Monday, April 02, 2007

Finding out about Information Design - Maps, Diagrams, Bills (and Websites)

Several posts about information design ...

"Today, have you: received a gas bill, followed a street sign, taken some medicine, used public transport? Or used an instructional diagram, read nutritional information, or been warned that your next investment could go down as well as up?

These everyday activities are all the concerns of information design. Information designers seek to turn information into artefacts that people can use. They may work on maps, street signs, diagrams, websites - or my personal favourite, forms.

This week, Greenwich in London was the host to the Information Design Conference. We were mostly from the UK, but on a quick flick through the attendees list I spotted Hong Kong and Brazil, Canada and South Africa.

I'd love to tell you about every poster and presentation, but let me just give you a flavour of the diversity we enjoyed.

Martin Thomas at the University of Leeds is a linguist who is interested in how language works in context. He's chosen to study how packaging gets changed when it is localised for different markets: specifically, for China and the UK. Think of a Kit-Kat, the popular chocolate snack. Now think about how a Kit-Kat might be packaged for different markets. Martin's poster got me interested and I had a look at Kit-Kat's localised marketing websites - for about 30 seconds. China did not appear in their list and the UK's site consisted of a single page saying "The Kit Kash promotion has closed". Maybe there are some insights there into how we could help our clients to manage their localised presences?

In the UK and USA, we have a major issue of functional illiteracy: people who don't read well enough to complete every-day tasks such as picking information from timetables. In Brazil, they have a wider problem: 14.6 million people who can't read at all, not even an alphabet. HIV-AIDS is a big problem in Brazil and illiterate people are more vulnerable to it. The government tries to help them by distributing free condoms (both male and female) accompanied by instructions. Carla G. Spinillo and Tiago Costa Maia have been investigating whether these "procedural pictorial sequences" are effective or not. That poses some interesting challenges for experimental realism, and I think we can sympathise with their decision to ask participants to put condoms on body models rather than each other or themselves. Sadly, they concluded that the pictorial sequences didn't have any significant effect on task success. They are now working on how to improve them. As Carla said: "It's not that pictures are good: it depends on the quality of the pictures you are using"    (Continued via Usability News - Caroline's Corner)    [Usability Resources]


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