Moving the Eye Through 2-D Design: A Visual Primer
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Emergence is how we perceive images as a whole rather than assembling them by consciously interpreting their component parts. Similarly, we can rely on viewers to subconsciously recognize that something is a screenshot of a menu rather than one of a dialog box. To support this understanding, we must implement the details of the image in a way that facilitates emergence. Five simple steps help us choose an appropriate design:. A drawing can be more effective than a photograph because it eliminates detail that obscures the context and focuses attention on the remaining details, which are what convey our message.
For example, the color of the camera and the texture of its surface are unimportant; the locations of the power button and the focus knob are. With practice and experience, we can learn to start closer to that minimum and waste less time deleting unnecessary details. This approach to visual design is often described as minimalism. Figure 1: An example of how reification causes an image to emerge.
To make this more concrete, consider how we can make viewers recognize a rectangle without actually drawing a rectangle Fig. Figure 2: Reification of a drop shadow to create a three-dimensional effect.
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There is no rectangle in the image, but the sensory cues provided by the image almost force us to infer its existence. Does that seem a bit abstract?
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Consider this: In technical communication, creating such rectangles without actually drawing them is a common task. Whenever we lay out a page, we must convince readers there are one or more columns of text, each of which exists as a separate image. We could certainly draw a thick black rectangle around each block of text to identify it, but we almost never do. Returning for a moment to the concepts of figure and ground , the white space between the columns of text functions as the ground, and the text itself functions as the figure. We have not painted the white space on the page using white paint or its pixel equivalent, yet it nonetheless creates an imagined barrier that separates the two blocks of text.
Yet viewers reify that box to interpret it as a shadow, and use that knowledge to understand that we want them to imagine that the image is floating above the page.
Moving the Eye Through 2-D Design: A Visual Primer; 1 Edition; ISBN:
To create an effective image, we should follow two reification-related steps to understand how to create the image:. Figure 3: Examples of top how a line drawing can be multistable and bottom how to clearly indicate which of two possible stable images we want the viewer to see. Multistability is the concept that some graphics may appear to alternate between two stable images when the sensory clues we provide are ambiguous.
A line drawing of a cube is inherently multistable because the crossing lines make it difficult to understand which lines represent foreground and which represent background Fig. In the example of the cube, eliminating lines in the background i. If the presence and position of those background lines is important, we can indicate their existence using lighter tones or a gradient fill that makes the lines fade into the background. A visual image is invariant if we continue to interpret it as the same object even if we change its orientation by rotation , its size by magnification , or its position by relocation.
However, images are not equally recognizable in all orientations, sizes, and positions.
For example, text is easily recognizable as text, no matter its orientation; this is why we recognize that sideways text on the vertical axis of a graph is still text. But if we flip a figure caption to create its mirror image, reduce the type size to 4 points, and move the caption far from the figure it describes, we make it unnecessarily difficult for reader to read and understand that text.
Designing a visual image based on the assumption that invariance is sufficient for clarity leads to communications failures. The number does not change just because we changed its position. Invariance is not sufficient because our audience uses learned conventions e. Unless we have a good reason to ignore or subvert those expectations, we should stick with what they already know.
External consistency means that the information follows the conventions the rest of the world uses to present a given type of information, such as in my example of the location of page numbers. Internal consistency means that within a document or graphic or Web page, each type of information must be consistently invariantly! Compare, for example, the two following lists:. One of the most important application of these principles involves grouping to indicate which parts of an image work together to serve a single function, and which parts serve a different function.
For a printed page, white space separates words from each other , separates one paragraph from the next, and separates the columns of text into groups.
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Appropriate use of white space i. The gestalt laws of grouping include the following:.
Figure 4: An example of grouping based on physical position and visual characteristics to separate radio buttons from checkboxes. Combinations of these principles let us establish visually and functionally consistent designs. For instance, the similarity principle is why checkboxes in a dialog box all look alike but differ visually from radio buttons, whereas the proximity principle is why we place the checkboxes together but separate them from the group of radio buttons Fig.