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de s i g n f l aw s e x p o s e d

MEDICAL USABILITY how to kill a patient through bad design


by jakob nielsen









the necessity of a traffic sign and the requirements they must meet in order to be effective and keep you safe


22 ways automated hospital systems can result in wrong medication being dispensed


a look at re-designing the food pyramid to be more effective and integrated in food packaging


did you fill our your 1040? as if filing your taxes wasn’t painful enough. government forms could be easier to understand






The Motion C5 integrates reliable, automated patient data management at the point of care.


Design for Democracy is a strategic initiative that serves AIGA’s goal of “demonstrating the value of design by doing valuable things”




no one wants ballots to be poorly designed. a disorganized ballot suggests a disorganized election division. how can officials be confident that voters are voting for who they intended to

15 02


editor in chief Jehovah Jirah

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Food is necessary to survive, but our diets are as individual as we are. What we need is a system that can easily communicate nutritional and dietary information to the consumer, so they can purchase products appropriately while being confident in knowing they are getting the proper amounts of servings of the major food groups. The Food Pyramid is an attempt at this idea, but it has been inconsistent in its depiction and has changed several times over the last decade. Check out the food pyramid article (pg. 22) to see what this designer has in mind.

Signs are a fundamental tool in communicating everything from which bathroom you go into and in which exit you take to get to grandma’s house. Jodi talks about the necessity of signs and the requirements that signs need to meet, especially when it comes to traffic signs. Check out the Traffic Signs article on the next page (pg. 06) to see how this particular design affects you.

“No wonder more people don’t show up to vote.” If you have ever found yourself at the pinnacle point of your civic duty, standing in some stranger’s garage poking holes or bubbling in circles on a very confusing ballot system then check out the article Wanted: A Legible Voter’s Ballot (pg. 15) for a breakdown of why our current system doesn’t work. Illegible and confusing voter’s ballots have in some people’s opinion altered the outcome of elections of recent history. With a set of rules in place we can all rest assured that we voted for who we intended to.

The effectiveness and the efficiency of Government forms has direct implications on state agencies in the form of operation costs as well as the public’s perception of government services. Government departments and agencies have an obligation to improve the usability of their forms. Check out the article (pg. 24) in which Artem analyzes the interaction between the form and the user.





by Jodi Mata


A sign is something that indicates or expresses the existence of something else not immediately apparent. It can also be an action or gesture used to convey an idea, information, a wish, or a command. One type of sign that we interact with daily in our lives is a regulatory traffic sign. Regulatory Signs are used to inform road users of selected traffic regulations and indicate the applicability of the legal requirements. Regulatory signs are designed and installed to provide adequate visibility and legibility in order to obtain compliance. Traffic signs are visual devices placed along, beside, or above a highway, roadway, pathway, or other routes to guide, warn, and regulate the flow of traffic, including motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, equestrians, and other travelers. Some common regulatory signs are, parking signs, interstate signs, and warning signs, which include street signs, schools signs, and construction signs.

if caution is not taken. Some specific types of warning signs are street signs, school signs, and construction signs. Street signs are visible, usually rectangular, and use orange and black to draw attention to the sign. Construction signs are identified by a bold orange color with black text or black pictures. Construction signs are commonly found around the area of work zones on state or federal highways. Many times it is not practical for construction crews to shut down an entire highway while repairs are made to the road. Therefore, many construction zones have a live flow of traffic passing by while the crews are performing repairs.


Fulfill a need


Command Attention


Convey clear & simple meaning


Command respect from travelers


Give adequate time for response

“Signs, like any other traffic control devices, must meet five fundamental requirements…” Signs, like any other traffic control devices, must meet five fundamental requirements such as, fulfill a need, command attention, convey a clear, simple meaning, command respect from travelers, and give adequate time for proper response. Each sign is designed to provide strong visual communication placed along, beside, or above a highway, roadway, pathway, or other route to guide, warn, and regulate the flow of traffic. These signs will draw the attention of vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, equestrians, and other travelers. Parking signs are typically used in parking lots. Parking signs may be used to possibly reserve spots or warn drivers to not park in specific locations. Parking Signs are usually 12” x 18”, and range in colors of white backgrounds with red lettering or green letting. The messages can range from “No Parking”, “No Parking/ Tow Away Zone” and more. The typeface is san serif fonts with a centered composition. Interstate signs are visible signs seen all over Interstate Freeways. These signs are labeling systems to inform drivers which interstate they are traveling on. These signs are very distinctive in color and composition. The shape is organic in nature and the colors that compose these signs are usually white, blue, green, or red. Warning signs call attention to unexpected conditions on highways, streets, sidewalks, or any situation that could cause harm

