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Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog

Promoting Health Literacy-Design Matters

“Give it to them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and above all accurately so they will be guided by its light.”
~ Joseph Pulitzer

We said before you give information, offer it.  This keeps the learner in charge of the learning. Next we said to keep it brief. Focus on the critical minimum your client needs to solve the problem s/he has now.  We also said make it clear to the learner. Simple is not always clear. Always check-back to confirm understanding.

Now we discuss giving it to them picturesquely so they will remember it. Two elements make information picturesque and memorable: the appearance of the material, and the pictures that the words create in the learner’s mind.

In this blog we consider appearance. Information is like medication. It can increase the effectiveness of most treatments. Sometimes it is the treatment. Before medicine or information can have any effect, the patient/client has to focus attention on the pill or page. She has to hold it in her hand and decide to "swallow" it.

Good design is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. For example, the color in Laurel Burch’s paintings for the Beginnings Guides covers captures a learner’s attention and compels her to pick up the booklet. The images tell a mother, before she reads a word, that this information is for and about her and leads her into the learning.

The appearance of the material is its design — the organization of color, type and graphics on the page. Every printed page has a design, by intention or by default. The appearance of printed material, by itself, visually conveys strong messages. The design tells learners how important you think the information is, and whether they should take time to study it. Pages of type run off on the office printer and copier say loudly,"This does not warrant an investment of attention or time." Look at the materials you use frequently. What do they say about you personally, about your organization, your services?

Interior pages need to be picturesque, too. Bold type leads the learner to headlines and main ideas. Boxes and graphics highlight essential information. But be cautious, good design creates communication, not decoration. Too much design is distracting and interferes with
comprehension. The key to an attractive page that makes reading easy and information memorable is reading gravity.


Reading Gravity
Edmund Arnold devised the Gutenberg Diagram for Typography to illustrate the principles of reading gravity. We start to read at the top left corner of a page – that’s the Primary Optical Area (POA on the diagram). The eye works across and down going from left to right and back again until we reach the bottom right corner - that’s the Terminal Axis (TA).

Reading gravity says the eye naturally scans across the page to the right, and back to where it started – at the Axis of Orientation). Then the eye drops down to the next line. This movement is reading gravity. When a design element prevents the eye from following this pattern, it
interrupts the flow of reading and comprehension plummets. The x’s indicated “fallow” corners. Wavy lines indicate backward movement that they resist.

Take a look at the Parents Guide-the pages comply with reading gravity. The headline at the top brings the eye into the page. The short lines make it easy for the eye to return to its Axis of Orientation without losing its place. The pictures are in the fallow corners – areas hardest for the eye to reach. The lower border of the photo on the top right and the headline under it help the eye transition smoothly to the right column. If you preview the Guides, you will see that all the pages support reading gravity. This contributes to easy reading and high levels of comprehension.


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