On user test day, I’ll order in some sort of food/snacks (I’m thinking pizza) and we’ll have a variety of drinks for our users (and for us for when we finish this big task!)

Users will need to commit to an hour during our class block or starting as early as 4:00.

For the STI/STD:  we need six students. It would be good to have a diversity of age (within the demographic range), gender, race, and sexual orientation. Between us (well, this part of the us doesn’t include me), we need to find these users to come our class on 4-4.

For the HBP: I am working with a group on campus to see if we can’t recruit some 50+ folks from a specific organization that has often helped classes and researchers in the past. I’ll know more about this by the middle of the week of 3-27. (The contact was leaving for vacation the day I emailed.) However, we also need to tap our own networks to see if we can find some folks to user test. In this, diversity is again good, but I imagine it may be a bit harder. We also need 6 participants for this, as well.

Your task is to work on recruitment. It does not work out evenly for every group to try and recruit one person so as we have done all term, we need to work more collaboratively to get our participants.

To work on recruitment, you need to respond (reply all) to the email I sent to let us know who you may have access to for recruitment purposes. So for example, I may email everyone and say: I believe I can get a 60 yo, female for the HBP testing. This way we can keep track of who we are recruiting. it’s ok if we have some overlap in participant demographics. We just need to do the best we can.


User tests

So this week (3-21), we did some user tests on a somewhat related (content wise) infographic to test our testing protocol and give you the chance to see what it was like to sort of perform a user test. (Because nothing can actually compare to doing a test in real life.)

There was lots that was really good about your draft protocols and how the tests actually went. So for example, you did gain the experience that you need to tell the user everything they need to do (for the most part), and you got to experience those moments of awkward silence as the tester was reading the material. You also did a good job of conceptualizing with the test is supposed to do, which is a big step. I really liked the way you all broke up the tasks and worked at getting specific notes for the tasks.

However, it didn’t seem in the protocols and in the practice user test that you took seriously the precision that is necessary in conducting a user test. By that I mean, it seemed to go a little too quickly and easily. Now, on one hand, that can be great in because you did understand the concept and you did successfully administer a test. On the other hand, however, it could mean that there was a lack of attention to detail and just trying to get things done. My hope is that when we do another run through next week we can a better sense of what to expect.

I also cannot stress enough that usability testing protocols (the testing part) or a test plan have to be created meticulously so that the data you gather is actually useful data for the question(s) being asked. One of the things we will do in class on 3-28 is to compare your draft test plans with the test plan that was compiled from all of your drafts. There are noticeable differences between them.

I know that this is a super hard project because there are lots of moving parts. And I also get that y’all are worried about not doing something right. Let me try and reassure you that I have a strong belief in you and fully believe you’re going to do great. You’ve done some really good work up to this point. I encourage you to believe in yourselves and all the knowledge that you’ve learned. You know stuff. The usability test will be putting that stuff into practice!

The schedule has been updated to reflect how the logistics of the tests will go.



Comments on your drafts

There is much, much to like about your drafts for the A-C Gap Part 1.

Some of the high points include

  • solid grasp of the purpose (though some did this better than others)
  • pretty solid grasp of audience
  • solid, solid grasp of the material and data
  • good understanding of basic design (including color, fonts, white space, headings, etc.)
  • nice creativity in approaching a design narrative and integrating visual aspects into the documents

That’s a lot of good stuff to build on because, as we said from the beginning, these are to be considered first drafts. Here’s some things to consider when you’re moving onto the next stage of the projects (these are some of the big questions I would ask you and they are not all encompassing.):

  • can you in one sentence define the data narrative?
  • did you fully follow instructions on the inclusion of required data visualizations?
  • why is there no substantial difference between your visually enhanced report and your infographic?
  • do you feel your use of words enhanced the projects? (in other words, are your words any good?)
  • did you answer the primary concerns of your personas with your two products?

Many of the critique comments on the infographics are spot on so I would definitely take the time to process those in conjunction with the other materials as you move forward to make the next draft iteration that we will be testing with real people.

Another great exercise (and one we will probably do in class after spring break) is to take a few moments to determine what you may change about the two products now that you have had some distance from them.


In class on 2-14, we had a little wine and cheese to help us get through prototyping. (Well, we really had the wine and cheese to sort of make up for the fact we had to have class on Valentine’s Day.)

In any case, the first lo-fidelity prototype is always a good indicator of where the students are in understanding the concepts we’ve talked and read about, and in understanding the goals of the assignment. Since we’re kind of at the mid-point of the term, the prototype exercise is helpful from an instructor standpoint on determining what areas we may need cover a little more.

