Designing Information: Chapter 5

Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design
Joel Katz

Chapter 5: Finding your Way? Movement, Orientation, Situational Geography

5  Finding your Way? Movement, Orientation, Situational Geography

What’s Up? Heads up

  • Heads-up maps, originally developed for pilots to look up and read maps at the same time, orients maps so that up on the map is forwards from their orientation to the sign
  • GM introduced HUDs (heads up displays) in automotives in 1988 and now almost all GPS devices have this option
Heads-Up display of pedestrian maps for Walk!Philadelphia
Heads-Up display of pedestrian maps for Walk!Philadelphia

Signs and Arrows

  • Two arrows in way-finding
    • literal: point in the actual direction
    • literal arrows can have different cultural associations. On a HUD, American “up” arrow means straight ahead, French “down” arrow means straight ahead (as in, go under this sign).
    • theoretical: point in direction of something, possibly distant, but do not clue as to how to get there.

scale and adjacency

  • While scale and adjacency are preferred constant and mapped naturally, printing concerns or restrictions can take precedent.

a movement network genealogy

  • “It is the challenge and responsibility of the information designer to design maps and other navigational aids with an understanding of the different ways in which movement modes are experienced and perceived.”
  • Consider your unit of measurement or perception of measurement when abstracting maps for a user/purpose
    • While walking, we count cross-streets, or monuments, or addresses; while riding a bus, we count stops; while flying there is only a beginning and ending airport.

map or diagram?

  • Mark Noad’s redesign of the London Undergound Map walks the line between a map and a diagram
    • It closely relates to the actual space between stops, but simplifies shapes without being geometrically rigid.
    • Maps are difficult to memorize, but contain a wealth of information for various users
    • Diagrams are easier to memorize and conceptualize, but are sparse in order to help certain users accomplish a certain task.
underground maps of London; Beck, Noas (2012), geographical accuracy
underground maps of London; Beck, Noas (2012), geographical accuracy

information release sequence

  • changes in mode of transport require user to revisit context
  • each modal change sequence is different
  • information user needs to attain is in discreet steps, but each step might not be simple/familiar
    • releasing information depending on location (inside/outside, above/underground) or status (un/paid) helps discreet steps to be completed in order
    • it is a hierarchy that is dependent on time and place


  • maps that measure geographic distance as a function of time
    • if it takes the same time to get there, it is visually equal.
    • takes into account things like: availability of transport, topography, obstacles, etc.

transitions and familiarity

  • the transition from a geographically intact pedestrian map to an abstracted subway map can prove difficult
    • consider how much geographic accuracy is needed for a map to do its job. Can routes be straight when they are really curved? Can routes be less curved in the diagram than in real life? Small discrepancies will generally go unnoticed by users.
    • natural features (river, pond, shore, etc) can help orient users between maps and diagrams

perils of alphabetization

  • organizing information: LATCH (Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Hierarchy)

the view from below or above

  • placing pictorial representations of buildings on flat maps could give impressions of the facade’s directionality
  • in any one map perspective, at max you can only see 50% of buildings’ facades. Not every building facade will be the iconic, picturesque version of the building.

urban open space

  • Roman urban architecture valued the uniform street facade with intricate public spaces interior.
    • This is instance, designer Giambasttista Nolli published a map that denotes open street space and open courtyard space of equal hierarchy, to allow pedestrians to understand, when faced with a facade, if there interest behind those walls.

Designing Information: Chapter 4

Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design
Joel Katz

Chapter 4: Structure, Organization, Type: Hierarchy and Visual Grammar

4 Structure, Organization, Type: Hierarchy and Visual Grammar

the grid

  • an armature for the structure and organization of information
  • two types
    • Skeletal: straightforward orthogonal grid, evenly spaced
    • Interval: can be unevenly spaced, still orthogonal, but leaves joists in between sections

disorganization and proximity

  • In every arrangement of text there is figure and ground, positive and negative space. It is in this positive space that information exists and in this negative space that organization and proximity can support it.
  • Text closer together is read together; text further apart is read as freestanding and distinct.

rational hierarchies

  • Information design is the application of form appropriate to content and user.

staging information

  • Many of the characteristics of screen interactivity permit hierarchies of information to be layered corresponding to the size of each audience segment.
  • Waterfall menus and drop-down windows can add important functionality to accessing large quantities of data.
    • Hiding and revealing information maintains an unthreatening overall appearance while providing access to the same amount of detail that knowingly exists.


