The Evolution of Visual Design and Display of Information
In the beginning…..
Once upon a time, long, long ago lived an intelligent form of species that has gradually evolved into the species we are today – Humans. As time went on, the enduring need for survival was the very thing that encouraged the physiology progression proving that yet again, necessity is the mother of all inventions. A great example is the instinctual need to fulfill the most primitive need, as eloquently stated in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the “Physiological” needs. As motor skills developed and the use of fine and gross motor skills expanded, so did the design of technology and tools; like a sharp edged stone used to dig or cut food for the propose of survival.
Let me tell you a little story about how the need to communicate invited creative ways to get the message across. Communicating using sounds or form of speech was a great way of conveying the message but was limited to memory. Now we can’t forget Millers Rule “The magical number seven, plus or minus two” where the number of objects a human can hold in working memory is seven with two to three bits of information. It wasn’t too long after that it was realized that writing now became the visual counterpart of speech in the form of symbols, pictures and eventually letters. This was the beginning of Visual Design and Display of Information and the start of enjoying the ease and benefits to the preservation of knowledge, experiences and thoughts.
Recent early markings were estimated to have been over 200,000 years old where painting in caves were created with charcoal and various warm tones pigments, like light yellows, reds and browns simply made from iron oxides mixed with animal fat. While some may call this art today, it was actually our ancestors form of visual communication; where pictographs became symbols for the spoken language and sounds. Even then, the need for simplification and stylization became increasingly apparently to the point where one day these pictures evolved into symbols that evolved into letters. One theory holds that the origin of visible language evolved from the need to identify contents used to store foods by making imprints on small tablets. How these imprints were created also evolved over time, which increased speed. Eventually images and writing were combined to convey information. Sound familiar? Let’s make the connection on what has changed and what has stayed the same since the evolution of humans.
Making the Connection
As we make the connection to “that was then, and this is now” it’s only fitting that we start with the comparing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to VDDI Hierarchy of Needs.
The same way a human survives by fulfilling their most basic need to survive Food, Water, Shelter ect. through the “Physiological Needs”, a strong visual design must meet the most basic need of “Functionality” before it can even consider satisfying the higher level needs. Here’s the chronological breakdown of the VDDI Hierarchy of needs starting with the “low level” needs:
Functionality – Does it work?
Reliability – Does it work consistently and of acceptable quality?
Usability – Is it easy for all users (regardless of physical abilities/ accessibility including perceptibility, operability, simplicity and forgiveness W3C guidelines)?
Proficiency – Does it achieve the outcome of doing things better than they could previously?
Creativity – Does user interact with design in innovative ways?
I feel this comparison visually displays the correlation of human needs and visual design needs but in VDDI terms; as if it were translated into a different language.
Rosetta Stone – Universal Communication Techniques
A powerful design technique that involves embedding elements of common understanding, when communicating, in a way that can be understood by someone who does not speak the same language. This is a technique that proved to be effective when all ancient Egyptians scripts, were lost in the fourth century. Rosetta Stone takes the common understanding and references archetypal and universal concepts.
Nature or Nurture? – The Biophilia Effect and Savanna Preference
It’s no wonder why these two principles of design are apparent in our existing era; although we have evolved as a species, our desire to be surrounded in environments that are rich in nature views and open spaces are deeply rooted in our brains since the beginning of time.
The Biophilia Effect is most effective when used to design in environments of learning, healing and concentration using imagery that resembles natural environments like greenery or outdoor nature views.
The Savanna Preference focuses on design that uses lots of lush open spaces like scattered tress, water, uniform grassiness as opposed to desserts, dense jungles or complex mountains with obstructed views. Going back to our ancestors and the need for survival, the preference was open spaces with more visibility and less obstruction especially when keeping an eye out for predators. One other distinct difference with the Savanna preference is that its strongest with children and then eventually grows weaker with age as influences change.
