Tuesday, March 1, 2011

5 Questions with Connie Malamed

Last year, I had the pleasure to attend a graphics workshop by Connie Malamed at the Presentation Summit. Connie is the author of Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, author of two blogs—The eLearning Coach and Understanding Graphics—and is a consultant and public speaker, teaching individuals and organizations to use cognitive psychology to create better visual communication.

In her workshop, Your Brain on Graphics, Connie reiterated again and again the importance of communicating with visuals. She taught basic rules for how people perceive and interpret pictures based on psychological research. By knowing and applying these guidelines when creating graphics, our visual messages would be more effective and lead to our greater success.

I had found a kindred spirit!

Since that workshop, I have been recommending Connie to anyone who wants to learn more about how your audience responds to graphics and the psychology behind effective visuals. Her book, Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand, expands upon research I discuss in Billion Dollar Graphics and goes into more depth about basic cognitive principles and how to use them to reach your audience.

Connie took time out of her busy schedule to answer 5 questions about visual communication for our readers:
  1. What is your visual communication background?
    I’ve been interested in the visual arts since childhood. My mother was an interior designer and our house was filled with artwork propped against the walls for her clients. In that environment, I almost didn’t have a choice but to become hyper-visual. I studied fine arts and art education as an undergraduate. On a day-to-day basis, I now work in several fields that involve visual communication: eLearning, website design and information design.

  2. What led you to write Visual Language For Designers: Principles For Creating Graphics That People Understand and to dedicate yourself to promoting the design principles detailed in the book?
    I’m fascinated with cognition how we think, learn and solve problems. My graduate studies focused on instructional design, which is based on cognitive psychology. So it was natural for me to synthesize visual communication and cognitive psychology … to wonder how we process visual information and to ask how we can improve visual design based on our cognitive architecture.

    I didn’t see many books out there discussing this, so I’ve been researching these questions for years. When the time was right, I found a publisher so I could share what I’ve learned.

  3. Your book provides six design principles, based on cognitive science, to "align graphics with our cognitive architecture." Can you give us a brief overview of one of those principles?
    In today’s world, where we are bombarded with information of all kinds, it helps to understand how to get your message across quickly and efficiently. The Reduce Realism principle explains how “low fidelity” graphics get processed more easily than complex graphics. Designers can reduce realism by removing shadows and detail and limiting color.

    Examples of graphics with reduced realism include line drawings, silhouettes and icons. These types of graphics get recognized and understood quickly and the mind fills in any the missing information.

  4. What are the common mistakes most people make in visual communication?
    A common mistake is that people don’t realize how our brains are hard wired for visual communication. In presentations and in eLearning, you’ll find screens of text where the ideas could be communicated through visuals. Graphics help gain attention, they are memorable and audiences understand them. Designers should always consider whether verbal or visual communication would be best for a particular message. Many times, both are needed.

  5. Your blog, Understanding Graphics, offers a variety of well-researched guidelines on information design. Can you leave our audience with one guideline you find most essential for visual communication?
    One of the most important things to remember is that people can only process around four bits of visual information at one time. So designers should keep their visuals clean, clear and easy to understand. They can help viewers focus on the most important information by creating a visual hierarchy. Research shows that when people find information easy to process, they feel more positive about it.
To learn more about Connie and her book and services, visit her website at www.malamedconsulting.com.

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