This evening I read Bill Horton's Illustrating Computer Documentation, the Art of Presenting Information Graphically, On Paper and Online. (1991)

What a practical book! Now out of print, you can buy an electronic copy for $20 from Bill's website. Such a deal.

Most animals are color-blind. Only human beings, a few other primates, day-active birds, reptiles, fish, mollusks, and bees see in color. Frogs, salamanders, dogs, cats, horses, and sheep are all color-blind. Color helps us deal with a complex, ever changing environment rapidly and surely.

Bill goes on to give lots of information about color, some of it, ah, eye-opening. What freaks me out is how little use of color one finds in books, cases, "white" papers, and so forth.

The next chapter, Enriching Graphics, describes such things as how to number graphics and captions. Captions! Authors will spend hours getting the words just right or diddling over a comma, but dash off captions as if they were a useless bother. I have news: People read subheads, then captions, and then, if they're still on board, the body copy.

Captions are some of the most important words an author can write.

Pictures are more powerful than text. When a page contains graphics, they are noticed first, studied longer, and returned to more often than text. Labels, annotations, and captions to graphics are read more often than body text or headings. Yet most page designs used in computer documentation and other technical documents treat graphics as secondary and even as an unwelcome violation of the pure design of the page.

Fortunately, ...enlightened writers and graphic designers now realize that their job is not to put words on paper or to make pretty pictures but to communicate. They are taking steps to put text and pictures together into effective pages."

So many reminders. Page design. Cultural nuances. Symbol libraries. On and on. Illustrating Computer Documentation is chock full of rules of thumb and practical advice.

Posted by Jay Cross at October 14, 2002 12:55 AM | TrackBack

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