I'm looking for examples of information displays that convey instructions at the point of need/use.
I have examples of the Xerox 1090 which puts instructions right where somebody would need it—you don't have to find it in a manual and then look back and forth between the object and the book.
Recently I was told of a plumbing shop that was prefabricating plumbing trees for new home construction that put the information on the floor of the shop at full size to guide the fabrication—the blueprint was on the floor at full scale.
The reason I'm interested is that construction drawing often take a long time read and are frequently misread and if a mistake is made all the subsequent drawing that assume a correct installation are all wrong as well.
In my one-day course, I show 3 rare books: a 1570 Euclid, a 1613 Galileo, and a 1704 Newton. Then my assistant carries each book, open to the title page, around the room so people can get a close look. We had a problem with people wanting to touch the pages of the wonderful books; and a few people would sulk if told they could not touch the pages. So now my assistant pointedly wears white cloth gloves while showing the books to signal that they should not be touched.
That is, unobtrusive instructions at point of use.
-- Edward Tufte
Back in the early 80s, at a jump school outside Austin, we taught new staff to
pack the parachutes used for student jumping by using a series of step-
numbered, captioned photographs placed under acetate on the 40-foot long
packing tables. Most photos were printed 1:1 for easy comparison, and we
placed them where each step was done. This helped the packer remember
the packing sequence and presented a visible standard for each completed
The big advantage was the time savings of the licensed rigger who
supervised the unlicensed packers. Usually a couple of supervised pack jobs,
along with instructions on how to use the pictures, was enough. During the
time we used this system, opening reliability was 100%.
Of course, the task is much less complex than some described above; it
serves mainly as a simple example of the utility of point-of-need instructions.
An aside: I got the idea from a brief description by Peter Drucker of how
women with no metal-working skills were trained and organized to become
high-quality builders of an enormous number of aircraft engines during WWII.
These are excellent practical examples, which counter the unattractive seatbelt/airbag warnings on visor sunscreens in otherwise elegant car interiors, as noted last week when a friend let me test drive his Porsche Carrera 4. It must have been those distracting warning stickers that prevented me from reliably finding the gears (the little R-1-2-3-4-5-6 instructional arrangement on the shift knob didn't help that much, at least in my impatient search for greater G-forces). Oddly enough, the gear labels on my slow-motion pick-up truck are quite effective.
There are surely other point-of-need examples that Kindly Contributors can add to the good examples already reported in the fine contributions above.
-- Edward Tufte
Contributor Jeff asks why a human is required to press the button on the defribrillator if it's making all the decisions. The reason is that these units deliver a large amount of energy into the patient. You do not want to be touching them when it discharges and the machine can't determine if anyone is touching. According to the datasheet for this unit it delivers 150 Joules on each discharge, this is equivalent to a baseball travelling at 100mph.
By the time an object, or an apartment, or a company hits the half-century mark, it's usually been through a redesign or two. Yet the standard-issue amber-cast pharmacy pill bottle has remained virtually unchanged since it was pressed into service after the second World War. (A child-safety cap was added in the seventies.) An overhaul is finally coming, courtesy of Deborah Adler, a 29-year-old graphic designer whose ClearRx prescription-packaging system debuts at Target pharmacies May 1.
Adler grew up in a family of doctors in Chappaqua, New York, but escaped medicine for an M.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts. She was inspired to return, at least tangentially, after her grandmother Helen accidentally swallowed pills meant for her husband, Herman. The drugstore prescription bottle, it occurred to Adler, is not just unattractive, it's actually dangerous. Statistics back her up: According to a recent poll conducted for Target, 60 percent of prescription-drug users have taken medication incorrectly.
For her SVA thesis project, called Safe Rx, Adler revamped the familiar canister, then approached the FDA—but one of Target's creative directors saw her work last summer, snapped up the patent, and rolled it out in record time. It's already approaching design-classic status: ClearRx will be included in a MoMA exhibit this October. Your medicine cabinet is next. Here's how Adler got from A to B.
Many years ago I was asked to help out Eli Lilly with some
presentations of drug information. It was hard to make progress
because of the collision between regulators and business, as
the worst of both combined in putting together the warning
document about drugs, resulting in among other things the
microscopic type of those documents. But I did stay in a terrific
little hotel in Indianapolis.
I was also impressed with the spectacular resources of big
pharma compared to the FDA. I had written a report on the
statistical analysis of New Drug Applications at the FDA a few
years before—an example of a "statistical audit" for the
President's Commission on Federal Statistics—and so could
compare the slender resources of the FDA with Lilly and a few
other drug companies.
-- Edward Tufte
Instructions on rigging straps
Here's a label on a rigging strap that indicates the great variability
in load capacities depending on the rigging methods.
-- Edward Tufte
Bookmark shows detailed location in text
In this 11th century French biblical manuscript, a leather ribbon operates as a traditional bookmark to indicate the desired pages. But also a vellum tie slides up and down the ribbon; the tie holds a revolving bookmark. To provide instructional information at the point of need, the circle rotates in its tie to show either "Lege ad Dexteram" or "Deinde Lege ad Sinistram." These words presumably point the reader to the right or left page.