This situation can be extremely dangerous for both motorists and workers. The purpose of the construction sign is to alert drivers to the dangers that the construction poses and alert them to ways to maintain reasonable safety. Construction zones have lower than normal speed limits to help ensure the safety of the crews performing the construction. The entire construction sign series is design with larger sign sizes to achieve maximum visibility and conspicuousness. Many state departments of transportation agencies require that the construction signs be manufactured of fluorescent orange material. This material is built in a way to provided even higher visibility than normal orange signs. Signs are designed for visual communication to the public. Signs need to draw attention, be visible from afar, and call to action regulations to abide by. Signs are designed to be simple, have a clear message, and use colors that command attention. Without these signs we would loose direction and communication. Having signs meet the fundamental will provide a strong visual communication. – jodi mata

Check out the cd content related to this article. • symbols disk- eps format



illustration by von r. glitschka



USABILITY how to kill a patient through bad design by Jakob Nielsen

A field study identified 22 ways that automated hospital systems can result in the wrong medication being dispensed to patients.


ost of these flaws found are classic usability problems that have been understood for many decades. Usability is often a matter of life or death. In a fighter plane’s user interface, for example, taking a second off the time required to operate targeting-and-firing systems offers pilots a dramatic edge in dog-fights. The most striking example of how bad design can kill comes from in-car user interfaces: thousands of deaths per year are related to drivers being distracted by overly complex designs. Conversely, good automotive design can save lives. As an example, take my new Lexus LS430’s slightly nagging navigation system, which tells you far in advance whether the freeway exit you need will be to the left or the right. This feature gives you plenty of time to change lanes, rather than having to wait until the last moment, which is when you typically spot the road sign.

Medical systems have also provided many well-documented killer designs, such as the radiation machines that fried six patients because of complex and misleading operator consoles. What’s less known is that usability problems in the medical sector’s good oldfashioned office automation systems can harm patients just as seriously as machines used for treatment.

Field Study in a Hospital

In a recent publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association paper, Ross Koppel and colleagues reported on a field study of a hospital’s order-entry system, which physicians use to specify patient medications. The study identified twenty-two ways in which the system caused patients to get the wrong medicine. Most of these issues are usability problems. I’ll briefly discuss the ones of general interest here.




Misleading Default Values

The system screens listed dosages based on the medication units available through the hospital’s pharmacy. When hospital staff members prescribed infrequently used medications, they often relied on the listed unit as being a typical dose, even though that’s not the true meaning of the numbers. If a medication is usually prescribed in 20 or 30 mg doses, for example, the pharmacy might stock 10 mg pills so it can cover both dosage needs and avoid overstocking a rare medication. In this case, users might prescribe 10 mg, even though 20 or 30 would be more appropriate. The solution here is simple: Each screen should list the typical prescription as a guidance. Years of usability studies in many domains have shown that users tend to assume that the given default or example values are applicable to their own situations.

“Hospital systems offer just one example of the usability problems that proliferate in domain-specific systems…”

New Commands Not Checked Against Previous Ones.

When doctors changed the dosage of a patient’s medication, they often entered the new dose without canceling the old one. As a result, the patients received the sum of the old and new doses. This common type of user error is equivalent to a banking interface error, where you specify payment of the same amount to the same recipient twice in one day. Many bank websites will catch these errors and ask you to doublecheck so you don’t pay the same bill twice. In general, if users are doing something they’ve already done, the system should ask whether both operations should remain in effect or whether the new command should overrule the old one.

Poor Readability.

Because patient names appeared in a small font that was difficult to read, it was easy for users to select the wrong patient. The problem was compounded by the fact that names were listed alphabetically rather than grouped by hospital areas, which meant that users looking for a specific patient saw many similar names. Also, in individual patient records, the patient’s name didn’t appear on all screens, reducing the probability that users would discover the error before reaching a critical point in the interaction.

Memory Overload.

