I’ll take the stairs…

smart_signs_mainThere are some excellent examples of infographics being developed to encourage occupants of buildings to take the stairs instead of the lift. The example to the left is taken from https://www.stepjockey.com, a company who specialise in using infographics in buildings, together with tracking apps, to get more people to use the stairs. It’s a compelling idea and the evidence base for their claims seems strong though it’s unclear how habits changed during the 4 week period of testing. The infographics featured on the signage are clean and bright with clear focal points and serial, gridded structures that makes the signs easy to follow. The greatest impact of the intervention was on women who were overweight which leads us to wonder how to encourage the men too to act on the message. A longitudinal study would also help understand the long term impact and whether indeed, new habits were formed, as were claimed in the questionnaire results.

A simple google-image search of ‘take the stairs’ reveals a very mixed bag in terms of quality. The focus of many of them is the burning calories message, the most successful message of those trialed by StepJockey.
Balance-Take_the_stairsThis, for instance, is an example from Energy Star that encourages the use of motivational signs. The tone of voice is commanding though the graphics style is old-fashioned and friendly. There currently doesn’t appear to be any studies about the influence of tone or style on behaviour and it may be an area to look into. There are many examples of ‘home made’ signs and it would be interesting to know whether these were taken as seriously as more corporate styles. In terms of quantity of calories, there are many different ways of framing this value (e.g. more accumulatively) and again, it would be interesting to know whether different quantities alters impact.

user_side_images-image-154The Centre for Active Design also produce free signs to display what they call ‘point-of-decision prompts’. 30,000 signs have been distributed at the time of their webpage update. This shows there is a real demand for good signage. They don’t employ data-led infographics but simple messages seem to be enough. The bright background of this particular image should be dominant against most backgrounds without the ‘alarming’ red used by many of the Stepjockey signs.

If you know of any buildings where staircases are well hidden then it might just be worth investing in signage…

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Ambient Infographics – on the streets…and everywhere!

Ambient infographics (or street infographics) are an emerging format that challenge the norm of where infographics are usually found. In the ambient format, infographics burst out from our newspapers and twitterfeeds and share our public space, turning up unexpectedly on walls, on street furniture and on windows.

ambientThere is some tentative evidence  that they might be a useful way to engage communities. In ‘Street Infographics: Raising Awareness of Local Issues through a Situated Urban Visualization‘ by Sandy Claes and Andrew Vande Moere, a project is outlined that involved placing infographic-based signage on the streets of Leuven, Belgium. The project was positively received by residents though the study was small in scale. The project paves the way towards more research and projects in this area, particularly, say, in the public health area of active travel. This is one of the intentions of our research project, asking whether ambient infographics are well received when they deal with personal choices of living and social determinants of health. They offer potential in terms of grabbing attention but do they deliver in terms of longer lasting messages and can they be understood at a glance?

The term ‘Infograffiti‘ is also relevant here. Artist Golan Levin, several years ago, used stencils to create charts and graphs in the urban environment. Whether they ‘mobilised the troops’ has yet to be seen but they are a reminder that data isn’t precious and can be openly shared in really quite rough formats. stencilDoes it need to look beautiful?

Data can also find its way onto walls made by the community that surrounds it. The example below is from a community project in Somerville last year. It’s encouraging to read such positive responses by people who viewed it:  “I think it’s great, informative, its easy to take all the information in. I didn’t realize so much land had been turned into veggie beds.”  Another man shared, “The mural is what I gravitated to.  Especially the part with the number of people served by the outreach market“.

So far ambient infographics seem full of potential. The messages to spring from these three projects is ‘let’s explore them with more rigour’, ‘let’s examine them over time’ and ‘let’s enjoy pushing the format with our imaginations and different materials’.

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Call for papers – Design4Health Conference 2015

D4H270The 3rd Design4Health European Conference at Sheffield Hallam University is now accepting submissions for papers. The deadline for abstracts is the 5th January 2015. This is an excellent conference that brings together a diverse set of academics and practitioners. Whilst there is often a dominance of papers about product design for health there is usually several about graphic design and health. The key note speaker at the last conference in 2013 was the excellent Karel Van de Waarde who talked about the lack of quality and consistency of medical device packaging, pointing out that there was much work to be done in this area. He demonstrated several truly dreadful examples of designs that were uncomprehensible for really important devices such as inhalers for people with asthma. For a list of Karel’s publications please click here.

The King’s Fund – Rights and wrongs

The King’s Fund in the UK do some brilliant work. The King’s Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and health care in England and its website contains an array of accessible material, drawn upon by a massive audience of Public Health professionals.  It is important though to look critically at potential comprehension problems these graphics alone might have without their accompanying text. This recent set of slides are a case in point. Whilst their infographics are consistently presented using analogous colour schemes and have high appeal factor when we analyse them as pieces of visual communication they fall short of clearly representing the data.

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What works in this icon array is a sense of diversity (and it’s helpful to think about audiences like this I think!) however it doesn’t help us extract the data without very, very close inspection. The accompanying text tells us that 2 in 10 adults are smokers, that 7 out of 10 men and 6 out of 10 women are overweight, a third of people have drinking habits that could be harmful and half of men and a third of women do not get enough exercise. This is a hugely ambitious icon array that attempts to combine all 4 key public health concerns into one graphic – no wonder it doesn’t work despite the well drawn and compelling presentation! In Stephen Few’s book, ‘Show me the Numbers‘ from 2012, one  of his ‘rogue gallery’ formats is the ‘Unit Chart‘ which demands counting – here we have the same problem and it becomes a game of spot the difference. By combining the issues too we end up with some icons that both smoke and are overweight – the frequency of this e.g. how many folk do both, isn’t in the data so this is telling us more and possibly misleading information than is in the text. At best this works best as an illustration rather than an infographic.

icon2 copyThere is also a problem with the bar chart/icon array (to the right). It’s unclear why the icons are in units of 4 (5 would be easier to count). The accompanying text tells us that ‘over the next 20 years in England, the number of people aged 65-84 will increase by over a third and the number aged over 85 will more than double’. It’s probably best to use consistent phrases in the text e.g. ‘over a third and more than double’ could confuse. What do you think?

It’s sometimes easy to spot mistakes in infographic design but hopefully it will happen less frequently as we see more robust testing taking place – just a quick show of hands in the office is better than us designers keeping it to ourselves. Let’s keep infographics as elegant as these but let’s focus also on that precious story they contain.

Graph Literacy – not as easy as pie.

galesicIf you’re designing health infographics for the general public then graph literacy is an important topic that we’re only just starting to understand. The bulk of academic research on infographic and graph consumption has used students as its user base. That doesn’t help the designer or commissioner to understand the wider implications of using graphs with a diverse set of people. Galesic & Garcia-Retamero’s work helps here.

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Galesic, M., & Garcia-Retamero, R. (2010). Graph Literacy A Cross-Cultural Comparison. Medical Decision Making, 31(3), 444-457

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In their study that ‘tested’ U.S. and Germany citizens (almost 500 people in each country) it was found that 16% of Americans and 12% of Germans did not know what a quarter of a pie chart represented as a percentage. So more than one in ten cannot understand this type of chart correctly as a numerical proportion. Does this mean that they don’t understand 25% as a concept or that they couldn’t read the graph correctly? – e.g. identify a quarter shape as a value.  In addition, the study suggested that those people with low numeracy skills were particularly poor in graph literacy. Whilst not a surprising finding, it does give us more of a case for testing our work more widely.