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Illustrations to Sell the Idea of a Device Versus to Explain its Operation

This morning I attended a meeting in the context of the development of explanatory material aiming the general public about an elaborate interpersonal information system that intensively handle personally identifiable information about individuals.

The designers first concluded that before explaining the operation of the system, it was first necessary to defend its existence and relevance. Clearly, from what has been presented, such a goal does not call the same use of image than an explanation of its wireless tower

The explanation of how a system works requires the use of illustrations relating to information and their handling that stick strictly to the processes’ reality (as PIP can do). By contrast, explanation of the purpose of the system can proceed by evocation of a need to address or through practical scenarios. In other words, modes of illustration are then closer to those allegories and metaphors commonly used by consumer advertising and business communication.However, the visual elements (for instance, those designating individuals or legal persons, sets of information, communications, equipment, etc.) may very well be the same to ensure familiar redundancy between the general explanation of the system and the detailed description of a specific process. Indeed, the iconography presented this morning for an introductory web site already resorted to such elements that could be later reused. Not only could, but should be!

Now, that is where one risk appeared to me. In this case, the leaders and designers of the communications about the general purpose may not be the same as for communications about specific operations. We could then not only end up with a different iconography, but also different rules of composition and of syntax, and even incompatible metaphors.

For example, I noted that an animation has been produced for the introductory site used irradiating concentric circles to illustrate the communication between service points. That is, however, the same type of illustration is conventionally used to illustrate broadcasting. That may raise doubts about the strict confidentiality of personal information that is essential to this system. Designers working on the operational level might therefore prefer to illustrate communications as transfer on “hard” lines from point to point (although in practice it is certain that a large proportion of intramural and inter-urban communications will be carried by encrypted radio waves). The heterogeneity of illustrations would and cause needless questions.

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