At times, users had to review up to twenty screens to see all of a patient’s medications. The well-known limits on human shortterm memory make it impossible to remember everything across that many screens. In a survey, 72% of staff reported that they were often uncertain about medications and dosages because of the difficulties in reviewing a patient’s total medications. Humans are notoriously poor at remembering exact information, and minimizing users’ memory load has long been one of computing’s top-ten usability heuristics. Facts should be restated when and where they’re needed rather than requiring users to remember things from one screen to the next (let alone twenty screens down the road).

Date Description Errors.

The interface let users specify medications for “tomorrow.” When surgeries were late in the day and users entered such orders after midnight, patients would eventually miss a day’s worth of medication.

Overly Complicated Workflow.

Many aspects of the system required users to go through numerous screens that conflicted with hospital workflow. As a result, the system wasn’t always used as intended. Nurses, for example, kept a separate set of paper records that they entered into the system at the end of the shift. This both increased the risk of errors and prevented the system from reflecting real-time information about the medications each patient had received. In general, whenever you see users resorting to sticky notes or other paperbased workarounds, you know you have a failed user interface.

Methodology Weaknesses

To supplement their field observation of actual user behavior, the researchers administered a survey that asked hospital staff how often various errors had occurred during the previous three months. Unfortunately, the paper relies overly much on this selfreported data in estimating the impact of the usability problems. It’s well known that people have a hard time remembering what they do with computers.



When it comes to user errors caused by bad design, there’s a further problem as well: If the interface fails to provide adequate feedback, users might not even realize that they’ve committed an error. With medication errors in particular, it’s also quite possible that hospital staff might tend to minimize the extent to which patients get the wrong medication – even when a survey guarantees anonymity. I would have much preferred errorfrequency estimates based on actual observations, rather than fallible human memory and possibly biased survey answers. Still, the survey indicated that many of the errors reportedly occurred at least weekly. If anything, the true error rate is probably higher than the self-reported estimates in the survey. It’s great to see usability branching out beyond its origins and being researched in a clinical epidemiology department. It’s less great to observe methodological weaknesses that stem from studying usability issues without the benefit of the last twenty-five years’ experience with usability research. Of the paper’s sixty references, 92% are from medical journals and the like. Only five of the sixty references are from the human

factors literature. And, despite the fact that the study related to software design, none of the five references are from leading journals, conferences, books, or thinkers in humancomputer interaction. Hospital systems offer just one example of the usability problems that proliferate in domain-specific systems. Such systems rarely get as much public exposure and analysis as websites do. Vendors often think that having domain experts on staff means that their software will work in the field. But the way people are supposed to work in theory never matches reality. The more specialized the system, the more you need user research to ensure success. From physicians to firefighters, if you don’t observe real users and test your designs with them, you are guaranteed a plethora of usability problems.

Locate the Paper: More Usability Trials

I’m not a regular reader of the Journal of the American Medical Association; I discovered the study through an article in The New York Times. Unfortunately, getting from the newspaper to the paper it referenced was a trying ordeal.

I never cease to be surprised at the miserable usability of university websites. The Web was invented to disseminate academic papers, but it’s almost impossible to find research results on academic websites. In this case, I didn’t know the paper’s title, as it wasn’t reported in the newspaper. I did have the lead author’s name, so I searched for it and was promptly led to a faculty homepage at the University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, this page was useless, as are most faculty member homepages. The most recent entry on the “selected publications” list was from 2002. The professor’s main research interest was presented in colored text, offering a strong perceived affordance of clickability. Nevertheless, it offered no link. The biography page offered no further information about the professor’s research either. It did link to his full curriculum vitae (in PDF, oh woe), but it hadn’t been updated since March 2003 and also had no links. Looking for the author failed to produce any information about the research. What about the academic institution responsible for the project? The newspaper handily provided the department’s full name, making for an easy search. The top search result


was the correct one, but the page title — CCEB — had almost no information scent. Further probing revealed that CCEB stands for “Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.” With an entire line available to spell out their names, you’d think organizations would want to help poor outside users by doing so. But this was far from the worst problem. Sadly, the university has almost no idea of how to use the Web for PR. On a day when the “CCEB” was featured on the front page of The New York Times’ business section, the department’s latest News page entry was ten months old. Where the University of Pennsylvania failed miserably, the American Medical Association performed wonderfully: a search for Journal of the American Medical Association retrieved the journal’s website as the first hit. The JAMA homepage offered a direct link to the article I wanted, in keeping with the homepage guideline to feature high-priority content. JAMA’s main navbar also had a prominent link to Past issues (unfortunately presented in low-contrast colors and ALL CAPS text). This link led to an archive that

