Information design helps readers better understand a message.
How big is an acre?
Unless one is a farmer, rancher, or realtor, very few of us know. Here's the correct answer:
An acre is the amount of land a yoke of oxen can plow in one day.
Well, nice, but I still don't know. That may define an acre but it doesn't convey how big it is - how much space it takes up. Okay, here's a more specific answer:
An acre is 43,560 square feet.
That is more precise, but how big is that?
An acre is about the size of a football field, minus the end zones:
Okay, I can relate to that - now I have some idea how big an acre is.
Making the complex clear - communicating information in a manner that is easy to understand - that is Information Graphics.
One way to do that is to relate the unknown (acre) to something known (football field) to clarify understanding.
The acre example is from Richard Saul Wurman, the Information Architect, the Guru of Understanding.
Important lesson: Great design is accomplished when seeing the problem through the eyes of the user (reader, viewer).
Some examples of poor chart design
Confusing order of items
The headline says 'tops survey,' yet the referenced item is at the bottom. Why would anyone do that? Put the Top one at the bottom, instead of at the top? That is more expected, more intuitive, more appropriate, and clearer communication.
The rest of the items are in random order - alphabetical or by decreasing dollar amount would be better for the reader to see a comparison - "Who is in second place?"
Unnecessary inconsiderate legend:
Below: three options to improve clear communication.
Tip: Avoid legends when feasible. Note: it is very often feasible.
Poor readability: all caps, condensed font, tight kerning, poor contrast, small point size:
Randomly arranged charts:
Why are the countries arranged in that order? I can't find a reason - it just seems random.
There are two better options:
1. Alphabetical - allows the reader to more easily find a specific country.
2. By amplitude - least to maximum - allows the reader to compare and rank nations.
Below: The heading, Brand by Maximum is incorrect - it should be Brand Also, Maximum - as it is not (Arranged) by maximum.
Also, get rid of the confusing unnecessary arrows, move the heading off of the items, and put them in a logical order.
The poll question was Do you sing in the shower? But, that isn't what was in the headline. Why not? If the headline is accurate, there is no need to repeat the question at the end of the body copy. The regular reader knows this feature is results from a poll. I suspect most don't read the copy - they read the question and view the results.
• Changed the headline to be more accurate and clearer.
• Deleted the repeat of the question in the copy.
• Reset the text copy with a narrower column width.
• Enlarged the result captions to be easier to read.
• Put the results in ascending order and aligned, not a random placement.
A bar graph might be easier to understand than a pie chart
The legend is not needed and, therefore, the color coding is not really helpful (but it's okay).
Arrangement of elements in a list:
Why the maze to decipher - is this the puzzle page? A test?
No, it's a chart of information that shows odd requests made by teams of their hotel.
Better options: Below left: improved. Right, even better:
1. Straight links to clearly communicate the content.
2. Alphabetized list of countries to allow finding a particular one a bit easier.
3. No horizontal and vertical decorative lines - there is no need to separate the black disk from the heading with an overused outdated vertical line. Nor does the line beneath the heading serve any purpose.
Lesson: If a graphic element serves no purpose, it is just crap - clutter that the reader has to process and then ignore.
Another example of poor arrangement
In the original graph on the left - notice the bent lines that lead the eye away from the item being referenced. I can't think of any reason why a designer would think that those angled lines improve comprehension of the message or the aesthetics of the image. They just detract and confuse. The tweaked version on the right is clearer and more appealing. Again, the order is confusingly random. Rearrange the items in descending order.
Above is a chart from Gallup.com. Please read the list of Office locations by country.
I suspect you read down the first column. At some point you may have realized that the list is organized in rows, not columns - we are supposed to read across first, then down. Oops, bad design. We read down for two reasons:
1. We are conditioned to, its more familiar. When we recognize a list (with bullets and aligned in a column) we read down the list, no matter how many columns there are.
2. The designer of this page gave us visual cues to read down. The countries are aligned in vertical columns with a column of bullets next to the country names. The spacing conveys to read Australia first (again, conditioning to start at the top left) and then read the next closest country. That would be Canada, not Belgium.
1. There is no no need to repeat 'iPhone' under the heading iPhone.
2. The title Screen Repair needs to be larger and more obvious.
3. Models that have the same price can be grouped together - the reader will scan to their phone model and then check the price.
