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Visualization and Concept Illustration Workshop March 17, 2010

Posted by David Rutenberg in Uncategorized.
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Elizabeth Windram, User Experience Designer at YouTube (Google), visited our class this past Wednesday (2/17) to share some insights into visualization and concept illustration. There were five major themes during her discussion of communication design (i.e., visual and graphic design): typography, legibility, hierarchy, grid systems and design process.

Typography, quite frankly, is much more complex and interesting than I would have thought. Font alone comprises many aspects: a family (e.g., frutiger), width (e.g., condensed), typeface (e.g., bold), weight (e.g., light) and size (e.g., 12pt), all of which are applied to a specific character (e.g., the letter f). Different parts of each character are aligned vertically, and compiled text is aligned horizontally. In the presentation of text, rivers (vertical break running through lines of text), orphans (lines of text with just one word), and widows (only full lines of text) are to be avoided whenever possible. For the intimidated, there is help: Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type.

Legibility is something I’ve always had problems with when writing, and it is apparently a worthy consideration in printed text and presentations as well. Certain fonts are more legible than others (e.g.,  Sans serif), and others are more readable (i.e., in longer, printed text, a la Serif). Of note: presentations should use at least 24pt font, whatever the font. Other helpful hints regarding legibility: don’t space lines too closely together (leading), don’t space words too closely together, and evenly space between characters (kerning, tracking) whenever possible. The ideal length of a line: it’s between 8 and 14 words, depending on the number of characters.

Hierarchy is another important aspect of communication design, and it comes in two types: visual hierarchy and information hierarchy. In both cases, left dictates right, top precedes bottom, and bold dictates light. Meaning that our brains have been wired to look from right to left, from top to bottom, and to focus on bolded items. Elizabeth’s practical advice around employing effective hierarchy: avoid disjointing information, avoid inverting information, and think about both hierarchy and group, as there’s often a conflict between the two.

Unbeknownst to me, grid systems are absolutely central in design, and anchor much of what we see in the printed and digital worlds. These systems work both horizontally and vertically, and provide continuity across multiple docs or sites. There are grid systems at work in Ikea catalogs, in newsprint, and at YouTube, where ease of use and familiarity drive engagement and revenues.

As discussed by a number of other speakers, Elizabeth’s design process begins with defining a goal, continues with the generation of as many ideas as possible, and ends only when the ideas has been sufficiently iterated and refined to be considered a solution. Elizabeth was kind enough to walk us through just such an exercise that she conducted at YouTube, from hand drawn sketches, through to low fidelity “mocks,” and on to prototypes.

Additional suggested reading: Lupton (previously mentioned), Grid systems, by Kimberly Elam, and Stop stealing sheep and find out how type works, by Erik Spiekermann & EM Ginger.

Thanks Elizabeth!