included the current issue. This is quite helpful for users — like myself — who don’t realize their target content is actually in the current issue. All that said, JAMA’s website had plenty of usability problems, including a proliferation of undifferentiated More links that simultaneously hurt the homepage’s scannability for sighted users, reduced accessibility for blind users, and prevented search engines from associating destination pages with meaningful keywords from the anchor text. Mainly, though, JAMA did its job on the Web. Once I changed my strategy and searched for the paper’s publisher, rather than the author and his academic institution, it took me about a minute to go from a major search engine to retrieving the paper’s full text on the JAMA site. The fact that academic websites are so miserable to use is surely a contributing factor to the isolating and narrowing effect of current research practices. If outsiders could more easily connect with research results in other disciplines — where they don’t know the scientists personally — we might see more cross-fertilization and growth in our shared knowledge base. Indeed, a unified, worldwide hypertext system was the Web’s founding motivation. –Jakob Nielsen

Reference Koppel, R., Metlay. J.P., Cohen, A., Abaluck, B., Localio, A.R., Kimmel, S.E., and Strom B.L. (2005): “Role of Computerized Physician Order Entry Systems in Facilitating Medication Errors,” Journal of the American Medical Association Vol. 293 No. 10 (March 9), 1197-1203. Copyright 2005 by Jakob Nielsen

Check out the cd content related to this article.





C5 Clinical Assistant Motion Computing introduces new C5 mobile clinical assistant (MCA) at UCSF Medical Center. The MCA is a new computing category that enables the healthcare processes of nurses, physicians and other clinicians with mobility. The Motion C5 integrates reliable, automated patient data management at the point of care. UCSF piloted the the mobile clinical assistant to assess clinician productivity improvements through enabling mobile point of care. Its analysis demonstrates a substantial improvement in nurse productivity, satisfaction and documentation accuracy. ...

... “This collaborative effort resulted in development of the Motion C5 - designed with and for clinicians - that is now being implemented in clinician usability studies worldwide. The C5 is the first highly sealed, fully disinfectable computer to integrate into one durable device the relevant technologies important to clinician workflow and productivity. The C5 combines multiple devices into one - including a built-in barcode and RFID reader for patient identification and supply, specimen and medication administration verification; a built-in camera; and a fingerprint reader to improve security and simplify clinician authentication. “ ...

Check out the cd content related to this article. • C5-Clinical Assistant

by Joel Felix



lection officials want ballots that will provide clear information—to avoid frustration and mistrust on the part of their constituency. Voters want tballots that are easy to understand so they can be confident they have voted as intended, and that their vote, once cast, is counted. Bad ballot design often results from good intentions. Theresa LePore, the election official responsible for the infamous Palm Beach County ballot, thought she was making the names of the candidates easier to read by increasing the type size, a change which caused the need for a butterfly layout. The problem in Florida in November of 2000 was the same problem that continues with ballot design throughout America today: an election official is not a graphic designer. Until now there has not been a standardized set of guidelines that can be used to help designers and election officials to develop ballot layouts that present information to voters as clearly and succinctly as possible. A study carried out by USA Today and seven other newspapers in 2001 concluded that faulty design, not punch-card machines, was responsible for voters’ confusion in Palm Beach County in 2000. Despite this finding, states have focused their election-reform energies on upgrading old punch-card machines to opticalscan systems or on implementing electronic voting. They have dismissed or ignored the butterfly layout’s problematic design as an aberration. But bad ballot design is a nationwide problem that needs to be remedied. As stated before the problem starts with the fact that ballots aren’t designed by a designer.

“No one wants ballots to be poorly designed a disorganized ballot suggests a disorganized election division”

Remember! Vote Both Sides

Instead, county officials oversee their production, and the ballots are put together according to each state’s election code. California’s code, like many of the other states’, is a lengthy document that reads like a bureaucrat’s version of the Ten Commandments: “The Secretary of State shall conduct a drawing of the letters of the alphabet, the result of which shall be known as a randomized alphabet. … There shall be four drawings, three in each even-numbered year and one in each odd-numbered year.” You half-expect mention of a plague. The fact of the mater is that election design is information design. It’s all about the accurate presentation of information: labels that specify the date of the election and the location of the precinct, descriptions of a given race, names of candidates and their representative political parties, instructions for voting and ensuring that votes are properly cast and counted, and indications of what to do if a mistake is made or something is unclear.