  • part that represents the whole, often associated with abstraction as it related to iconography and way-finding symbology
Iconography near bathrooms. AGIA (top), MoMA NYC (middle), Pompidou Paris (bottom)
Iconography near bathrooms. AGIA (top), MoMA NYC (middle), Pompidou Paris (bottom)
  • Iconography issues:
    • ambiguity or misinterpretation is due to weak simplification
    • offense or confusion due to cultural differences

visualizing regulations

  • design theory: how do distinguish between design examples, performance criteria, and mandates?

focus and distraction

  • multi-tasking is not always a bad thing; many people can read and listen to music; some people can’t see a slide and listen to a presenter.
    • Consider the audience and their distractions and focus when communicating information, orally or visually or aurally, etc.

sans serif and serif typeface

  • sans serifs are considered more legible at larger type sizes; serifs are considered more legible in blocks of text, especially in print
  • careful typesetting and increasing more detailed technology in visual resolution are mitigating the differences between using the two decisively.

size matters (and weight, too)

  • digital masters of fonts have eliminated hand-re-drawing of fonts at each new point size; similarly, they have eliminated swelling of thin strokes due to bleeding ink on absorbent paper.
    • that in mind, font originally designed before the digital age was designed with these phenomena, different angles and shapes for different sizes.
  • weight of the font also plays a part in legibility, depending on size
Effects of Font Size on Legibility within a Font Family
Effects of Font Size on Legibility within a Font Family
Effects of Font Weight on Legibility within a Font Family
Effects of Font Weight on Legibility within a Font Family


  • tracking is helpful when small caps are used
  • all caps are difficult to read in blocks, and often need kerning help in large sizes
  • white text on black backing will lead to halation, change white to 5-10% gray.
    • when transitioning out of black back/white text, it will look bolder than the type in black.

Designing Information: Chapter 3

Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design
Joel Katz

Chapter 3:Quantitative Issues: Dimensionality, Comparison, Numbers, Scale

3 Quantitative Issues: Dimensionality, Comparison, Numbers, Scale

Information Overload

  • Issue with too much information is that of usability, not accuracy. Completeness is relative to the situation.
  • At some point information eclipses understanding and it no longer of extra benefit

Too Much Information

  • Consider data to show for certain purposes, not every purpose.
  • Large amounts of data, communicated successfully, is a matter of finding and understanding functionality. Without a clear understanding of mapping and coding data, users are left without functionality.

Too Many Numbers

  1. Too many numbers: reduce quantity of data or structure a more salient hierarchy
  2. Organization issues: interference due to spatial/layout arrangement

Dimensional Comparison

  • “The more dimensions used in quantitative comparisons, the large are the disparities that can be accommodated. As irony would have it however, the ease of comparison generally diminishes in direct proportion to the number of dimensions involved.”

Pyramid Paradox

  • rendering 3D imagery onto 2D surface calls for an examination of area rather than volume, making the comparisons amongst volumes difficult.
  • choices must be made whether to show what we perceive to be correct comparisons, or quantitatively accurate comparisons
Pyramid graphics showing how perception of volume % (top) compares with accuracy of volume (bottom)
  • “The human brain has a surprisingly tough time with geometry and often can’t accurately gauge when an object has doubled or tripled in size. It’s even trickier when the object is a wide-mouthed cup, larger on the top than bottom. ‘We tend to underestimate the increase in size of any object,’ said Prof. Chandon, director of Inseas Social Science Research Center in Paris. ‘When you double the size of something, it really looks just 50%-70% bigger, not twice as big.’”