Here are some of the prototypes.

Prototype for STI infographic
Figure 1: Prototype for STI infographic
Prototype for STI infographic
Figure 2: Prototype for STI infographic

This group is a group of four so for the prototyping I had them split into two groups of two. The two versions actually have a lot of potential when the ideas are considered together. In other words, Figure 2 as developed visually, but it had a great idea for a theme that could be used to tie the whole thing together. Figure 1 incorporates some really strong ideas on visual features and specific topics that need to be included.

 Prototype for HBP infographic
Figure 3: Prototype for HBP infographic

The process of developing Figure 3 helped the students understand where the gaps were in their thinking about the assignment and it’s overall purpose. Thus the blank areas and post its. You can see that they have included topics and ideas of what information needs to be included, but it lacks a design theme or other information on design elements.

Prototype for HBP infographic
Figure 4: Prototype for HBP infographic

Figure 4 shows one of the most intriguing approaches to the assignment, and the students had worked hard at considering what data visualizations they needed to include. In this case the images in Figure 4 at the top and the bottom were produced prior to class (eager students working ahead) and then they spent time in class trying to figure out the best way to lay out their narrative and make the points they wanted to make that complemented the visuals they created. They also spent a bit of time considering changes that may need to made to the visuals and how to integrate them into an overall design theme that they need to develop.

All in all, the prototype exercise accomplished the big goals of the night, and that is, it helped the students start to think in holistic terms of what they had to accomplish and in doing so they were able to see some of the tasks that they still needed to do.

New iterations will come next week!


What you’ve learned

One of my favorite in class writing assignments is to ask students to tell me what they know. Typically I do this around the mid-point of the term to find out what is sticking and what areas we may need to go over a little more.

I am always surprised at these brief in class writings because they highlight big and small what has been going well in class and what hasn’t been going so well. This particular class is a “crossover course,” which means that has both undergrads and grads in it. This type of course is particularly challenging to teach and as a production course (that has no prereqs), the technology aspect adds another layer too. Thus, it’s important to find out where the students stand in their learning.

Here is a list of some of things that students wrote that they have learned:

  • You can tell multiple stories in several different ways from just one set of data…(emphasis the students)
  • While part of the course is learning what effective information design is, we are also learning how to apply it.
  • Yau gave me an appreciation for just how murky the working definition of “data” can be
  • How will the data show this point (You first have to make sure you understand the data, and it does what you say it does. You can’t manipulate it in a way that falsifies information)?
  • The basics of creating an infographic. I have learned what kinds of charts NOT to use and when certain charts are acceptable.
  • I think the biggest takeaway that I’ve gotten so far from this class is learning about the story that data has to tell. Nathan Yau’s Data Points: Visualization that Means Something really put that into perspective for me. The way he related a data set to a photographer’s photos of a wedding helped me visualize the power of data. He compared one picture to a data point and the whole wedding album to a data set. It made me realize how important it is to look at individual data points and data sets.
  • We learned the importance of planning and process in effective project management.
  • the psychology behind why we are attracted to certain layouts, fonts, colors, etc.
  • audience analysis helps to guide what info to include and how to display it. always be aware of what medium your info will be presented on and plan accordingly
  • the importance of tailoring your argument to suit the audience
  • feeling more comfortable with data and analysis. 9I’m more of a visual person so I’ve had to work on balancing them both.)
  • [information] must be designed to enhance the way the human mind works…requires a fluid and iterative design process
  • how it is important to understand the order we navigate and present visual documents
  • let the data speak for itself and let that data guide and inspire you throughout the process, especially when it comes to how you will be presenting it.

And a number of students pointed to the technical skills of learning photoshop and other tools; specific points about different readings such as color, typography, cognitive processing, CRAP, and personas; notes on learning more about how to research and find good information.

All in all, from a teacher perspective, this “tell me what you know” was insightful to show that the students are picking up a great deal!



Summaries Intro to Infographics

I always like to have students do different types of summaries of their readings. Often, I have them do visual summaries, which can take many shapes and forms, and in a class on information design, visual summaries seem even more apt.

On 1-24, we read some things that on the surface didn’t completely go together, but with some thinking together, you all realized that the three primary readings did indeed go together. Following are your interpretations of how the Shron, Yau, and Sturken & Cartwright readings intersected.

While the Venn diagram may not have been the most appropriate visualization, it did work for this group’s point that the readings did complement one another and that not everyone will like every image.