“ The fact of the mater is that election design is information design. It’s all about the accurate presentation of information…”

Unlike other forms of design, which might be concerned with point of view, creativity, and expression; information design is concerned with neutrality, legibility, and access. Graphic designers who specialize in the visual presentation of information are trained to interpret complex data in layout and typography. They know how to work

with underlying systems of alignment and navigation to support legibility and to help users access and interpret information. These state election codes generally were drawn up by people who had no idea how to use graphic design to convey information. The California Election Code stipulates the use of specific typefaces, minimum and maximum point sizes and margins, and other specifications—but these requirements aren’t based on any accepted design principles. The result is the confusing sample recall ballot distributed by the secretary of state’s office last month. On the sample ballot, the candidates’ names are listed in alphabetical order according to a randomly chosen alphabet (RWQOJMVAHBSGZXNTCIEKUPDYFL). The order of the list rotates from district to district, like a batting order, so as to offset what’s called “the primacy effect”—the natural advantage lent to candidates appearing near the top of a list. From an information-design perspective, this is insanity. The customary A to Z, like any form of standardization (miles, dollars, pounds) helps us navigate the world. While a random R to L order might be democratically fair to candidates, it makes it harder for voters faced with finding their chosen candidate on a list of 133 names. As almost any designer would tell you, it would be far better simply to rotate through the trusty A to Z from district to district. This would ensure that no one candidate benefited from being at the top of the list and also that no frustrated voter gave up on finding the name she was looking for.

what is printed

what our eye sees

This is a visual example of the way our eye interprets typography. We think our eye reads the letters, but what we are really seeing are the shapes of the letters. Above you can see that the use of all caps diminishes all distinction between capital and lower case letters as well as ascenders and descenders, thus hindering our ability to clearly interpret the information.

Then there are the ballot’s myriad typographical missteps. Changes in typeface usually are a way of signifying meaning this is a chapter title, this is for emphasis, this information is less important than that. Here, the “OFFICIAL BALLOT” headline, rendered in bold-faced capital letters, is followed by several lines of graphic schizophrenia: One line consists of condensed caps, the next of bolded lowercase, still another is shrunk to 9 point. One sample version of the Oct. 7 ballot uses 16 sizes and styles of type. Greater consistency of type would allow us to immediately pick out the words styled differently and grasp their significance. No doubt some official in Sacramento thought that reproducing the candidates’ names in bolded capitals would make them stand out. But the treatment actually made the names hard to fit in the confined space of a ballot—and so each letter has had to be condensed (the typographic term for smooshed-together, thin letters). The result makes the names more difficult to read than they would be if they were simply in bold lowercase. What remains totally unclear is why the top quarter of the back of each ballot card is given over to a promotional tag line: I HAVE VOTED—HAVE YOU? This wastes valuable space, and the MEASURES SUBMITTED TO THE VOTERS section—in other words, propositions, bond measures, etc. is squeezed into a paltry 3-inches squared at the end of the ballot. There’s no reason to assume that nothing can be done about such design problems in California and elsewhere. And in fact, a few reform-minded designers are already making the case that something should be. Marcia Lausen, a principal at Studio/lab in Chicago, has been thinking about problems of ballot design since 2000, when the American Institute of Graphic Arts launched a Design for Democracy initiative. The initiative aimed to simplify the design of all government documents because, as AIGA Executive Director Ric Grefe argues, design is the bedrock of Jeffersonian democracy—it intermediates between information and understanding and

makes the complex clear. Yet from census forms to Medicare guidelines, our nation’s paperwork is muddled with dense, irrational layouts. Developed with a team of graphic and industrial designers, Lausen’s elections redesign proposal convinced the state of Illinois to change its election code to allow candidates’ names to be printed in lowercase, among other things. Of course, ballot design is but one part of the voting process. It is worth noting that a pretty ballot won’t be terribly useful if the machines are faulty or the polling place is far away or the poll workers can’t find your name. The reality is that the whole voting experience could use a redesign. Election officials should spend some time at Starbucks, the company that turned an overpriced commodity into an empire by focusing on its customers’ experience. Imagine if all polling places had an inviting, recognizable logo; if they were well lighted and comfortable; if they offered an intuitive environment with clearly presented information. Maybe voters could get a free cup of coffee, too. –Joel Felix