  • With comparisons on a large scale (distance between planets and size of planets, for example), using a substitution metaphor of everyday objects can be helpful

Numerical Integrity

  • Break lines and non-zero baselines allow efficient use of space, but if comparisons are in order, render information useless. It is misstating information.
Bar graph with a zero baseline (top), with break lines (middle), and non-zero baseline (bottom). The bottom two graphs distort comparisons.
Bar graph with a zero baseline (top), with break lines (middle), and non-zero baseline (bottom). The bottom two graphs distort comparisons.
Bar graph with a zero base-line, that creatively bends bars to allow comparisons to be made accurately by sight on large and small scales simultaneously
Bar graph with a zero base-line, that creatively bends bars to allow comparisons to be made accurately by sight on large and small scales simultaneously

Perils of Geography

  • Geography binds our ability to compare other variables regardless of location and area. Plotting information on maps require a visual language of geography which can confuse complex data sets, such as the Electoral College.

Escaping Geography

  • Comparing variation against a constant set of data (like geographic borders) in cartography:
    • Eliminate distractions and misrepresentations created by shape; choose any orientation devices (diagonals, etc.) with care.
    • Separate into regions before determining size and adjacency.
    • Set constant size for “whole data” and frame regions and singularities in terms of that size (proportions, percentages, etc).

Apples to Apples: Data Scale Consistency

left to right: Government map of South Philadelphia; residential pop. density; personal income; superimposition of pop. density and income; residential density and land use
left to right: Government map of South Philadelphia; residential pop. density; personal income; superimposition of pop. density and income; residential density and land use
  • all five maps are at the same scale, scale between all 20 cities in atlas at same scale, not determined by size of the page.
  • Urban Atlas: 20 American Cities, A Communication Study Notating Selected Urban Data shows 20 city maps (all at constant scale to each other) and their corresponding data in a way that comparisons between cities can be made. The constancy is helpful despite the difficulty in printing and efficiency of space in the book.


A successful use of double y-axis, no x-axis comparison
A successful use of double y-axis, no x-axis comparison
  • 2007 data showing relationship between health care costs in a country (per person per year) and average life expectancy. The “zero” is located on the dashed line in the middle, aligning both axes’ average cost or age. The thickness of line denotes # of doctor visits, color of line denotes universal health care (blue) and those without (orange).
  • Double y-axis charts can compare two categorically different variables without an x-axis (usually representing time most saliently)

Designing Information: Chapter 1 + Chapter 2

Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design
Joel Katz

Chapter 1: Aspects of Information Design: the nature of information
Chapter 2: Qualitative Issues: Perceptions, Conventions, Proximity

Reflection: Katz’s book is a fairly quick read. The first two chapters (as I assume the rest of the book follows similarly) are divided into topics that briefly describe information design phenomena that are useful to consider when reviewing any design process. The pages are abundant with graphic examples and a third of the text describes these graphics and accompanying scenarios. There are also prominent quotes from historians and designers on many pages. The topics are covered rudimentarily and the text of academic value is contained almost entirely in captions of the picture examples. The body text answers what? questions, but almost never why? questions. Very few picture examples are every fully diagrammed and mapped to gain an intimate knowledge of design practice.

The introduction says this, more or less, in vague terms: This book describes issues that confront information designers. And I would argue that it does that, but only that.


1 Aspects of Information Design: the nature of information

Information can be classified three ways

  1. Information: the useful; what you communicate
    –Uninformation: non-important communication, very well may be true
  2. Misinformation: confuses or distorts information
    –Not necessarily deliberate, could be result of incompetence, biases, incorrect interpretations
  3. Disinformation: deliberate misinformation used for a goal (financial, political, etc)

Self-referential vs. functional

  • pragmatic design: the user understands, favors the implications and function rather than the theoretical
  • do not design for appearance; use data and content as core of communication.
  • form grows organically (in response to) societal need to communicate content

When it doesn’t work

  • historically, data and information design has been constrained by a lack of data. presently, some infographics are now overloaded with data because it has become accessible.
  • successful designs balance meaning of information and the perceptions and experience of the audience.
  • Issues can arise in 3 areas:
    1. Data
      • incomplete/skewed data; oversimplified data
      • lack of definition or misleading relationships
      • too dense or technical to be transformed into meaning
    2. Designer
      • unable to understand data
      • not sensitive to human factors issues; misunderstand audience needs and abilities
      • concerned too heavily with appealing graphic
    3. Audience
      • lack of visual literacy; unfamiliarity with subject
      • lack of interest in subject

