At last I have found someone who believes in the value of information design to humanity. For as long as I can remember I have been rattling on about it, sometimes in the face of bafflement from those you would think would know better. It has always seemed to me that many of our technical resources within aviation take a roundabout and wasteful route in their attempts to enlighten us. Perhaps it is just the way I look at the world and everything in it, but don’t you get frustrated when pages and pages of badly constructed text are used to illustrate a concept or sequence of instructions designed to help you understand, work with or operate something? Why use words when carefully considered graphics supported by a little text could do the task in moments? Not only is this single track response to information transfer wasteful of time and mental effort, it has the potential to be dangerous.
On the night of October 31st 2000 in a foreign land a 747-400 lined up for takeoff on a wind and rain lashed runway. A Typhoon was approaching, the crew were distracted and operating under a high workload partly generated by the weather. One of the runways at the airport was closed as it was covered with heavy plant and maintenance equipment at its middle, this material was concealed by the night and the evil weather.
The crew had in front of them the usual AIS/Briefing material presenting the facts which were almost certainly buried within a sea of text. The mental model the crew produced from the information available was demonstrably flawed, again distraction and workload played their part in the slipping of this link. The flight was cleared for takeoff on the correct and fully servicable runway; the crew lined up and attempted to takeoff on the closed runway. The resulting crash and fireball killed more than 80 people
What a difference a diagram might have made on a single A4 sheet of paper. The picture would have been clearer and more accurately retained in the captains mind long before he set takeoff thrust. Pictures cut through clutter and help create powerful mental models.
Enter David McCandless…
Absorbing and processing information is our game, we manipulate and use it within our imagination to a understand the fast moving world around us. We have a continual need to visualise the invisible and anticipate the challenges those visions create yet the task is often complicated by poorly presented information. The English used can sometimes be obscure to a native of the language, so Lord knows what the rest of the brotherhood makes of it. What am I talking about? The endless reams of paper that flow before us from the training aircraft to the cockpit of the modern jet aircraft. All of it!
Banish insomnia from a pilot converting onto a modern transport jet – take the technical manual, ask him to discover from the written word how to use the autopilot mode control panel on his ‘new’ aircraft in flight. Don’t take my word for it, this is a classic example – ask someone else who has done it. After a number of type conversions I have yet to read the manual that does the job efficiently… thankfully an hour with the panel concerned in the simulator usually does the trick but consumes valuable simulator time in the process.
A set of imaginatively created graphics along with intelligently framed textual support would probably reduce that time by a third and leave a deeper and more robust understanding in the mind of the trainee.
On a riding holiday recently I happened across a charming Norwegian graphic designer who raised the subject of information management and the contribution graphic design could make to it. She had attended a seminar in Norway where a talented fellah had talked eloquently on the subject. Eline recommended the man in question David McCandless and his upcoming book Information is Beautiful. See what you think of his approach, does it do it for you or don’t you see what the fuss is about?