The information design of ecological cycle network diagrams in science textbooks
AbstractNetwork diagrams of ecological cycles, eg, carbon and nitrogen cycles, are a common feature in science textbooks for 14-18 years age groups. From an information design perspective these diagrams raise a particularly interesting challenge; that of categorising up to six types of biological information using two graphic syntactic roles – nodes and connecting arrows – whilst ensuring an efective and unambiguous message. This practice-led thesis reviews the precision of information categorisation in 209 network diagrams collected from UK and Danish science textbooks (1935-2009). Visual content analysis and graphic syntax theory (Engelhardt, 2002) is applied to review the existing information categorisation in relation to four types of graphic inefectiveness: 1) implicit nodes, 2) imprecise relative spatial positioning of graphic objects, 3) polysemy, and 4) inconsistent visual attributes or verbal syntax. This review finds 29 types of ineffective graphic tactics, which may result in ambiguous messages due to illogical linking sequences, implicit circulating elements, and confusion about chemical transfer and transformations. Based on these analysis indings, the design process in educational publishing is investigated. This identifies the rationale informing the transformation of information into network diagrams, based on semi- structured interviews with 19 editors, authors, designers, and illustrators in six publishing houses (3 in UK , 3 in Denmark). The rationale is mapped using phenomenographic analysis method and existing theories on the design process, namely brief development and translation stages (Crilly, 2005), choice points and the problem setting process (Schön, 2006), problem- solution co-evolution (Dorst and Cross, 2001), and design constraints (Lawson, 2006). The curriculum purpose of the ecological cycle network diagram is found to tightly constrain the identiied rationale and the graphic decision-making based mainly on tacit knowledge. In a final discussion the research indings are integrated by identifying models of design activities (Dumas and Mintzberg, 1993) present in investigated professional practice. This reveals how design decisions may inluence the occurrence of inefective graphic tactics. Recommendations for alternative information transformation strategies are then presented, centred on integrating graphic syntax knowledge into the current processes. These recommendations are anchored in suggestions by the interviewed participants.
Mølhave, Annegrete <http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/view/creators/M=F8lhave=3AAnnegrete=3A=3A.html> (2010) The information design of ecological cycle network diagrams in science textbooks. PhD thesis, University of the Arts London.