Design, ergonomics students to present infographics study

April 18, 2012 By Christa Nianiatus
From left, Design and Environmental Analysis undergraduates Jordan Licero, Carolina Acevedo Pardo, Gilad Meron and Brie Reid view an infographic on their research team's custom-built system to map eye movement. (Mark Vorreuter/College of Human Ecology)

In a culture awash in data, infographics -- visual representations of facts and figures -- are vital to communicating complicated information on websites, in books and newspapers and elsewhere.

Using eye-tracking technology, Cornell students and professors in interior design and have joined together to uncover new details about how people absorb infographics and to develop recommendations for how to improve them. The findings, to be presented at the Fourth International Applied and Ergonomics Conference, July 21-25, in San Francisco, will be published as a chapter in the conference book.

The project, led by lecturer Leah Scolere and professor Alan Hedge, both in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis (DEA) in the College of Human Ecology, included DEA seniors Jordan Licero, Brie Reid, Carolina Acevedo Pardo and Gilad Meron.

Reid, Pardo and Meron, while taking Scolere's Visual Thinking and Story Telling course, classified infographic designs into five categories: flow chart, poster, annotated graphic, icon grid and chosen path design, which presents readers with multiple options. They wanted to objectively measure how people take in these different designs.

"We did some background research and found that there was almost nothing done in this specific field of how people read infographics," said Meron.

Design, ergonomics students to present infographics study
A sample data output of the eye-tracking system. (Mark Vorreuter/College of Human Ecology)

So, according to Reid, the students "decided to put infographics to the test." Licero, working with Hedge, commissioned an -- a pair of high-resolution, mounted beneath a computer screen. The system recorded where research subjects' eyes moved as they viewed various infographics on the screen. Through heat maps and other data outputs, they could measure what elements were most attention-grabbing to viewers -- what captured their gaze first and held it longest.

To their surprise, the researchers discovered that blending images and text seamlessly, rather than trying to call attention to each element separately, was most effective. It disproved their rare elements theory that suggested that viewers would gravitate toward the most unusual stand-alone features of an infographic.

"It's not about just putting text and images together, but synthesizing the two to create this new narrative language," Meron said.

The study also revealed stark gender differences in which designs subjects preferred. Women focused more on images, whereas men looked first and longer at text.

"We tend to think everyone is the same when we're designing [infographics], but clearly they're not," Hedge said.

Hedge added that the experience was valuable for students not only to see what it takes to go from a class project to findings worthy of a major international conference but also to write and revise for an academic conference. The group hopes to refine the work and eventually produce a peer-reviewed paper on infographics.

"The whole project took a lot more than I anticipated to go from an idea to a full study. ... I think we did something like nine edits to the finished paper before submitting it just before deadline," Licero said.

"I don't think any of us knew what to expect when we were getting into this," Pardo said, "but we found out it would take a lot of work, and we learned as we went along."

The research was funded in part by the College of , which paid a summer stipend to Licero to help commission the eye-tracking device.

Explore further: Web News Readers Have Greater Attention Span: Study

Related Stories

Web News Readers Have Greater Attention Span: Study

March 31, 2007

People who use the Internet to read the news have a greater attention span than print readers, according to a U.S. study that refutes the idea that Web surfers jump around and don't read much.

Recommended for you

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.