave us with a memorable experience? Biologist and neuroscientist Steven Rose explains how information becomes perception and meaningful: ‘…it happens in the visual cortex itself; multiple interconnections link the separate modules, integrating their separate analyses; the flow of signals between them is the mechanism of perception’. Once again we have a scientific explanation but are still wondering how information can be prepared for consumption. What are the attributes of information, its design and visualisation?
    Image: I Feel Pain by Orapan Limbutara provides visual diagnostic tools for determining the type, location and intensity of pain. Limbutara had discovered cases of incorrect diagnosis where spoken language had been a barrier to understanding. Colour is used to represent pain intensity.

    From Information to Visualisation
    Information is comprised of components known as data; these components are things like words, numbers, statistics and facts. Design is the act of conceiving a plan or intention that determines the look and function of something before it is produced. Information design and visualisation is concerned with explaining complexity through visual means to enable understanding. Information design is the selection, organisation and presentation of data in a form that is of most value to an intended user. The primary purpose of information design is to help its users to understand and experience the world better. Giving visual form to information can make it more accessible, usable and enjoyable thereby reducing uncertainty. Information design records our experience of existence and presents this accumulated knowledge through formats such as: books, guides, exhibitions, maps, signage, interfaces, instruction manuals, television and the Internet. Information design has evolved to meet specific human needs and in doing so has contributed to the shaping of civilisation. We encounter information in different environments such as printed matter; three-dimensional spatial contexts; and the screen interface. Each shapes our experience and perception of information.

    Where am I?
    Imagine for a moment a world without directional signs; no maps to guide us from A to B; entering a building that has no signage; being asked to operate something that has no instructions; trying to read a publication without headings; attempting to find the way through a website that has no means of navigation. You are imagining a world without information visualisation or feedback about our environment. It would be a disorientating experience.

    Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom
    Information resides in a hierarchy that begins with data: data is transformed into information; information provides knowledge; and wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge. Data alone is of little value; the way data is presented provides its context and builds meaning. Richard Grefé, Executive Director of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), observes that ‘design is the intermediary between information and understanding’. How are we to organise information in order to better understand it?

    LATCH Theory
    In the book Information Architects, Richard Saul Wurman proposes that there are five main ways of organising information. To facilitate easy memory of this system he devised the acronym LATCH. L is for Location: maps organise information so that locations may be perceived by their geographical relationship to each other. A represents Alphabet: dictionaries, encyclopaedias and telephone directories use this system to organise words, concepts and names. T is for Time: museums often organise their exhibitions chronologically using timelines. C represents Category: this is a method often employed by department stores and supermarkets. H is for Hierarchy: hierarchy is a value system that places things in relative importance to one another.

    We can’t do it alone
    Information design is a process of making information more useable through a variety of design methodologies and requires an awareness of: instructional design, technical writing, web design, print, publication design, interface design, interactivity, programming, user experience design, information architecture, written and oral communications, human factor concerns, ethnography, cognitive psychology, semantics, syntax, linguistics, semiotics, communication theory, typography, illustration, diagramming, user research and testing. Complex information schemes require multi-, cross- and inter-disciplinary teamwork.

    Isolation or Integration?
    To view science in isolation from other fields of enquiry is to deny the complexity and history of human development. Educational theorists talk in terms of integrative learning – a method that seeks to connect complex and often contradictory perspectives. The ability to integrate knowledge enables holistic views to be made and judgments taken. Seeing only some of the parts and not the sum of the parts allows only a partial view and can lead to less informed decision-making. Ben Shneiderman of the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory (University of Maryland) suggests that ‘the purpose of visualisation is insight, not pictures’. Science can utilise and benefit from insights outside the immediate discipline as much as it can inform human progress and knowledge. Scientists may need artists and designers to draw the pictures for them but true visual insight reveals and enlightens. Scientists can’t always see the data or the meaning behind the data until it has been put into an appropriate visual form. Scientists at NASA required information designer Edward Tufte to re-draw the graph for them. The graph visually explained the data behind the avoidable Challenger disaster of 1986. They had the data, they even tried crude visual representations but they just couldn’t extrapolate meaning without Tufte’s intervention. They could describe but couldn’t interpret. The before and after graphical representations of data can be seen here. By visualising data correctly the disaster as shown on CNN below could have been avoided. Perhaps the top down management decision to launch under known dangerous conditions would not have been taken. Particularly if the visual case for not doing so had been transparently presented to the world. The primacy and the relative unilateralism of the traditional sciences has been questioned and found wanting. The scientists can’t do it alone and nor should they be expected to.