That's pretty good depth of search: book, double-page spread, single page, line on that page. Readers probably did not dog-ear pages in biblical manuscripts all that much, at least in those that have survived for 1000 years.
Source: Sotheby's catalogue, Western Manuscripts and Miniatures, London, 5 July 2005, pp. 58-59.
-- Edward Tufte
Even better is this design (roman and arabic numerals both provided). Here is the Sotheby's catalog entry:
-- Edward Tufte
Egg cream glass, built-in instructions
-- Edward Tufte
One-time instructions at a point of use, a design review and instructions for mobile-sculpture engineering of a new piece in the endless Bird series.
-- Edward Tufte
Address of car in parking garage
During a recent trip to Charles de Gaulle Airport I noticed that every parking space is labelled with the floor, the row of the parking garage and the space number.
The width of the information also defines the parking space.
What is also intriguing is that I saw several people using their camera-phones taking pictures of the label. This begs the question from a few months ago concerning the number of discreet items that can be remembered in a list.
I was quite happy to have all this information compiled in a single place for a mental snapshot.
I had been looking for the appropriate thread to post this picture, the design that has been occupying my mind lately. This is the control panel for a cherry picker/crane. (Given the diagram, I probably didn't have to spell that out).
I find it to be an effective (and subtle) use of color coding (and color choice) as well as directional arrows.
What about those numbered-footprint dance instructions? Some searching on the web led me to this obituary of Arthur Murray, who I think is the inventor of the modern incarnation of that method. I recall that the footprints were reproduced in life size on the dance floor, and that they were numbered to indicate the sequence of the steps. Maybe another Contributor could find an example to display.
A few months ago I found a nice example in an advertisement for an instrument called a PID controller which is used for feedback loops and control circuits. A front panel photo is on the manufacturer's web site at http://www.thinksrs.com/assets/instr/SIM/SIM960_FPlg.jpg; the main product link is at http://www.thinksrs.com/products/SIM960.htm. What I like is that the equation governing its operation is plainly written on the front panel. Symbols in the equation are used as labels for indicators. Inputs and outputs are clearly labeled. I don't own one since I don't really have a need, but I get the distinct feeling I could operate it successfully without the manual. Thanks to E.T. for suggesting I post to this thread.
Japanese Onigiri (nori wrapped rice balls) have a very smartly designed plasic package that keeps it fresh while keeping the nori sheet dry. The packaging has simple numbered tabs that you pull on to uncover the tasty treat.
After unwrapping, the nori nicely wraps around the rice and is ready to eat.
If you walked into the operating room of a plastic surgeon repairing the nose of, say, a trauma victim, you might see a retractor like this. The weight is sculpted in such a way that it explains its own function, but that is secondary to its real purpose: it is sculpted to proper proportions so the surgeon can grab the weight and hold it next to the patient's face to assess correctness of the repair, answering the important analytical question "Compared to what?" before putting the skin back over the cartilage. It might seem gory, but it is a superb example of information at the point of need.
I recently attended Dr. Tufte's class in Austin. After contemplating the class, I am intrigued by the idea of using the Grand Principles for Package Graphics design (in my case consumer packaged goods). As in a graphic, package graphics contain words (brand name, product descriptor, claims), images (picture of the product) and numbers (weight, price, etc).
There are at least 2 moments of truth for packaging - in the store in which a consumer is barraged with a multitude of choices and at the point of use at which they theoretically can review the packaging graphics at their leisure. At both moments, the purpose of the packaging is different. In the store, the purpose of the package graphics is to "sell" the product, at use, it can be to "re-sell" and/or to inform/educate.
How would the "grand principles" apply to packaging graphics? Would they change and if so, how?
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the "need" in question is to obtain a lucrative
no-bid defense contract. Fortunately for his clients, er, constituents, er, unindicted co-
conspirators, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham provided a crude but helpful table
explaining how to proceed. The table is reprinted in a Government
Sentencing Memorandum. It is notable for combining features from two of my
favorite data graphics featured Dr. Tufte's books. One of these is a chart used by John
Gotti's defense team (a particularly colorful entry is "pistol whipping a priest"). A second is
an old train schedule, bearing the names of those responsible (the present document is on
Rep. Duke's letterhead).
Duke was sentenced to eight years and change today.
The government's sentencing memorandum makes excellent use of visual evidence, including these images (all beautifully integrated into the text): the menu of bribes, copies of bribe checks, handwritten notes fabricating evidence, and color photographs of bribe payments (Persian rugs, real estate, a yacht, and 2 lead glass armoires).
Viewers should click through the pages to see the excellent presentation, which almost looks
like a Sotheby's or Christie's auction catalog. I couldn't have done the sentencing memo any
This is a wonderful find [which eventually appeared in my Beautiful Evidence] by Kindly Contributor Alexey Merz.
