Most of this class is inspired by Kimball and Hawkins now out-of-print Document Design book. Unless otherwise noted, the page citations are from textbook
Introducing Information Design
Document design is part of a larger field called Information Design (ID). Saul Carliner’s definition of ID works on three levels:
- Physical–providing meaningful visual design
“From the users’ perspective, good physical design lets them find information of interest easily” (564)
- Cognitive–understand information through design choices
“Cognitive design primarily focuses on the design process: adequately defining the users’ performance goals and preparing a solution that addresses them” (566)
- Affective–motivate users to act
“Before users can perform the tasks describe[d] in communication products, they need to feel compelled to read about them….After attracting readers’ attention, technical communicators must motivate readers to use information in the communication product” (568).
Additionally, Kimball & Hawkins claim “Document designers work to understand the problems and situations of information users and information providers and then craft documents that help solve those problems within those situations” (p. 3). Although it might seem outdated to discuss “documents” as opposed to sites of content, “documents are best understood as a site where one person can mark information for the use of another” (p. 5). Basically, effective design stems from understanding audiences and purposes for a potential document. You might have had discussions about audience and purpose in other classes, and you should have because they are the key elements to consider when communicating: The best communication in the world will fail if the author doesn’t understand his or her audience and doesn’t have a clear sense of the purpose of the communication.
Below are the groups that make up the document design relationship:
- Clients (needs and agendas)
- Users (needs and desires)
- Designers (solve the problem for both)
An effective designer is aware of his or her clients’ and audiences’ needs and, more importantly, expectations. Being culturally aware helps uncover a broad range of user expectations. Remember, users are members of cultures who understand meanings that are constructed by their experiences and lives in a particular society.
Finally, let’s get to rhetoric, which is a subject we’ll analyze throughout the semester. There are three extremely important appeals to consider:
1) the presentation of or appeal to one’s character
2) the characterization of a document or speaker (consider this to be the “look and feel” of a document, its attributes)
Notice the two parts of this definition…be able to analyze a document from both parts separately. I will explain what this means every class period until the semester is over.
- Pathos: appeal to emotions
1) appeal to logic; explicit or implicit deductive arguments
2) stating assumed facts (e.g., statistics, addresses, date/time)
Consider the “look and feel” of the following Web pages:
We will come back to ethos, pathos, and logos throughout the semester. Please, please, please ask questions if the terms are confusing. If we have time tonight, though, we’re going to go over assumptions based on experience, bias, conventional wisdom, etc. Time permitting, we’ll discuss a group of designs for pizza…
Hawthorne’s Pizza can be said to have a “contemporary” design. What other page does it look like? You probably visit this page a lot! Here’s another Italian-style restaurant, Mamma Ricotta’s.
Principles of Design
Kimball & Hawkins (and Robin Williams) discuss principles of design. As a preview, I’ve listed some important terms we’ll return to throughout the semester:
- Design Objects–text is visual
- Seven Visual Variables (pp. 23-27)
- Shape: two dimensional area covered
- Orientation: the directions in which the design points users
- Texture: pattern applied to objects
- Color: [not much more to say]
- Value: relative lightness and darkness of an object compared to its surroundings (important when we discuss contrast)
- Size: bigness or smallness of objects
- Position: location on a two dimensional plane
- Six Principles of Design (pp. 27-35)
- Similarity: how alike objects are
- Contrast: emphasis; calling attention to
- Proximity: grouping and belonging (not direction per se as in orientation)
- Alignment: showing connection and coherence
- Order: users have socially constructed expectations for sequences in documents based on their experiences in a culture
- Enclosure: boxes or such for containing or separating objects
We will return to the above concepts throughout the semester, so please make sure you’re using the appropriate vocabulary because these terms capture design principles and help us quickly and (one hopes) accurately assess your document’s effectiveness.
Carliner, Saul. “A Three-part Framework for Information Design.” Technical Communication, vol. 47, no. 4, 2000, pp. 561-576.
Kimball, Miles and Anne Hawkins. Document Design. Bedford, 2008.