Saturday, 31 March 2007

Notes from the Information Design Conference (part 1)

On 29th and 30th March I was at the Information Design Conference 2007 in Greenwich, London.

"Information design" sums up better than any other phrase what it is that I am trying to do when I work on a user guide or an online help system or any other documentation product for a client. I want to make information accessible, relevant, understandable and timely. And I want to focus on the needs of the information consumer. I really enjoyed spending two days in the company of about one hundred other people who share this passion, from a range of disciplines including graphic design, typography, usability, interaction design, architecture, environmental design, and even technical communication like me.

One of the most striking things I learnt from the conference is that the user (or the customer, or the audience, or the visitor) gets forgotten by the designer of the product time and time again - whether the product is a loan application form, a government web site, an airport concourse, or a museum gallery. It is the most common complaint that information designers across all disciplines have. Some ID practitioners who work in the built environment poured scorn on architects who forget that people actually have find their way round buildings in exactly the same terms that I would use to criticise a software engineer who designs an interaction screen that has no relevance to the tasks a user actually has to perform. Putting the user first is what information design is all about.

In the coming days I plan to add more notes from the conference. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Don't take this medicine

If being pregnant isn't difficult enough, trying to follow product instructions for medicines when you're pregnant seems to be extraordinarily difficult.

My daughter had a bad headache last week and took a couple of over-the-counter painkillers. She was intrigued by the Patient Information leaflet, which is a heavily regulated document. (Perhaps reading the small print is an inherited trait - would she have bothered reading the leaflet if she didn't have someone who writes instructions as a parent?)

My daughter noticed that there was a strong warning not to take this particular medicine "during the last three months of pregnancy". In a separate section there was a warning to ask for a doctor's advice before taking the medicine "during the first six months of pregnancy or while breastfeeding."

"Why couldn't all the instructions to pregnant women be kept in one place?" my daughter asked. A very good question.