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  Expert Forum for Knowledge Presentation
  Preparing for the Future of Knowledge Presentation


Jorge Frascara

  Prospect and flow: making environments intelligible
© 2004, Jorge Frascara

    Conference presentation video


The intelligibility of information environments hinges on two major points: relevance and Ätness to the intended public (to needs and expectations, and to cognitive style and capacity). (Figure 1) There is no information-gathering act without emotional tone, and detection of relevance is key for setting in motion the learning effort. Perception of relevance requires fast assessment of content. J. Appleton’s and J.J. Gibson’s respective notions of prospect and affordance are key tools for the effective presentation of visual information. Appleton’s notion of the triad “prospect/refuge/risk” constantly underlines our experience of the environment. We like to see and understand what we confront; we want to have a place to retreat to, we want to have our back covered, and we want to avoid risk. This confers an emotional tone to every perception of an informational environment.

Gibson went a step further when he proposed that beyond pleasure and fear in front of the landscape, we can also engage in a cost/return assessment: “what is there for me?” (We ask ourselves in front of every situation); “What can this situation afford me?” (Figure 2)
It is not easy to design for transparency when cognitive style is considered. There are dramatic differences between a person who prefers prospect and another who prefers one-thing-at-a-time. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatari made a very strong call for context-sensitive thinking, exploratory, ecological, pattern-sensitive, inventive, and rhyzomatic, that could provide further insights into the nature of the complexities that surround us. More Äeld research is required to provide designers with reliable criteria for the presentation of complex sets of information that could be interpreted by different cognitive styles. In document design this can be translated into:
a) immediate perception of key components (contrast);
b) clear hierarchies (depth);
c) clear distinctions of categories (variety); and
d) clear comprehension of the coding system used (order).


Figure 1: The London tube map: prospect and flow.


Easy to see the whole system at a glance. Easy to program one’s flow through the system.


Figure 2. The Meta Design web site home page from 2002

Easy to see all the possible avenues to take, and to move later within them.


Jorge Frascara
  Jorge Frascara is Professor of Art and Design at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. He is a Fellow of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, and a member of the Editorial Boards of Information Design Journal, Design Issues and TipoGráÄca. He has held leading positions at the University of Alberta, Icograda, the ISO, the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada, the Graphic Design Education Association and the Canadian Standards Council. He co-organized several professional conferences in North America, Africa, Europe and Latin America. He has published monographs and articles on design and art and design education. His books include User Centered Graphic Design, Mass Communication and Social Change (Taylor & Francis, London and Washington, 1997). He has edited the ISO Technical Report 7239, Design and Application of Public Information Symbols (ISO, Geneva, 1983), Graphic Design, World Views (Kodansha, Japan, 1990), and Design and the Social Sciences, Making Connections (Taylor & Francis, London and Washington, 2002).


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