Anyway, design super powers don't always change the world with their designs, but they do change how we understand information, which can, indeed change the world or even have life or death consequences, as we learned in our book, "Creating Graphics for Learning and Performance." In other words, a graphic for learning needs to be more than pretty, although that doesn't necessarily exclude it from use. Truth be told, I do lean toward pretty design, but sometimes I do so without thinking about the function of the message I'm creating.
One of my goals as a designer is to learn how to make pretty designs in this course that are also useful. It is because of this that I was keenly interested in the section on universal design and design for learning and performance.
Before I move forward, I should say that one other book influenced me in this week's assignment. It isn't a book that is required of us. I actually read it when I was the teaching assistant for a design class in my undergrad days. The book is called "The Design of Everyday Things" by Donald Norman.
In his book, Norman talks about affordances. Basically, the theory suggests that the shape of an item, its make-up (in the best-case scenario) suggests how to use that item. One simple example of this is door-handle. If you've ever did the P-U-L-L-equals-push thing while trying to open a door, you know what I'm talking about.
It's pretty embarrassing to say the least.
However, Norman suggests that it isn't your failure, but rather the failure of the designer for not making the direction of the door obvious. He also basically suggests that the design of something should in large part tell you how to use it. Words like "pull" and "push" should only reinforce the item's function.
Welcome the Designer as Superhero...
I'm bringing all of this up, because this week in EdTech 506, we learned about the role that visuals play in learning. More specifically, our textbook talks about picture superiority effect. Basically, the mind better remembers pictorial information than it does written information. However, I would also suggest that in choosing a picture for instructional purposes, that you choose one that also suggests an item's affordance qualites.
The question for the designer then becomes, "Does the object/s in the picture suggest how to use the item?"
This question is better answered with a demonstration. How about we answer the question at the opening of this blog post?
Using Just-in-Time Devices in Design...
How do you use this? Would you know if you'd never seen a door knob before? Probably not. We can therefore do a couple of things with this image.
We can make a just-in-time card to put above the door knob.
This just-in-time card chunks only the necessary elements into one picture.
Or we could change the shape of the knob - something that Norman would appreciate:
Is there any doubt which hand to use to open which "knob?" The knob's shape itself becomes the affordance. While you could try to hold it with the other hand, it is more difficult.
Additionally, is there really any doubt about which direction would be the most comfortable to turn the knob? Not really in my opinion. While the wrist and arm can turn inward, it's more comfortable to turn in an outward direction.
True enough, you may be inclined to also shake the hand, but it's design very quickly suggests that it is the turn of the wrist that moves the handle not a shake. A hand-shake requires full movement of the arm. No such extra joints are provided on the hand-shaped knob to make that happen.
In both cases, the just-in-time element proves useful, and they do help prevent cognitive overload. However, I would argue that the hand-shaped doorknob design is more intuitive due to its shape and what everyone knows about the movement of the human hand and wrist. This is where information processing theory also comes into play. The function of the human hand provides the visual analogy or metaphor the user needs to grasp the doorknob and to open the door even without any additional visual support in the form of arrows or words.
What's the Take-Away…?
For me as a designer, I've learned that using the principles of universal design helps to minimize confusion by creating visuals that lead the viewer to a logical conclusion. It relies on visual metaphor to create a new understanding of the function of something or clarifies a concept in some way. In this example, I've created a mock-up of a just-in-time card that you could put above a door knob to show someone how to use it. I've further demonstrated that while symbols like arrows and helpful words increase understanding, choosing the right image can reduce or even eliminate the need for these elements all together.
A., N. D. (2013). The design of everyday things. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lohr, L. (2003). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
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