Nulo is a premium dog food that prides itself on healthful, honest ingredients. But, their promo piece is a bit dishonest. Note the visual above left comparing carbohydrate content - it makes Nulo (bottom in red) appear impressive - almost no carbohydrates. On a scale of 30% to 50%, selected out of context to show the red bar more favorably. The company relies on the fact that visuals are more memorable and persuasive than text words. On the right is a fair comparison - using the more accurate scale from 0% to 100% - the complete gamut. Now, the red band is not quite as impressive. The red band and the one above it differ by only 5%, almost negligible. But, the visual on the left makes it appear that there is a huge difference between the two.
Makes me wonder - what are they hiding? Why don't they show the complete chart? I am often skeptical of companies who try to trick the consumer.
The two above have their instructions buried in blocks of copy, in a small point size, and reversed out of the red background.
Now look at the better brand below. The designer of these packages was considerate of the reader. The heading, Cooking Instructions, is large and easy to find. The most important info (the time) is large, set in a box, and put on a higher contrast background. Users can scan the back of the box easily and quickly find the info they are looking for. Microwave ovens are fast, their instructions should be, also.
The box above has two important steps - Prep and Cook. Both are very clear at a glance. The prep photo makes sense.
There are 8 ways to set blocks of text copy:
A few guidelines
• The way that best facilitates reading long blocks of copy (like in a book or magazine) is FLRR.
• Flush Center is used primarily for lists and data.
Better arrangements of columns of info in the flush center format
We read by taking a picture of a group of words - not letter by letter. When scanning a phone book or any directory, we find the name and then have to scan to the right a ways to get to the phone number. There is no advantage to setting the info with justified margins. We are not reading a block of copy like prose, we are reading only one line of info. To aid this horizontal eye movement, a line of dots has been added to help us stay on the proper line of info.
In the example above right, the numbers are aligned to the immediate left of the names. One scans down the column to the desired name and then sees the number right next to it - no having to move along the line. As shown below, this method saves enough space to allow more letterspacing for clarity and easier reading, to allow setting the phone numbers in bold, and to allow a slightly narrower column width (as shown by the grey bar at the bottom of the column).
Flush Center Conceived: mid-1990s. Designed/copyrighted: May, 2003.
Below left: 4 columns of existing directory page. Below right: 4 columns of a Flush Center directory page.
Existing layout for scores: We read by taking a picture of a group of words - not letter by letter. When reading scores on television, most stations do the usual transfer-from-print layout of putting scores after the team name. Since the length of team names varies widely, these scores may end up being a ways from their team. There is no advantage to setting sports scores with justified margins. We are not reading a block of copy like prose, we are reading only one line of info.
Better layout for scores: In the example above, the scores are aligned to the immediate left of the team names. One sees the number right next to the team name - no having to move along a horizontal line. This method allows more clarity and easier reading and allows a slightly narrower column width.
Above right QuakeFeed app: the earthquake intensity is listed first and right next to the city location. The date and time info are on one line to allow compression of info to fit more incidents on one screen (less scrolling). People access the app to learn, "Dang, how big was that one? And how close was it?" The arrangement better respects the desires of the user.
• Design from the user's point of view, not the client nor the designer.
• Minimal scrolling and swiping speeds access and eases use.
This was a newspaper insert for a pizza chain. The list of locations in the center wasted lots of space and was a bit tough to use effectively. Improvements:
• Phone numbers closer to location
• Larger point size for better readability
• Fewer unnecessary marks: ( " .
• Less info in locations - deleted W, St, Ave.
• More consistent setting of Oklahoma City SW & NW
• Better spacing within coupons
• Larger logos inside coupons
Above: Copy set in the traditional flush left layout. And, yes, her husband got 182 points out of 200. She only needed to get 18 points to win the jackpot, but her answers were so off that she didn't earn any additional points. So sad for her. Below: setting the copy so the answers respect their points earned by aligning to a central margin:
The graph in the middle of the page (enlargement below left) is a comparison of games per month. To visually clarify a comparison, it helps to align the icons so that the width of each row starts from the same zero point. As printed in The Magazine, there is inconsistent spacing and an awkward alignment. There is no advantage to having the months aligned left - we can easily scan the list.
Tip: Align the elements that convey the message content, not the message labels.
It is much easier to understand the point being made - that more money goes to Corporate Subsidies
than to any of the other expenses shown. Improvements:
• Aligned the decimal points so that the dollar amounts line up and can be more easily compared.
• Arranged the items in increasing dollar amounts.
• Decreased the leading - allows a larger point size without taking up any more height.
• No need for bullets.
• No need for the repeated dollar sign.
Other examples of flush center margins: Sign design