One of my colleagues is also a fire-fighter and saw this at the station. Fire respirators need to have a good seal around the face, and facial hair may break the seal. So Steven Segal, Clint Eastwood, and Arsenio Hall (well one black firefighter is better than none) have acceptable facial hair. Willy Nelson, Abraham Lincoln, Vladimir Lenin, the mystery Scot(?), Billy Dee Williams, and Geraldo Rivera--names provided by my informants--do take to fire respirators poorly
-- Edward Tufte
Instructions at the point of bird need
Birds sometimes crash into big glass windows that reflect the sky behind the flying bird. We've put Post-Its on the windows, and then Post-Its with images instructing the birds to turn away from the windows.Then my little bird-deflecting drawings were memorialized by baking them into clay tiles:
-- Edward Tufte
I stumbled upon Five Silver Dollars. The page is about the currency modification attempts of 1896 and is an interesting read. One note caught my attention. The author mentions issues with this ten dollar note.
However popular the 1896 artwork may have been to the public, it proved to be unpopular with bankers. "All judges of good designs and workmanship have admitted the superiority of the new notes to anything ever before produced by the Government," the Times reported on August 15, 1897. However, it continues, "Bankers have generally denounced them as the most unsatisfactory notes ever issued... the denominations of the notes were not distinctly marked. Paying tellers depend upon the figure in the upper left-hand corner, to guide the eye in counting bills rapidly handled." (Certainly this was a legitimate complaint in the case of the $10 note, where the numerals are a considerable distance from the corners.) Also, because of the high amount of fine inkwork used in the backgrounds, "complaint was heard that the new notes became smudgy and suspicious-looking with a little use".
These three tapes are designed to reduce reference, mapping, and calculation. On top is a "code tape" that lists key dimensions from the Americans with Disabilities Act. The next tape has a standard sixteenth of an inch scale on the top edge and an unmarked bottom edge for penciling project dimensions, much like a carpenter's story pole. The two views of the last tape show a standard thirty-second of an inch scale on its front and a direct reading diameter scale its back, where each marked inch is pi inches long. The dowel's diameter is just over 61/64".
The Director's Template is a film pre-production tool that has its packaging indicating
exactly how it will be used. Since the template is clear plastic, the instructions can be read
through it. The numbers of the features are also lined up to the numbered descriptions
The Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California provides
elementary Exploratorium-style educational displays of fish and their habits. One
exhibit reveals seahorse reproduction methodologies, sometimes with live action. A flap
the front of the aquarium, however, blocks any direct view. Written on the flap are
instructions for viewing (lift the flap) and a warning that those offended by seahorse sex
wish to take skip on this aquarium peepshow. Like movie ratings, these instructions at
of need probably have unintended consequences (such as acting as a magnetic attractor to
I first saw this flapdoodle a couple of years ago but missed it on a recent visit--perhaps it
did not survive ridicule or else I didn't happen to see it.
Can a Kindly Contributor
a picture of the flap, closed and open?
-- Edward Tufte
Found today during company first aid training:
Below is a photocopy of a face shield used for CPR (Apologies, I didn't have a digital camera, only a scanner). It is printed on transparent plastic, and the outline is laid over the casualty's face to protect the first aider from infection. The faint circle visible over the mouth area is a permeable filter to allow air in and keep germs out. At the bottom the instructions on how to use are printed. Simple and effective.
A few months ago in this thread ET showed some tiles made to warn the birds not to crash
into windows. I was reminded of an incident when he was a youngster at our house in
Phoenix. I have written about it in a memoir. At the time, I did what I could to make the
window more visible.
Virginia James Tufte, from Pieces: Embroidered by Memory
The Drunken Robins
It was a beautiful clear afternoon in Phoenix--spring or fall, I don't remember which--and
from a window I saw several dozen robins staggering around on the front lawn as if drunk.
Others were flying jaggedly, just inches or a foot off the ground, then giving up and
collapsing on the grass.
Actually they WERE drunk. A big pyracantha shrub across the front of our house, partly
shading the west window of our son's bedroom, had been heavily loaded with red berries
that had fermented and attracted the swarm of robins who had gorged on them and had
quickly become intoxicated.
A funny sight but I soon became concerned. As I watched through a window in the family
room, a few of the birds gradually sobered up and began awkward but determined efforts
to fly. Three crashed their heads into the glass of the bedroom window and fell dead. I
lowered the blind to make the window more visible. After a time, the rest of the birds, still
groggy, fluttered uncertainly away from the house and gradually moved upward, some
stopping to rest in a tree across the street before taking off again. I kept Edward's cat
inside the house and phoned a couple of neighbors asking them to keep their cats in.
I have since read that there are several kinds of plants besides pyracantha--among them,
holly and Brazilian peppers--whose berries under certain weather conditions will ferment
and attract robins, waxwings, starlings and other birds, enticing them to over-indulge,
become inebriated, and fly so dangerously that some perish. In New Zealand, a much
larger bird, the beautiful native wood pigeon--the kereru--eats guava berries, and a large
flock of kererus have been known to die by falling out of trees or slamming into buildings.