Non-wayfinding cartography

  1. Geographic – maps using geographic accuracy at a constant scale
  2. Conceptual – abstract or ignore geography to express a concept or point-of-view
  3. Experiential – diagrammatic views of space from experience or perception (such as underground subway maps)

Dispersed vs. Layered

  • The illusions of volume (layering 2D planes) and transparency (geometric continuations despite opaqueness) are helpful is displaying complex data effectively
  • Dispersed graphics are immediately understandable, but comparison is compromised; Layered graphics combinations of variables are easy to discern, but whole/components of data sets are difficult to compare.
An Illustrated Guide to Coffee Drinks Lokesh Dhakar
Coffee Venn Diagram designer unknown
  • Above two graphic representations of coffee drinks. The first graphic distinctly separates each drink; this strategy maintains each drink as a unique non-hierarchical category, but lacks quick search per ingredient capabilities. The second graphic codes a venn diagram with transparencies and layering; this strategy affords easy component searches, but may give false implications of ordinal data by area.

2 Qualitative Issues: Perceptions, Conventions, Proximity


  • 3 functions of lines
    1. edge/boundary of space
    2. connection/pointer between objects
    3. linear element representation
  • Therefore, lines used to outline a linear element are excessive and unneeded.
Cardio-Pulmonary Flow Diagram from Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Health Joel Katz + David Schpok for client: The Ovations Press
  • Above the use of outline in the heart is thick to help imply a section cut of the heart (white area shows physiological structure) and blue/red areas help indicate a volume of blood present. The veins and arteries and lungs have no black outline to avoid confusion.

Unintended Consequences of Shape

  • Connecting 3 points of a graph will create not only 3 lines, but also an area. If this area is valuable, then consider just using the geometry of the area without the bounding lines. If the area conveys no information, consider other visualization notations.

Mis/connotations of Form

  • shape/form carries connotations; shape/form should be used to display categorical differences with no hierarchy or ordering; color/size should be used to represent differences in degree.

The Middle Value Principle

  • In maps there are three types of objects: objects we can pass through, those we can’t pass through, and those that have some navigation but aren’t intended for that purpose (open fields, woods, water, etc).
  • When your middle value is your background, lighter colors help to illuminate navigation and imply openness to travel. Darker colors help to suggest impenetrability, solid objects.

Connotations of Color

  • While the human eye can differentiate over 16 million unique hues, the usefulness of those colors is not possible outside a lab, as in most design situations.
  • Coded color appears at various locations within a design, and often needs a key. The usefulness of color reduces to about seven choices when the eye must scan across the page.
  • Considerations: use clearly distinguishable colors & simple colors with names and familiar connotations if possible

Color and Monochrome

  • Changing a design from color to monochrome or gray scale rarely involves a simple keystroke.

Form Color to Grayscale

  • Coding information solely in color could give rise to issues when transferring between medium (online>newspaper)

Generations of Labeling

  • Labeling should follow a law of proximity.
    1. First gen labels: Directly next to object
    2. Second gen: Connected by line or geometric device
    3. Third gen: Coded and removed from image via key or legend
  • When possible, first generation labeling should be utilized. If it can’t, consider what information could be preventing it.

Connections in Products

  • Labeling in commercial design should be proximal to the operating device; buttons and operating devices should afford their actions, labels should avoid similar shapes or form.

  • Above, the elevator button design is ambiguous twofold:
    1. The buttons and numbers are both round. Round affords targets and buttons.
    2. Proximity of the labels to the corresponding buttons is equal to that of adjacent buttons. Put space between separate label/button pairings.

Consistent and Mnemonic Notation

  • When dealing with a series of graphs, consistency in color coding and line weight per category of data will foster continuity and understanding. Using similar colors for differing categories among a series of graphs will draw unintentional connections.