In the age of constant information overload, it’s important that we optimize our projects and reports to capture attention, and convey the right information. How do we do this? Of course, good content is a must. However, we often miss out on design elements that can do the job for us.

In 1979, Bryan Lawson, Professor of Architecture at the University of Sheffield, published a study on how designers approach problem-solving in comparison to scientists. Design researcher Nigel Cross, concluded Lawson’s study by saying that scientists approach problem-solving by analysis (loosen-up), while designers do so by synthesis (put together).

Kelley and Brown, founder and CEO respectively of IDEO argue that design thinkers use both methods wherein they ‘loosen up’ and ‘put together’. For instance, if a designer is given a chunk of information, s/he first needs to break it down to comprehend it. Then s/he puts it together and decides what can be conveyed in words, what imagery s/he would use, and what can be turned into graphs and grids.

It is at this stage that designers use some principles, which we too can apply in our work:

  • Symmetry. Humans inherently find symmetrical features appealing. Even babies spend more time looking at pictures of people who have symmetrical features, than asymmetrical ones. You can achieve symmetry in your design by ensuring a balance between the left and the right side of your page/ slide. Having heavy colors/ shapes on one side and light ones on the other will result in a lack of balance, which is a put off. The same is true for margins.
  • Directional cues. From our childhood, we’re trained to follow arrow signs, and are perceptive of directional cues that guide us towards where we need to head. Similarly, we follow the gaze of other people to see what they are looking at. These directional cues can be used in your design simply by creating paths that our eyes can follow –  lines, arrows, color gradients, or even a visual of someone looking at the information you want to highlight.
  • Colors. Colors are such a critical part of our daily lives that it would be a pity to not make use of them in our work. Red attracts our attention the most, and that’s why we use it for stop signs. It’s best to use it sparingly. Blue, on the other hand, is soothing and symbolizes trustworthiness. Light green is refreshing and shows a close relation to nature, and yellow is known to be welcoming.
  • Shapes. Just like colors, shapes too are all around us. A closer look helps us understand what each one represents. A circle shows movement, comfort, and femininity. A square on the other hand stands for logic and containment. A triangle represents science, energy, and balance. Use the most appropriate shapes based on the topic of your presentation or design.

Still need a reason to pay attention to design? Then consider the words of Hans Hofmann who said, “Design is the intermediary between information and understanding.” Good luck with that presentation.

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