Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cranks and idiots

Since I am on a religious theme, these two books found themselves juxtaposed on my bookshelf. One is now in the kitchen where it belongs.

Making reading digestible

Still on a scriptural theme... the Reader's Digest Bible cuts out the ‘boring bits’ – the genealogies or details of the Old Testament law – in an effort to make it less of a weariness of the flesh. But quite often when you look at other translations, the boring bits are actually graphically signalled, helping people read strategically (ie, helping them skip those parts).

In this page from Numbers, I've highlighted the section of the Reader's Digest Bible that is the equivalent of a spread from an edition of the New International Version (I designed the one shown some years ago for Hodder & Stoughton). 

The sections shaded pink are the ones left out of the RD version – I hope the image is clear enough to see that the list of tribes is spaced and indented in a way that makes it easy for the reader to simply skip over, noting the authenticity of the historical record (the main function of that passage for the modern reader). The spacing was not introduced by me but by the scholars and theologians responsible for the translation.

On another occasion I tried to take an even more explicit information design approach to Bible design. The Contemporary English Version is translated to be easier for people without a religious background to understand – it avoids theological terms, for example. I tried to make it look less bibly and to use genre cues to help readers approach it in a more strategic way. I could not avoid double columns (for space reasons) but I was able to use single column for poetry, so the line endings would be clearer. I used a three column ‘fine print’ approach for the boring bits, and bold headings.

Thought for the day

Paul Luna twitters on a scriptural theme:

“God as usability guru? ‘We have never sent a messenger who did not use his own people’s language to make things clear for them’ Qur’an 14:4

I counter with Ecclesiastes 12:12: ‘Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.’

Oddly worded no smoking sign

My compulsion to whip out my iPhone in toilets continues - this one from a National Express train.

I suppose it is entirely reasonable that if I watch someone smoking in the loo, they can complain to the train guard.

I'll have to stop these toilet posts - Paul Luna's talking about the Oxford Literary Festival in his blog this week, and I'm lowering the tone.

Another toilet sign

I like the thoroughness of this sign. When you warn me about hot water, I want to know where it's likely to come at me from.

Location: Royal Station Hotel, Newcastle

Doing what it says on the tin

We all like things that do what they say on the tin. I also like things that say on the tin what they do. Like these shop signs: no guesswork required (unless you're too young to know what a gramophone is).

Locations: the wool shop is in Liskeard, and the radio shop is in Jedburgh.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Information design anthem: new contender

Radio Berkshire was in our department yesterday, interviewing staff and students. I was called back later in the day to comment on the Local Government Association's call to ban the use of jargon by local councils. Actually, their list was a little weak - 'coterminous' is translated as 'singing from the same hymn sheet'. That's not what it is, and even if it was, it's not so far from the kind of stuff they're trying to ban.

I played the programme back on iPlayer today, and realised that I hadn't spotted the music Radio Berkshire put on just before the spot on jargon: the Animals, 'Don't let me be misunderstood'.

Google street view melts car

Google has launched street view in the UK. I love the side effects of their car-mounted cameras - this car looks like it's programmed Australia into its satnav.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Musical forms

Following an earlier post about information design in rock, John Willmer tells me he reckons the only musical arrangement of a government form is Frank Zappa's wonderful 'Welcome to the United States' from the album The Yellow Shark. Do you know otherwise?

I suppose you could argue that Rowan Atkinson's schoolmaster is a performance of a bureaucratic process, but while perfectly timed it's not musical.

Dear Lord Customer

I bought a shirt from the Boden catalogue at the weekend, and was flattered to be offered the choice of not just Mr or Ms in front of my name, but any number of aristocratic or military titles, including Field Marshall Lord. A couple of minutes with Google suggests to me that there may only be one of these extant, and only a handful at most... and that there is one person with Field Marshal the Rt Hon Lord in front of his name. Unfortunately he is unable to look forward to a delivery of underpants with his full title on the label.

He is also unable to shop with full dignity at Fortnum & Mason (the green one below) or Harrods (the yellow one). Sure enough, they are expecting the posh set, but I fear they are only scratching the surface. I remember a car insurance website years ago that included 'Chief', 'Mother Superior' and 'His Holiness' (I may have made up that last one, but only just).

I've been trying to work out the organising principle of the Harrods list - is it alphabetical, or based on protocol? I think it may be 'cast in order of appearance' which explains why the Wing Commander has somehow got between the Lord and his Lady.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

school shcool

The Times recently spotted spelling mistakes in the blog published by Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, and their website features a set of 'top twenty spelling mistakes on signs around the world'. Some are the usual homophone traps ('boarder', instead of 'border') from organisations who should know better, but most are just typos or spelling mistakes on hand written notices. The criticism seems a little picky, but I did like this one. I suspect it might be one of those phonetic spelling errors I've mentioned before. I think this one was written by that Dutch guy from the Grolsch ads. Or perhaps it is a nifty slogan from Jim Knight's department, trying to show that school can be cool.