Similarity, Advance Organizer and Color
Incorporating similarity in design is a visual way of chunking like elements that are related. Increased Similarity results in simplicity and reinforces relatedness of design elements. In order of least effective to most effective the following groupings can be used to facilitate similarity:
- Shapes – Weak
- Size – Better
- Color – Best (less is more, do not exceed 5 colors at a time)
Although it’s a more visual representation, Similarity is much like to an instructional technique that helps people understand information in terms that they already know called Advance Organizer. It usually begins with an introduction and takes a linear approach to learning that can be presented in two different ways:
1) Expository (little to no knowledge on information)
2) Comparative (knowledge exists and leverages familiarity)
We can link this principle back to the design of the Hierarchy of Needs Model, as this principle is designed using the hierarchy approach.
Color can have a significant impact on the overall design used not just for aesthetic purposes but also to attract attention, group elements and indicate meaning.
Symbolism – After visiting several sites depicting ancient pictographs, it became more evident that colors can have several meanings depending on cultures.
Number of colors– To simplify images, best to stay within a 5 color maximum. When picking color combinations stick to the color wheel combinations such as:
- Analogous – combination of adjacent opposing colors
- Complimentary – combination of opposing colors
- Quadratic or Triadic – combination of symmetric colors indicated by a square or triangle
Saturation – +/- Gray where Darker colors are more serious or professional and lighter colors get more exciting and dynamic
The Red Effect – For women, wearing the color red is perceived as more attractive and for men, red signifies dominance. Although sensitive to context, and usually used in advertising and product design the Red Effect general is related to female sexuality (clothes accentuating red lips or cheeks ) and male dominance (sports car or wearing a red tie)
Refers to the ability to recall ideas or expressions that “stick” in our memories like catchy slogans or ads. This applies to anything that can be seen, heard or touched and has six variables:
1) Simplicity – I like to describe as something that is “short and sweet”
2) Surprise – attention grabber, a shocking fact, image or sound that resonates with you
3) Concreteness – a specific ideas/ concept described in “lemans terms”
4) Credibility – coming from a trusted source
5) Emotion – concept or idea makes resonates with you and elicits a feeling
6) Story – expressed in a context of a story
Next time, when I think back to Millers Rule of “The magical number seven, plus or minus two” I will be sure to incorporate the Stickiness in the design of my e-lessons.
As an expansion to the sixth variable indicated in the Stickiness principle, the Storytelling principle is one that resonated strongly with me as I am part of an organization that promotes a strong storytelling culture. Working in the hospitality industry, you know that it is about making those emotional connections with our guests’, it’s about being less transactional more interactional. We are a team that celebrates successes and share stories about how we create positive memories for our guests and when we do this, we motivate and inspire each other to empower ourselves to initiate hospitality and put our own spin on creating memorable experiences for our guests. Part of my goal this year is putting together e-lessons for a broad range of colleagues from Front Desk to Housekeeping to Kitchen – it is my mission to ensure I deliver elements of storytelling in E-lessons with the intent of sparking an emotional response in a colleague to live and breathe our strong experience culture. I intend to incorporate understanding through Audio (oral) Visual (video) Text (on screen info) and Digital (by incorporating elements of FLASH design wherever appropriate and current/ relevant forms of social media or youtube clips. Here’s my interpretation of the six fundamental elements to effective storytelling:
- Setting – Time and Place through video clips
- Characters – Will be our own colleagues acting out scenes
- Plot – Company Standards linking back to our Vision, Mission and Core Values
- Invisibility – MY FAVORITE!! I want learners to be so engrossed in the e-lesson that they forget the medium (the computer) which for some learners may be a challenge or have initial fear/ anxiety/ reluctance.
- Mood – Will use background music on title screen and create an overall mood of being Welcoming, Engaging and Empowered through interactive games, quizzes and videos.
- Movement – Will have a consistent flow designed for learners to go at their own pace and not exceed and average completion time of 25 minutes.
We’ve come a long way!
Although the VDDI has evolved over time in terms of mediums like clay tablets, papyrus, stylists made of stone to now the information age of computers and digital information overload TMI, the basic principles of design stay the same – Keep it Simple!! At the end of the day, it’s not about the bells and whistles, its about
1) Effective Communication
Incorporating accessibility for all users is key, not just for people with disabilities but for overall user friendliness using the W3C Website as a guide. Now to summarize, if there is one all encompassing message learned from this course so far it’s to use the appropriate design principles, execute them well and finally incorporate “Synaesthesia” proving yet again that the message or information you are trying to convey is better re-enforced when visuals and text us combined!! Sound familiar??