In Sweden not long ago a big-horned elk became drunk on fermented apples that were
lying on the ground, wildly headed after some children, and had to be killed.
Why did the birds and the elk eat the fermented fruit? Probably not because of any craving
for alcohol but simply because they were hungry. The attractive fruits were there in plenty,
just happened to be fermented and, once tasted, stimulated the appetite.
What at first seemed hilarious--those reeling robins--brought some somber reflection.
"Drunkenness is temporary suicide," Bertrand Russell wrote. For some of those birds, it
-- Virginia Tufte
From Joe Soroko, regarding the new IAEA radiation symbol:
The range of chocolate eggs sold by Kinder have excellent text free instructions at the point of use (i.e. after you have eaten the chocolate egg and opened the plastic container the pieces of the toy fall out along with the instruction slip). The range is now quite collectable and although I like the ingenuity of the toys themselves I think the instructions are actually better. More here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinder_Suprise)
I also think the IKEA instructions are pretty good. I have been building IKEA flat pack furniture for nearly 20 years and have marvelled at how the text free diagrams are consistently accurate. If you look closely at each step there are subtle deliberate hints that allow you to ensure that each physical piece goes the right way. In fact the best way to follow them is to place the physical objects in the same orientation and position as indicated in the diagram and then follow the instructions. I imagine there is a special IKEA department in Goteborg, Sweden [which no doubt has a Vice President of Diagraming] who design these sheets. It would be interesting to analyse the methods used in this type of instruction manual, all of which are designed to be used at the point of need.
Talking of Push/Pull on doors, one of our offices has glass doors with "Push" on one side and "Pull" on the other, displaced so that the text does not clash.
They haven't reckoned with people like me who read mirror-reversed text easily and unconsciously enough that they approach the door and are confused by instructions that apparently say "Pull" *and* "Push".
Certain perfectly ergonomic designs require no instructions at all. The Ipod is a simple
example of that, with only a simple control pad with no moving parts. Another example is the
old mac keyboards that had an extended dot on the D and K keys so your longest finger (the
middle one) could rest on them. Now they have gone to the traditional method of having the
dots on the F and J keys like traditional keyboards. I now have to struggle to find the keys if I
am not looking.
There are many more examples of these ergonomic items such as airplane controls shaped
like the objects they are controlling.
ET readers may be interested in a whole sub-culture that exists on the web dedicated to using Meccano model kits to make extremely elaborate mechanical models (see Wikipedia entry on Meccano http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meccano). The sub-culture is of interest because they require the model builders to describe in pictorial and text explanations how to build the models from the standardised set of metal strips, axles, gears etc. They even have a standard set of isometric views available here (http://www.btinternet.com/~foxgrove/isomec/isomec.htm). I am sure that ET or one of the Ask ET readers could take one of these sets of drawings and use them to illustrate a first rate design for "Instructions at point of Need". British readers older than 40 will remember having their own Meccano sets as children.
As with most hearings involving the F.D.A., members of Congress today sometimes
seemed bewildered by some of the technical answers given by witnesses, and several
lawmakers stumbled badly over medical terms at the heart of the debate.
The F.D.A. officials themselves appeared confused when Representative Stephen Lynch,
Democrat of Massachusetts, asked the three F.D.A. witnesses to look at Avandia's drug
label and find its warning about heart attacks.
"Have you found it yet?" Mr. Lynch kept asking.
Dr. von Eschenbach deferred to Dr. John Jenkins, head of the F.D.A.'s office of new drugs.
Dr. Jenkins eventually made reference to a small table in the labeling information.
"That's it?" Mr. Lynch asked. "You're not seriously telling me that that's it."
Dr. von Eschenbach said that the F.D.A. was in the process of improving the readability of
all drug labels.
-- Edward Tufte
Alphabet crib sheet?
Here is an interesting little t-shirt for kids who do not know the alphabet:
Climbing carabiners almost always have the rating (in kilo-newtons [kn] showing the strength rating:
<--> along the axis of the carabiner,
v along the width of the carabiner,
and strength with the gate open
This is an essential reminder when you are using the carabiner for a specific purpose.
Picture of locking carabiner
The NY Times is reporting that New York City is experimenting with sidewalk decals to orient people emerging from the subway. The compass rose decals name the street at the exit and point to the next street in each direction.
I recently spent a few weeks in Ireland and noticed an interesting point-of-need instruction. In general I found the street and traffic signage to be between poor and nonexistant, but noticed that on virtually all of the streets in Dublin, painted on the street in the crosswalks is a reminder to "Look Right" with a directional arrow. For those of us visiting from right-hand-side driving countries, this reminder was very useful for the first few days while decades of left-looking pedestrian behavior slowly became unstuck.
