Designing Information - Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design

By Joel Katz

Aspects of Information Design

  • Pragmatic design is where the user understands
  • People only understand something relative to something they already understand (metaphor is power)

Qualitative Issues

  • By understanding how things work, you can start to think about improving them. By understanding why things don’t work, you can figure out how to design them so that they do.
  • Replacing outlines with paths whose thickness approximates widths simplifies reading. Shadows clarify depth.
  • A line has three functions
    1. A container of space (boundary, edge definition, etc.)
    2. A connection or pointer (from object to object/label)
    3. Linear element describing something with width whose function is one-dimensional
  • Differences in shape differentiate kind. Differences in color/size differentiate degree
  • With a neutral background, light paths = possibility of movement, dark shapes = static masses. The two things most unlike each other should be represented visually as such. This is both a pragmatic and rational consideration.
  • Differentiation in value in things aids our intuitive perception of what is represented
  • Research suggests we are capable of clearly distinguishing among (and remembering) 5-7 colors
  • Generation Labeling - If you don’t have room for 1st Gen labeling, you may be trying to fit in too much info
    1. 1st Gen – labels the object on or at the object
    2. 2nd Gen – connects the object to its label, which may be distant.
    3. 3rd Gen – labeling uses codes (alphanumeric or symbolic) requiring the user to repeatedly look, remember, and search

Quantitative Issues

  • Quantitative Comparisons depend on:
    • Disparity in quantities compared
    • # of dimensions in graphic being used for comparison
  • Charting with Lines notes
    • Bar charts can sometimes benefit from non-zero Base Lines
    • Break Lines are preferred to Base Lines as an acknowledgement of missing info is assumed
    • Snake Lines can be useful in presenting a greater value in charting without extending the real estate of the information graphic or taking the presentation into another dimension
  • Let the data determine the form, not the other way around

Structure, Organization, Type

  • Grids provide an armature for the structure and organization of information
  • Rectangular Grids
    • Skeletal – fixed structure with uniformly spaced sections
    • Interval – permits sections of any measurement but maintains space separations (few fixed horizontal hanglines)
  • Flush-Right table of contents are preferred as sectional information is interwoven to its location info
  • When integrating instructions and a grid of choices, it is helpful to break the process into simple, discrete, sequential steps
  • Pictograms (icons) are most effective when communicating across language, literacy, and cultural differences
  • Sans serif fonts are considered appropriate in larger sizes where serif fonts are preferred for large quantities of text (serif fonts are more legible)

Finding Your Way

  • Map vs. Diagram – Both communicate and explain something
    • Map – show where things are
    • Diagram – show how things work
  • Simplicity, clarity of use, and a memorable image are more important than geographic accuracy
  • Gradation is a powerful visual application that can describe a transition or type change of a path
  • LATCH – the 5 finite ways of organizing information
    • Location
    • Alphabet
    • Time
    • Category
    • Hierarchy