On this page, arranged chronologically, a fairly complete collection of instructions, maps, (ground)plans and information design I have produced since 1978. See Infography 1 for technical illustrations, diagrams and research projects.
When instructions are visualised clearly we can understand how to carry out a particular procedure. Clear and recognisable images, attention to detail, careful selection of which steps to show, an intelligent combination of text with image and a logical sequence are all important considerations in this specialised field.
Maps are sophisticated visual charts which allow us to understand the spatial relationship between things. Maps do not distort 'reality' in order to clarify, but simply reduce it in scale so that we can 'see' areas which would otherwise be unobservable. By selecting the information we want to focus on and coding it distinctively we can give maps specific functions such as wayfinding or showing areas of particular interest.With plans of buildings or public spaces where we need to find our way it is often useful to distort reality. By including recognisable links with the situation as we experience it on the ground we can understand how a space fits together and where we are in it.
When diverse types of image and text are integrated into a whole such that it explains and clarifies things for us, then we can speak of information design. The aim is to break down complicated subjects into understandable 'chunks' which allows us to grasp the whole. Unlike individual diagrams, charts or illustrations it is the particular combination of images, text and media which defines this field. This brings with it a distinct editorial aspect since one has to decide not only what the whole story should be but also how to break it down into various components which can be visualised in order to explain it. As with most projects of this nature it requires close collaboration between illustrator and expert in order to ensure both accuracy and clarity.
Research opportunities in the field of infography are regretfully few and far between. However, I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in two projects which did go through where ways of utilising infography in digital media were investigated.
In 1990 I was asked by Jelle van der Toorn, then of Total Design, if I would be interested in working with him on a research project into the digitalisation of the sign language of the Netherlands. The project was financed by the European Institute for Research and Development of Graphic Communication in Rotterdam. At that time material for teaching deaf children how to sign was limited to videos and handmade diagrams. We wanted to establish if it would be possible to use digital media to not only capture and render the signs but also to make them available to all from a central database. After researching the subject,
we proposed that signs could be digitised by a signer wearing so-called data-gloves. By inputting this data into the computer each sign could be recorded as a simple line animation and a series of separate images. These images would form the heart of a visual sign database which could be accessed remotely by teachers thereby allowing them to generate their own high quality animations and teaching material from their place of work. Interface design has come a long way in the meanwhile but at the time this was an innovative concept for a problem faced by an oft-neglected usergroup.
In 1994 I worked on another project for the EIRDGC. This time it involved researching the feasibility of providing an interactive information system for patients facing surgery in hospital. Jelle van der Toorn and I collaborated again for this project and we were particularly interested in how complex information could be made available to patients in a clear and accessible way. We chose to use a heart bypass operation as the subject of our study as this is frequently causes concern for prospective patients. This is the basic interface I designed showing key features such as a virtual personal guide, a subwaymap-like navigation system and clear, simple graphics.The idea is that there should be a central visual database of information about operations which patients can access when they visit the hospital. An important consideration is that patients can study the information in their own time and at their own pace.
Material about each operation includes basic physical information - in this case where the heart is and how it works under normal circumstances. By showing what happens when the heart dysfunctions and what the causes are, patients can better understand what is wrong with them. Finally the treatment is described in a clear yet informative way with the option to go into more detail if required.I discovered by visiting hospitals and talking with staff at reception desks that many patients at that time were still unfamiliar with interactive computer systems (the world wide web was nothing like as developed then as it is now...!) In order to lower the threshold for patients I felt that either a tv-like remote controller or even a games-like controller would help. This is one design I produced which could be used for operating a tv-like set from the comfort of an armchair in a specially equipped viewing room at the hospital.