I was also recently in Ireland, but a different kind of signage caught my eye. On some rural roads, there are signs that say "Traffic fatalities on this road last year: 42." In America, all we get is "left curve, 30MPH." While it's important to know the speed that the road was designed for, I am struck by the directness of indicating exactly how dangerous the road is. That's the information that I actually care about, even if I know the road and will go around the turn at 45.
Here's an interesting use of nearly indestructible old tires (which pose chronic disposal problems) for instructions at point of need. I photographed these signs in early December near Madrid, New Mexico.
Here's the easel tire:
-- Edward Tufte
In the "PostED PRIVATE" photo on the top, on the right, beyond the barbed wire, directly behind the vertical connecting wire, there is a cactus or some other kind of plant that looks like a balloon-animal. Obviously, barbed wire is a great deterrent to balloon-animals escaping. I just never knew that people ranched them. Go figure.
Here's a highlighter, so complicated to use that the manufacturers have had to indicate where the lid is. An example of instruction at point of need, without thought given as to why the instruction should be necessary at all.
Gratuitous instructions? Simple courtesy? A subtle parody?
Perhaps the arrow+open at the pen end should instead be regarded as a simple courtesy, a helpful gesture that will assist some users of the pen.
Arrow+open doesn't replace something else more important, so there's no particular need to economize on instructions.
The annotation of the pen is appropriate and even thoughtful--and it avoids a busybody or legalistic tone. In short, some benefits and few costs.
Now suppose it was perfectly obvious which end of the pen was the working end. Then the arrow+open would seem a bit stupid. Or, better, it would be a subtle parody of busybody instructions that are trying too hard.
In this vein, our prankish note at the top of our complete list of topics, "*** = 3-star threads" is a deliberate parody of insecure and over-explanatory interfaces, a prank that has for years induced the overly earnest, the humor-impaired, and the malicious into denouncing the definition of 3 stars.
-- Edward Tufte
Instructions at the point of need in San Francisco
Neon signs escape their usual flatland with these neon pointer lines. These instructions are exactly at the point of need, and point in the very direction needed, in contrast to flatland arrows which often point up in the air and down on the ground if read literally.
Source: ET photographs at the Palace Parking Garage on Stevenson Street (near Yank Sing deem sum) in San Francisco, January 2008:
Nearby, other neon instructions at perhaps a point of need, along with a reference to the tire-signs in New Mexico we saw earlier:
Dave Nash's link the NYT article
about compass roses in New York is great. I always wondered why nobody did that.
But the design is awful. It should be a big arrow pointing north, visible even if the person next to you is walking over
it, and recognisably a sign not an advert. You already know you got off the train at Nth street, the question is how
badly you lost your sense of direction on the stairs. (The problem is much worse in London, with deep tubes, than with
NYC's avenue-lines. But their logo would be more easy adapted for this!)
In reply to the comments about rock climbing above: I'm not sure those are examples of good instructions.
The Metolius coloured cam indicators are good in the showroom. In the wild they are seldom visible while you're
placing the device, and besides, there's a lot more feeling involved in placing gear that works than simply measuring
the crack. Natural cracks are lumpy three-dimensional things, and using these lumps is very important.
The labelling of carabiners with their strength is a good idea, as it lets you confirm that they aren't the kind meant only
for holding water bottles. But all climbing carabiners have pretty much the same figures, there are no situations in
which the choice of which carabiner to use is based on these. (Perhaps rescue people do, but that's a whole different
I've been struggling to find some better examples in climbing gear. There are some cute engraved figures on belay
devices http://en.petzl.com/petzl/SportProduits?Produit=204 ... On the whole the emphasis is on avoiding mistakes
that are easy to make when you're tired, rather than giving instructions from scratch. Perhaps that is as it should be,
instructions on a photocopier will let you get further before you give up and have to ask for help, whereas climbing
you really shouldn't be trying anything which (gear-wise) you're not 100% sure you already know how to do.
New Scientist reports on a, "new temperature-sensitive varnish developed by researchers at French company Eurovia can be applied to road surfaces to warn drivers about dangerous conditions. The technique - still at the testing stage - might help prevent ice-related traffic accidents in future, the researchers say.
The varnish is made of a polymer containing a thermochromic pigment. The same type of coating is already used to make bath thermometers and frozen food packaging that responds to temperature change. However, it is the first time such a coating has been used to monitor road temperatures.
I snapped this photo with my phone, so I apologize for the poor quality. This is the side of the space shuttle Enterprise, which is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.
Most important is the square delimited by corner markers, with the sign "CUT HERE FOR EMERGENCY RESCUE". Presumably, it indicates an area where it is possible to cut the hull without running into blockage or important stuff on the inside.
Apparently, this is to be used if the other (non-emergency?!) rescue option fails, which is indicated by the arrow labeled "RESCUE". This arrow points to a button with "PUSH" above and "HERE" below it. The sign below the arrow reads (in all-caps):
Push button to open door
Squeeze and pull "T" handle to jettison ejection panels
The sign to the right of the arrow reads:
Warning -- this aircraft contains a cartridge-actuated emergency escape system with explosive charges. See T.0.0-105E-9 or V000009 for complete instructions
I would guess that rescue workers either would already be familiar with T.0.0-105E-9 or V000009, or would simply resort to the "CUT HERE" option.