    Information Visualisation, Nico Macdonald, Eye Magazine, Issue 49, 2003
    A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson, Black Swan, 2004
    World Without Words, Michael Evamy, Laurence King, 2003
    Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte, Graphics Press, 1997
    Information Architects, Richard Saul Wurman, Graphis Publications, 1997
    Information Design, Robert Jacobson, The MIT Press, 2000
    Readings in Information Visualisation, Stuart Card, Jock Mackinlay
    Ben Shneiderman, Academic Press, 1999
    The Craft of Information Visualisation, Benjamin Bederson, Ben Shneiderman, Morgan Kaufman Publishers, 2003
    Diego Baca Viral Blocks website
    Interactive Tree of Life website
    Botez website

    • Lisa 5:47 am on April 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Your blog has been one of my favorites of all time. … Thanks for writing such a great blog. I always enjoyed reading it,

      • Tony Pritchard 9:59 am on April 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for taking the time to post a reply – much appreciated. Glad you are enjoying the blog. It’s a good outlet for my thoughts on design and education. Your link takes me to the Nurses E-Learning Center. I’d be interested in hearing more about the links you see between the medical profession and information visualisation or why you are interested in design. I have had people from the medical profession study with me as well as others with a science background such as molecular genetics.

      • Aidan 10:27 am on April 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        I found this while searching for some data visualisation I’d seen at The Wellcome Trust museum in London – they ran an exhibition last year called “Dirt” that included a piece on John Snow’s cholera work (and Ghost Map). There was also a wonderful study from the 19th century on monthly death rates plotted against weather (high & low temperature) and (I think) age group that left me in awe of our the calligraphy and illustrative skills of the time. Irritatingly, with photography prohibited in the museum I wasn’t able to capture it, but it impressed me with a) how easy technology can make illustration of data these days and b) how easy that software can make it to produce illustrations that are neither helpful nor elegant in comparison to skills of the past. If you have any ideas on who might have produced the study, or where I could find images of the illustration, I’d be very grateful. Thanks for the blog.

        • Tony Pritchard 10:49 am on April 3, 2012 Permalink

          Thanks for taking the time to write. I can’t identify the piece that your are referring to, but it put me in mind of the Minard Map which Edward Tufte describes as ‘probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn’. The map uses most, if not all, of Tufte’s 7 grand principles of analytical design. It does relate temperature to cause of death. You can find Minard’s Map on Tufte’s website.

      • jenny 3:09 pm on February 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        awesome infos here. thanks for sharing it! keep up the good work!

  • Tony Pritchard 12:34 pm on March 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    International Society of Typographic Designers (ISTD) 2010 Student Assessment 

    Thirty-seven UK colleges took part with 270 student registrations. Annually about a third are successful in passing the student assessment. The pass mark is set at 60%.

    The ISTD Assessment Process
    I have been an ISTD assessor for the last three years. In that time I have been fortunate to gain an insight into both typographic and educational standards. The assessors are drawn from both higher education institutions and the profession. Individual assessment teams are comprised one education person and one industry person. Each assessment takes 30 minutes and is verified by a senior ISTD member. The verification involves ensuring that the form is correctly completed and that assessor comments do not conflict with the assessment criteria descriptors. Should there be any dispute the case is referred to an additional arbitration process. The assessment form is then typed up and produced as a PDF. Work is identified for photographic record and photographed on the spot. All this takes place in one room and you feel as if you are part of one assessment machine! It is a very rigorous and efficient machine. A very impressive operation. Pass or fail, students can feel assured that their work has received due consideration.

    The components of the project
    The projects enable the students to demonstrate their conceptual abilities allied to high standards of design and typographic practice. Projects include five components. Typographic interpretation involves the conception of an idea and how this is executed through visual proposals. Evidence of practical research and development is required including contextual research, data and information generation, idea exploration and visual experimentation. Students present a strategy paper outlining their thought processes. They are required to supply typographic and production specifications considering media, materials and format. Finally the overall presentation is judged, not as a substitute for a weak idea, but whether its coherence enhances the communication. All this is a tall order for undergraduate students. Most students don’t successfully achieve either the individual components or the complete integrated package. There are questions for the students but equally for us educators – primarily why is it the case that so many students don’t pass?

    Bridging the chasms of the design process
    The challenges designers face are how to cross the chasms between each phase of the design process. The initial challenge is how to get started. Phd students face ‘the research question’ the rest of us just face questions. What is to be communicated and to who, where, when and how? This involves us in a practical process of research. Research is not an isolated process it informs, and is integral to, all stages of the process. We need to establish data and put this into context to understand information. This information can be analysed and evaluated. The first chasm we face is how to cross from research to the development phase. The development phase requires us to develop visual propositions. This requires visual experimentation, exploration and testing. We cannot remain within the relatively cosy world of gathering information.This phase also requires ideas development. One can employ logical reasoning and/or lateral thinking techniques as expounded by Edward de Bono. We need to create the ‘environments’ for the ‘happy accidents’ to occur. The next chasm is between the development phase and identifying an idea to take forward for further prototyping and towards the final visual. This requires the ability to edit and make critical judgments. Design educators call this phase resolution. This is perhaps the hardest part of the process. Up until this point all the research and development can be very worthy but can it be translated and transformed into an engaging, pertinent, challenging, exciting, entertaining and informative piece of communication? You’ve followed the design process step-by-step – but is that enough? What are the attributes of a well resolved project? Can it be described? Is there a formula? I have written about the design process in previous posts. The articles can be found here: The Design Process Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

