Information design:
in practice, an informed theory

InformForm is an international platform for information design, which celebrates and explores both practical and theoretical experimentation within the field of design. It prides itself on showcasing relevant examples of work by students, for students. Read More

inform #9 understanding an audience

By InformForm

InformForm workshop with students from NDU in St. Pölten, Austria

The success of a symbol or diagrammatic display is partly informed by the designer’s intentions, but is equally measured by a designer’s understanding of the user’s visual perception capabilities. If you’re not designing with a specific audience in mind you are likely to be (indulgently!) designing for yourself. Narrative and user experience as well as interactivity and user interaction are crucial research areas.

The question who is it for? can be acknowledged in many ways. The general public or anyone who is interested stand tall as examples of poor answers to this question. Instead, a response to ‘who’ should be defined through articulation of both the audience’s physical/cognitive abilities and cultural considerations. It’s important to take into account their previous experience as well as their need to gain information or knowledge from your design.

An understanding of the visual landscape with which the reader is familiar, will allow for previously undetermined design decisions whereby values can be (re)assigned. The audience should be an objective and not an after thought or by-product. User orientated design solutions are key in information design specialisms and articulate the necessity of form as much as content. Accessibility is a key word when referring to audience.

Accessibility in information design looks at the user’s ability to obtain, attain and comprehend information through form. As designers this means we have to plan for access. This objective again emphasises that the need to understand and define an audience is part of the solution. Objectives in a reader’s experience that are of particular relevance to pictographic design can be:

The widest possible understanding
High accessibility
As self-explanatory as possible
No accessory information that serves no purpose
No accessory form that serves no purpose

To understand an audience is to engage and connect with the user during the research process, and thus create opportunities for efficient communication though design. Efficiency in form through methods such as reduction and simplification can create access to complex matters.

Testing and reflection

To test is to determine the quality of communication during the visual experimentation phase. During testing, the concern is to question if the form meets the objectives of meaning, as set out in the concept stage of the project.

A designer’s undertaking is not complete with the production of artwork. The design process needs reflection and this validation should be applied iteratively and not merely at the end. Miscommunication can occur when the designer refers only to assessment criteria that relates to their own (visually literate) ability. As discussed in the chapter on audience: when it comes to testing of design the ‘who’ is as important as the ‘what’. The critique of readability and legibility should not be carried out in isolation.

Critical questions can be asked such as, how comprehensive is the symbol or visualisation? How readable is it? Does the viewer recognise and understand its meaning correctly? As part of the design process the designer should have the ability to measure the effectiveness of the visual sign and analyse ease of perception. As part of this, receiving feedback throughout the process is appropriate.

Testing does not just refer to form but also to other areas of production, particularly materials and technological considerations. To conclude: deliberate, reflective and iterative practice is key. Practical considerations can be found in the technical glossary section of this site.

Originally published in Informform #2 2012


InformForm workshop with BA (Hons) Graphic Design yr 2 students at Manchester Metropolitan University


Posted in Articles
March 1, 2015
600 words & 3 images

InformForm workshop with BA (Hons) Graphic Design yr 2 students at Manchester Metropolitan University

InformForm workshop with Year 2 BA (Hons) Graphic Design students at Ravensbourne, London

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