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A Sustainable Design Blog

Design for Understanding

by Jennifer Stewart | Nov 18, 2011 | DesignOpinions



Good design should make things pretty. Great design should improve communication. After all, that’s what design was created for – a way to visually explain a brand, concept, meaning, or data. This is why people get giddy about data visualization and infographics. They make processing complicated ideas simple, interesting and enjoyable. The above video is an example of how the designers at Wired Magazine redesigned medical test results into a format that is helpful to both doctor and patients (click the link if you want to see the non-video version). I love this redesign because it is such a great example of design at it’s best, and an example of how I wish the world would use design more often.

Think back to your most hated subject in school. Think of the textbook for that subject. Was it a jumble of chunky paragraphs and ambiguous pictures or diagrams? Probably. Now imagine if that textbook were given a makeover by a designer, versed in the subject, and interested in visually communicating the meaning of the text on the page. It would probably infuse that textbook with whitespace, type heirarchy, and understandable images. It would be like a breath of fresh air in print and I'm about 99% sure that it would make learning easier.

The same logic can be applied to other complicated subjects the stock market, insurance, nutrition, the internet, etc. For instance, our friends over at Pitch Interactive did a great job of showing government spending vs media coverage of important topics like defense and health. Visually beautiful and you get the main message quickly.

But we don't get a lot of calls from teachers, government agencies, and medical centers. Most designers get calls from companies with products. Billions of dollars are being spent on making sure you understand that Coca-Cola is enjoyed by adorable polar bears during the holidays and that Coca-Cola can brighten your holiday too. How much is being spent on making sure you understand what subsidies your tax dollars pay for, which hospitals have the lowest infection rates, and how the recycling system works in your town? Because that information is out there, you can understand it, and understanding it can make your life better.

Unfortunately no one will make enough money off of you knowing how to interpret the results of your blood test to fund the redesign, so it takes people like the folks at Wired doing it for free to make it happen. I just wonder when a better quality of life for the general publi will be seen as profitable enough to be worth funding?

Jennifer Stewart wears the Partner, Writer, Office Manager, and Business Development hats at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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Good looks are a snare
that every sensible man
would like to be caught in.- Oscar Wilde