    Typographic interpretation
    My first piece of advice is to read and keep re-reading the project brief/assignment throughout the project development. Did you miss any of the subtle nuances on your first reading? As an assessor I think the answer is yes. Students need to consider the nature of visual communication and how to make ideas understandable. Complexity and ambiguity can be visually and intellectually intriguing but equally, to paraphrase Jorge Frascara, to deliberately mislead and confuse is abusive. When we conceive an idea it no doubt makes sense to us. But will others understand your idea and how will you know? How often do we test whether others understand our intention? Friends and family may well tell us what we want to hear to save our feelings. Although ultimately we all want to make visual communication that we have personally formed it is perhaps worth looking at previous examples of successful visual communication. My advice is to acquaint yourself with the history of idea development. There are patterns and formulas. Look out for them, identify them and learn from them. Build up your own visual database. This growing archive will become you reference points. By becoming a more aware designer, understanding the nature of influence, and that you are in a continuum of design thinkers, you will be able to make informed and insightful personal decisions. In my view this section is where you are likely to pass or fail and where you will lose most marks.

    Research and development
    Some contextual research is necessary to understand the area under investigation. The danger is to become trapped in endless gathering. It feels very purposeful to spend hours in the library, making visits to museums, interviewing people and constructing surveys. But what is the purpose unless it focuses you on to the next stage of ideas development? You have to analyse the research to understand potential directions. What does the research tell you? Where is it leading? Don’t just go through the motions. Don’t just draw the spider diagram because you feel you ought to. Do it if you have a reason to do it. Don’t just copy endless articles or print out internet pages – who do you think is going to read it? It needs to mean something to you and you need to articulate that meaning in some other way such as through concise reflective writing or a diagram. Show us how you are transforming data into information and into knowledge. Show us how you are applying your findings.

    When writing a strategy paper, my advice is to say what your idea is straight away in the first paragraph. The strategy is an opportunity to convey your thought processes. It is not just a log of actions you took but why you took them and how it influenced the course of the project. You are not at the ISTD assessment to present your work. You need to think about this when you write your statement. Often in professional practice you will have to write a report to accompany your design proposals. You may have to leave your portfolio with a client and a clear, concise report will prove invaluable in terms of clarifying any complex aspects of the project.

    Typographic and technical specifications
    This is the ‘money for old rope’ section. This is a technical section and shouldn’t be hard to pass. Don’t lose out on the stuff you can learn easily. This section requires you to tell the assessor how the item is to be produced in reality. It isn’t about how the visual is made. You would not produce a mass produced item on your Epson printer. If your item is printed you will need to know about the paper stock/substrate and weight; type of printing (eg 4 colour litho); and whether it is printed in special pantone colours or full colour process (CMYK). If you are specifying for screen you will need to consider resolution; pixels measurements; and appropriate colour systems. Educators…where in the curriculum is this information delivered?

    A bad idea presented well tends to fair better than a good idea presented poorly. It shouldn’t but I think it does. Learn the techniques of a good presentation. Don’t fail on this section. It is about taking care in how you organise things. Label things clearly. Attempt visual consistency across disparate items such as sketchbooks, research containers and the final portfolio. Think about the first moment an assessor will open up the folder – what will be their first impression? Clutter or order? You can really effect the disposition of the person looking at your work by some careful consideration regarding organisation. Think carefully how each item is made and finished off. It is demonstrating your level of care and attention. Why would a society want someone that doesn’t care about their own work? I have written about presentation in this article: Presenting research and development work.

    In this article I have tried to reflect on my recent experience of assessing student work. Questions of assessment criteria and achieving parity in application inevitably arise. The ISTD reviews these criteria and are open in their discussions regarding assessment practices. The society is determined to maintain the highest standards of typographic practice within education. If it doesn’t who else will? This is a tough assessment – if you pass it really means something. It is a great acheivement. In my view it means more that your undergraduate qualification. This is a professionally recognised qualification. This is important at a time when it is tougher to break into the profession. There are many graduates and not so many jobs. Graduates are now expected to undertake free placements or even pay for them (see paying to work for free). In discussions with professional colleagues at the ISTD assessment they were committed to paying a fair wage and not exploiting talented graduates. This ethical stance is important for the profession to embrace.

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