The emphasis on audience in this one always make a tech comm teacher smile. And it also worked at trying to place the information in an hierarchical flow.

This was the most literal interpretation of the readings. By that I mean, it took some of the key terms from the readings and tried to map them together. If you follow it through, it does do a good job of highlighting those key terms and how they work together to build arguments.

As the most creative of the group, this dimensional box was the most minimalistic, but it also captured the big points the authors were making. Starting broadly at arguments and then entering the box, this student group did visually show how the three readings worked together.

I’m a sucker for a process flow chart that requires responses so this visualization had me at the “start here.” What is great about this one is that it walks through the readings big concepts by connecting them to practice!!

All in all these sorts of visualization exercises always produce good results and surprising results. The differences in approaches is what makes teaching fun, and it’s even funner when the results show the students did understand and were able to talk about the readings.

First Data Visualizations

On the first day of class, I sent you out to gather some data. After we had crafted some definitions, I figured you were ready to get some data and then try your hand at visualizing some things.

Following are some of your first attempts.

While this may have been one of the simplest data sets, it was inventive in the way it was displayed. It’s counting the steps between the floors in the building where we meet for class. But that simply data was then displayed in a way that helped to convey the scale and the feel of actual steps. It’s a clever and innovative take!

This was an interesting display of tracking the time it took to collect the data. In a display of meta-data, the students used the time frame I gave them as the framework for collecting their data, which was how far they could go and get back in the time allotted. The timeline was a good choice for display, and I was impressed with the specifics of the data and the attempt at making it to scale.

What I loved about this look at the number of lockers being used in our building is that it was designed to be interactive. The image on the left is the original view and then on the right, the yellow tab flips over to reveal the percentage of lockers. So not only was it interactive, there was a small bit of analysis going on and attention to how to effectively design the information!

I needed to have more supplies this night and completely forgot to go to the store. (Problems resolved by prototyping night!) So once you forgive the issues with keeping things affixed to the page, this was a great first exercise because of the types of data visualizations it used. This was an analysis of different types of flyers on the bulletins boards in the building. The bar charts are comparing university generated (on the left) to student generated (on the right), and further, data is included on the departments. The pie chart is then trying to take all the information and display it. Now, there are some things we could nitpick, but this was an excellent first attempt that really took the readings and the class discussion to heart.

My photography skills makes this hard to understand and appreciate, but this had to be the most complex information design of the night. As the title indicates, “Cigarette butts around Mcmicken Perimeter: A “smoke Free” Campus,” this product is meant to make an overall argument about the campus’ smoke free policy. It depicts where cigarette butts have been found. The color coding was a nice touch!!


Project Management Questions

I always integrate project management readings and discussions into my production oriented courses. It’s a good skill set for students to pick up, and discussions of project management tips and techniques needs to be more formalized in our programs. As a long time consultant, being a good project manager was a key to my success not only on specific projects, but in my consulting career as a whole.

So students had to read some stuff on project management and then we attempted to do an in-class exercise about the readings with an emphasis on collaboration. But, alas, that exercise was in some ways a total bust. What we did get out of the exercise was a big laugh and ongoing reference to the failed exercise where we all ended up standing against in the wall in weird disjointed circle.

In any case, following are some of the questions that students asked about project management and my answers to their questions:

  • How much variation between organizations is likely in regards to control given to info designers (or professional writers)?


  • Are there questions that are standard to ask clients/customers/user during the planning phase?


  • What does innovation really look like, especially within traditional project at a large organization? How often do these innovations fail?


  • Given pressure from above, how strictly should one adhere to the project plan?


  • Strategies for dealing with inflexibility that jeopardizes part of the project?


  • In large organizations with multiple project managers, how do all parties maintain effective communication with one another?


  • What is the best way to disseminate information in the impossible planning stage? Is simpler better?


Design Graphics

This is a great ABCs since it hits many of the big concepts in design in a way that is easy to remember.

This gives you some background jargon to help understand how designers speak a little differently than writers.

An overview of the data visaulization process, or any design process really.

Rules of Document Design presented in an interesting way!




Typography Graphics

This taxonomy of typography gives you a quick and pretty darn thorough overview of all the technicalities of typography.

Here’s another infographic that explains typography and fonts.

Some silliness about font personalities. (If you’re interested, folks in technical and professional communication have actually research typefaces. I’ll be happy to refer to you some sources.)


One of my favorite, silly things about fonts.

Short Video on the History of Typography