Design for Democracy Improving ballot and election design by design Voting is critical to our democracy and vital to our communities. But the process by which votes are cast and counted can interfere with, if not undermine, the credibility of elections. Design for Democracy first directed its focus toward election design in 2000, shortly after ballot design flaws were exposed in South Florida. Since developing solutions for subsequent elections in Cook County, Illinois and in the state of Oregon, as well as election design guidelines for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Design for Democracy began work with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in 2005. Established in 1998, Design for Democracy is a strategic initiative that serves AIGA’s goal of “demonstrating the value of design by doing valuable things.” Objective, independent, pragmatic, and committed to the public good, Design for Democracy applies all the tools of design to increase civic participation by making interactions between the U.S. government and its citizens more understandable, efficient and trustworthy. Design for Democracy collaborates with researchers, designers and policy-makers, from professional, governmental and academic communities, in service of our public sector clients.


Check out the cd content related to this article. • Election Design Basics


breast cancer a leading killer

War in Iraq has cost Millions

AIDS is rampant in Africa

8,259 murders by firearms in 2006

cause / affect cause / affect

There are over 20k AIGA members

“Creating a better visual representation of the food pyramid can help society…”



FORTHOUGHT by Chad Tittle


oday’s society has transformed into a fast paced lifestyle. People are constantly on the go and rushing throughout their days in order to accomplish all their tasks that are needed to be completed. Often this leaves people with not enough time to think about the most important item that is required for them to continue this fast paced lifestyle; food. Until only two decades ago, people were unaware that not maintaining a healthy intake of food daily was making them susceptible to various diseases and health risks. Society has since then been on a mission to fix that problem with providing consumers the information needed to maintain their fast paced lives and live healthier. As we will discover though, all has not been perfected and society still is often confused with what requirements are needed and if what they are eating is fulfilling that needed daily amount. Society for a long time had been very unaware about the health risks involved with not eating proper food and certain types of foods for decades. The USDA began publishing a food guide annually in the 1980’s after studies started to show an alarming increase in health risks linked to people who did not maintain a proper amount of nutrient intake from their day to day eating lifestyle. However, people were unaware that this food guide even existed. Beginning in 1988, the creation of a graphic to represent the food groups had begun. Hopes of creating a graphic symbol that would inform people of what types of foods that are needed daily from several categories in order to get the proper nutrients the body requires.

From this graphic, it needed to convey the three main ideas: variety, proportionality and moderation. The Food Guide Pyramid was finally released in 1992. Since then it has been modified numerous times to keep up not only with visual trends but also with the changing in food allowances for daily life. Recently it also has been discovered that the amount of food intake from each category ranges depending on sex, gender, and amount of physical activity an individual participates in. A website,, was also created to allow people to discover what their requirements are daily based on the categories of sex, gender, and so forth. This has made the food pyramid more personal for each individual but has also made things confusing if one does not know how to find that information needed. Creating a better visual representation of the food pyramid on product packaging can help society to better understand how important it is to maintain a certain amount of intake from each category daily. By maintaining the simple colors already in place but using simple shapes as well with each category can help for people to visually recognize each category and its importance as part of the food groups. An Example of creating a new system would be that someone is in the grocery store shopping for food and picks up a bag of bread. On the bread it would display an orange square. Within this square will be a number of the amount per serving this particular bread will provide the customer towards their daily recommended amount of grains. Now below the orange square or on the back of the packaging can be a small graph

breaking down the age and gender requirements needed for a day so that customers can quickly reference how much they need daily. Since most of society is unaware that exists in determining personal food requirements, having a simple guide on the packaging can make shopping decisions quick and easy. With this system in place, consumers will be able to open their fridge and notice that if they have too many of one category then they will need to fulfill their requirements from the other categories. This will help tremendously in mentally allowing people to realize what types of foods they are eating a lot of and which foods they are lacking in their diet. The food pyramid is an excellent system currently in place and has provided for a good source of information for years but due to it’s constant changing and along with the confusion of nutrition labels themselves, a majority of society has given up on trying to research how to stay healthy. By implementing this improvement upon the visual information of the food pyramid, people will live healthier lifestyles and be informed on what they need to stay healthy. –Chad Tittle