Mac Funamizu has a very convincing idea of a
gadget that enables you to get any information at the point of need. You just point at the object of your interest - may
it be a
street, a corridor, a flower or anything else - and you get the desired information. But read yourself: Example 1, Example 2 and Example 3.
Although it has the flaw of being a gadget you need to carry around, it has the great benefit of being able to
communicate information about things that cannot
communicate for themselves (like stars or a flower that may be poisonous) or that require different information
depending on your point of view (e.g. a look at a building
and your way towards it).
Another example of instruction at the point of need. For those of you without small children I need to explain that baby "pre-shoes" have very little difference between the shape of the right and left shoes. This means that you can easily put them on the wrong feet or at least spend a minute or two figuring out which shoe belongs to each foot. These shoes have a cute diagram of the correct foot on the bottom, both decorative and functional.
Indeed, the left shoe is on the left in the picture, bottom up. The right shoe has a picture of the sole of a right foot on it. I photographed it the correct way up to show that the overall shape of the shoe doesn't particularly look like a right shoe and hence the need for instructions!
Meaning of odd label inside wading boot? Cleaning instructions?
-- Edward Tufte
Instructions inside wading boot - meaning?
http://www.whatapair.com/UnderstandingShoeLabels.aspx tells me your boot has a man-made (the diamond) upper, a fabric (the weave) lining, and a man-made (another diamond) outer sole. Leather materials are a cow hide shaped symbol, and coated leather uses the diamond on top of the cowhide.
The National Mining Museum in Leadville, CO -- housed in a converted former school building -- one is given
"instructions at the pointS of need": a map of the five floors of exhibits in the Museum on a neck lanyard -- which
one puts on; it is a route map, handy if one gets confused about their location, showing a purchased entry, and
when turned in at the office/giftshop/exit shows they are leaving the building -- like the numbered brass used since
Roman times to keep track on miners on their shif t-- and cutting the cost of giving every visitor their own map --
likely to be soon discarded.
This industry funded "national" museum was very interesting with a wide variety of exhibits, including two
reproduction "mines" through which the visitor can walk, dioramas of the development of a mine from discovery of
placer gold to the excavation mining of the placer seam, and biographies of mining greats, e.g. Herbert Hoover,
Guggenheim, Allen, etc, gold discoveries and resources in the many states where it has been found, minerals,
mining tools/equipment, etc.
I am just in the process of preparing my book for Print on Demand (POD) production in India after quite some years of it being produced by traditional print methods. The book is aimed at biologists who want to use quantitative microscopy in their work (http://tinyurl.com/m47c2c).
We went to some lengths to make the mathematical and statistical methods understandable and to that end included a fair number of practical exercises that require the reader to make a measurement of a scale bar in the book and calculate linear magnifications (when writing we imagined they were on a desert island with their microscope and sets of slides). We provide worked examples of these exercises and have found in the past that if there are differences between what we say in words/numbers and the size of the scale bar in the physical book our readers get even more confused over one of the things they already struggle with.
We have found real difficulty explaining how important this is to our publishers (they now get it) and have had to do the same for the new printers. The fact is that what is printed out by different laser printers is not dimensionally controlled.
Having failed to explain terribly well with words I decided I needed an "Instruction at the Point of Need" I sent the printers the following image this morning.
This is a followup to Craig Pickering’s post of July 19, 2009.
I have been tying knots for many years. I started when my parents had a sailboat, and have spent many hours studying knots, splices and decorative ropework in Chapman Piloting & Seamanship. Sadly, (Scouting is an exception) knot-tying is a fading skill. At work, my mentor left behind W.E. Rossnagel’s Handbook of Rigging, Third Edition, 1964; which has a large portion devoted to rope and knots. Bizarrely, subsequent editions of this important handbook don’t even talk about knots!
Everyone should know a few knots: square (reef) knot, bowline, and clove hitch at a minimum, with a few variations. E.T. can attest to the importance of proper rigging to move his large landscape sculptures. For more information on knots, including wonderful animations of knot-tying, see www.animatedknots.com.
The middle example knot in the post above could actually be a thief ’s knot. A square knot has both free ends on the same side, but a thief ’s knot has the free ends on opposite sides, which causes the knot to slip. Cub Scout Pack 402 shows how to tie a thief ’s knot via this animation.
According to maritime lore, sailors would tie a thief ’s knot to secure things instead of a square knot. That way, they would know if someone had broken in. This idea has a couple of serious flaws. First, most sailors would already know how to tie a thief ’s knot anyway, and would simply retie one. Second, if the original sailor saw a square knot, he would know that someone had broken in—but so what?
The thief ’s knot and the granny knot are examples of a mis-tied square knot. Both are dangerous, because they can slip. Although the square knot can jam, and does appreciably reduce the strength of a rope, it works fine with ordinary rope material, but will not slip, except with extremely slippery materials, e.g. fishing line. For slippery materials, use a fisherman’s bend or surgeon’s knot.
