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Beginnings Guides 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

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 attractivepage 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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