illions of forms are issued and received by state departments and agencies every year. We all have experienced filling out governmental forms as part of our citizenship duties. Most people will say that their experience with forms was a strenuous process or seen as a burden. The effectiveness and efficiency of forms has direct implications on state agencies in the form of operation costs as well as the public’s perception of government services. Government departments and agencies have an obligation to improve the usability of their forms, but how can these forms be improved considering the necessary bureaucracy that’s inherent in governmental forms? Significant improvements in usability can be accomplished through effective design and business practices. Just how can we expect government agencies to improve the usability of their forms? Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on processing, interpreting and maintaining forms. Much of the resources are allocated to ensuring that the proper form data is collected, that forms are current, so forms can serve dual purposes, and many other essential aspects of information flow. The problem is that a key element that can significantly improve the effectiveness of forms and save taxpayer dollars is missing. Visual communication as it applies to form design plays a crucial role in presenting the information in a clear and concise manner. This allows the users of these forms to interact with the information quickly and be

by Artem Khomishen

a less burdensome process. A well designed form consists of important visual principles, which are often not considered in the form development phase. Balance, movement, emphasis, contrast, proportion, consistency and other visual principles must be utilized properly by design professionals to achieve the goal of improving the usability of forms. Unfortunately most state agencies do not involve design professionals in their design process. This is ironic because the key user of the forms is left out of the equation and is not considered. The key element of a well designed form is its attention to the user. Lack of this practice can be evident through many usability studies. For example In Figure (A), a study conducted by “Research-Based Design, 2006” we can see how various forms that are used to interface with the public are scored through quality indicators of user friendly interaction. Looking at the scores it is obvious that there needs to be much improvement in how the user interacts with forms. The majority of the forms that are employed today lack basic design principles. The self-assessment chart in Figure (B) is a simple way to determine how effectively you are executing form design.







Provide Useful Content Establish User Requirements Understand and Meet User’s Expectations Involve Users in Establishing User Requirements Design Forms for Users Using Assistive Technology Do Not Use Color Alone to Convey Information Use Color Coordination for Navigation and Clarity Enable Easy Section Navigation Show All Major Sections at the Beginning Avoid Cluttered Information Place Important Items Consistently


16-20: Excellent - Your team is on track. Celebrate Usability by adopting one new guideline! 11-15: Very Good - Your forms reflect sound usability practice. Are there two new guidelines that would make your forms even better?

Place Important Items at Top Center Use Clear Category Labels Use Meaningful Labels Distinguish Required and Optional Data Entry Fields Organize Information Clearly Facilitate Scanning Space or Boxes for Answers Must Not be Too Short

6-10: Good – Your website reflects many usability principles. To make it easier to use, pick three guidelines that you can begin working on today! 6 or Less: Fair – Well done for taking the quiz! Forms aren’t built in a day and neither is usability. Improve your forms by embracing three or more new guidelines today.

Provide Clear Spaces for Answers Ensure Font Sizes are Not Too Small


As you can probably see from the self-assessment in Figure (B), creating user friendly forms can be quite a challenge. However, the more usability guidelines in Figure (B) are implemented, the more user-friendly your forms will be. Do not be surprised if your team will not be able to achieve an effective visual form design. Much of the guidelines that are recommended in Figure (B) involve principles of visual communication we covered earlier. You may have efficient content and information flow established, but that will not guarantee an easy to follow interaction for the user. Visual communication requires professional visual design to support your established information flow. Make sure that you use the strategic business practice of using qualified design professionals for your form development projects. This will ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of your forms, reduce operating costs, and will have a positive effect on your public relations efforts. Don’t loose it by trying to cut corners, use it through involving visual communication design. – Artem Khomishen

Communication Arts Founded in 1959, Communication Arts is the leading trade journal for visual communications. It’s the largest design magazine in the world and showcases the top work in graphic design, advertising, illustration, photography and interactive design. Each year it includes eight issues of creative excellence. The magazine has an audited paid circulation of 74,834. As a result of their success, the Commarts network has sought to develop a magazine that communicates ways that visual communication can have a positive and non-commercial impact on society. Revision is that venture.

Revision Magazine  
Revision Magazine  

A conceptual off-shoot magazine of Communication Arts focusing on how design can make a positive impact on society. The magazine focuses on...