For anyone out there who has ever tried to assemble or repair a radio controlled helicopter, you will certainly be impressed by this instruction manual. It contains nearly no words, only very very high quality diagrams, all full size! In my humble opinion, this document sets a high-water mark in the world of user manuals.
The Rugcutter Trading Company once published a note-taking template for
students of ballroom dance that I found more straightforward and practical than
footprint diagrams, and that doesn't tempt the reader to look at his or her
feet.?? It uses three "staves:"
S = slow, Q = quick ....or the beat number
R = right, L = left
B = back, F = forward, S = side (i.e., apart), T = together
One could add a fourth for additional indicators, such as pivots.?? Using this system the Foxtrot Progressive
Walk (ladies) would be notated:
Both the system illustrated above and footprint diagrams are best used as
review material.?? Neither is adequate
for self-teaching or practical for reference while actually dancing.?? In social situations, however, most
gentlemen have sense enough to stick with dance steps they know; what they
really need is simply a reminder of all the steps they know.
The solution: a line of ladies' gowns that incorporate hardware at the
shoulder (perhaps nestled discretely in a large silk flower) to which her
partner can fasten a tiny flipchart--sold separately--with tabbed pages (one per
dance) on which he has listed the names of all the steps he has learned.
* Foxtrot music has four beats per measure, while
most Foxtrot steps are three or six beats.??
I find it intriguing that (1) this doesn't seem to be a stumbling block
for students, and (2) I can be completely unmindful of it when I'm dancing.
[This topic seemed to be the best but not ideal fit for this idea]
Teachers have used a variety of objects such as M&M candies or pennies to help students understand the principles of graphing. Some have even used students themselves as the elements in a bar chart. At a recent "unconference", Allen Gunn from Aspiration (http://aspirationtech.org) took this approach to a new level. Allen had the 80 or so participants array themselves to create a living stripplot along a continuum from Agree to Disagree in response to a targeted question. He then briefly interviewed some of the datapoints (individuals participants) at various points along the continuum and the stripplot changed in response. This living stripplot seemed to be a powerful tool for gaining insights into the underlying issues and belief structures in addition to being an engaging tool for such a large group.
Here are samples of my signs for my show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art
Museum. The ambiguous lightning bolt plus the words have served well
to check efforts to climb the pieces.
The signposts are made from drops gathered up from my studio floor.
Drops are what is cut away from the original sheet in making the non-drop,
the desired sculptural element. When that element is interesting,
then its drop is also often interesting. After working with drops for a while,
I started to notice how often they appear in the works of other sculptors
(for example in Mark di Suvero's smaller pieces and in Louise Nevelson's work).
Excellent drops with rhythmic patterns are found in the scrap piles from
industrial cutting operations.
-- Edward Tufte
Some escalators in the Zurich Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) have
painted feet to indicate that one side should be kept clear for those
in a hurry. In the past the feet were painted on each step, but when I
first saw them they were seriously worn away. The new location on the
threshold should be more rugged and give people a chance to notice the
instructions before stepping on the escalator.
The pole on the left contains further instructions, including
lights that are apparently remotely re-configurable. The suggested
pedestrian flow direction is marked on the floor to the right.
"SUNDAY, JANUARY 03, 2010
A bright new LED display will soon replace the schedule board at New Haven's Union Train Station. The board to be
replaced clicks clicks clicks as its letters and numbers flip. Did you know that this kind of board has a name, or
It's called a flip board, split-flap display, or Solari board, after its Italian maker, Solari di Udine.
NPR reports that New Haven's LED display will have a simulated click click click.
As a frequent user of the New Haven train station, I have mixed views. The Solari board is a wonderful show,
especially the click click click, but the information is very limited and lacking in relevant detail. The email
(reproduced in the New Haven Independent
story) from Pamela Sucato, a Connecticut DOT official, makes a thoughtful and nearly convincing
the LED change, although I love the
retro look and sound of the old board. It is important that a new LED board be decently designed. The ADA
criteria will damage the design quality, however.
About a year ago, I investigated buying a Solari board for an artwork, in which the labels for trains would be
replaced with cryptic art slogans ("Art is art, and everything else is everything else" by Ad Reinhardt; "What you see is
what you get" by Frank Stella; and so on). Then the board would click click click sequentially and authoritatively
through such art thoughts. But a new board was enormously expensive and difficult to obtain.
Pamela Sucato suggests in her email that the New Haven Solari board might be donated to a museum. My use
would not preserve the
train schedule data, but would repurpose the board's display method into showing thoughts about art by famous
-- Edward Tufte
Swaddling instructions: stitched onto the blanket
Swaddling often pacifies 5-week-old Cecily. The instructions are right there, on the blanket.
Jon Meek: notice that this has failed utterly in the photo. The person with the carry-on is standing in the walk-up lane.
This reminds me of my pet hate in New York City. Any escalator or stairway in Europe would cause the users naturally
to stream to one side or another for standing/walking or going up/going down. In NY the speed or direction chosen is
randomly distributed across the width of the channel, resulting in hundreds of people pushing past each other each
second. Observe the exit from the 4-5-6 lines at Grand Central for a perfect example.
Here is an example from Boston, MA...
These are all around the city at storm drains that lead to the Charles.
Pardon the perspective - I flipped the photo in software (it is dangerous to
stand in the streets in Boston:-))
The perspective grid overlaid on the image produced by the back-up camera greatly improves the utility of the view. See video for the perspective grid in action.
-- Edward Tufte
On a recent project I noticed these graphics attached to reels of copper wire. They were placed around the circumference of the wire, where a forklift driver should see them if he attempted to pick up the reel incorrectly.
Here's how the Amazon Kindle comes out of the box:
What's cool is, this is not a sticker. The kindle has a steady state display, meaning it only uses energy to change the screen, not to keep a display up. So the image that's pre-loaded at the factory is a set of instructions for plugging it in and powering it up for the first time. Once you plug it in, the instructions go away.
Among the most widely distributed instructions at point of need are on pasta containers. The problem is that the instructions are all wrong.
First, as Mark Bittman has demonstrated, the pasta can be placed in unheated water in the pan. Our test kitchen confirmed this result. (Note that the recipes below suggest frequent stirring even after placing the pasta in boiling water.)
Second, no salt needed. Indeed no salt for health reasons. Some labels at least say the salt is optional. On the other hand, how much salt winds up in the cooked pasta vs. the water.
Third, massive amounts of water compared to the volume of the pasta are not necessary for successful pasta.
How much wasted heat, water, and unhealthly salt per year in the world?
-- Edward Tufte
Pasta cooking times will depend on several factors, but mainly the thickness of the pasta,
which is often compounded by the tendency for pieces to stick together. A great example is
Orecchiette1 which tends to stick to itself like a stack of plates, or
rouleaux, leaving the deep center of the stack often several millimeters from any water.
Cooking time for orecchiette can be up to 20 minutes. Linguini, being broad and flat, would
have a similar issue. Maccaroni is almost certain to not stick together, and it cooks
Other issues will be the starting water content, which may already by fairly high in
fresh pasta; a high ratio of soluble to insoluble starch, which would speed cooking time;
and I dare not speculate on the effects of various additives, like whole wheat or spinach.
1 I was introduced to Orecchiette by a Milanese man who
learned to love it while in hiding in the mountains during World War 2. They would cook it
in the red sauce, instilling as much flavor into the pasta as possible. Combined with its
chewiness (al dente does not suffice), they enjoyed it "the steak of pastas".
Another commonplace example of Point-of-Need instructions: Hand-dryers in restrooms. This is an example of a high-traffic, frequent use appliance, and a hygienic issue is also presented if the dryers are not used. I am sure everyone has encountered an example of "Hold hands under dryer - starts automatically," so I won't post an image, but may also note how many dryers are engineered with a technically unnecessary "nozzle" jutting out from the front, indicating to a potential user precisely where their hands need to go.
There are, however, some alternative designs out there: I recently ran across something called a "Dyson Airblade," which blows air horizontally across both sides of the user's hands simultaneously (image). Labeling aside, note how both the shape of the slot (one side is cut to fit around each hand/wrist) and the yellow lines emphasize correct operation.
On a recent flight in the US, the flight attendant would cup her hand to her ear after asking if you would like
anything. It was an extremely direct indicator that she was awaiting your response. Very effective. Well that or
her hearing was bad :)
Fascinating article here from the BBC on augmented reality, particularly towards the end with an example shown for changing a printer cartridge: just point your smartphone at the printer and you will see a demonstration on how to change the printer cartridge.
Please is excitedly emphasized by its (1) top position, (2) central-axis typography, (3) all caps, (4) exclamation point, (5) larger size that the other words. Why not just S'il vous plait, which would please the customers at this Chelsea (New York City) patisserie?
The desired consequence should come first, and a distinction between closing/opening and locking/unlocking should be made since the door knob and pin are different. So how about:
"To lock door, push the pin next to door knob. To unlock, pull the pin."
-- Edward Tufte
Nice use of chalk
Manhattan, New York, 2011. Sign on the pavement pointing to the point of need.
This is the pay-station at the exit of my hospital's parking structure.
I have seen befuddled drivers take upwards of fifteen minutes trying to figure this out and gain exit; and all the while other drivers, also wanting an exit, are accumulating behind them.
I once had to call hospital security to come over and help out.
I think the facility is run by a private concern. This has been going on now for nearly a year. There's not a single hint that anyone in control has the least intention of fixing this even a little bit.
I am relieved that it's only Step 2 that appears three times; and that reference to the Green Button is on a Blue sign.
Also note: the Parking Office mentioned in the little addendum at the top cannot be reached from the exit through which these drivers are attempting to leave. So, once they reach this point they have no way of getting to the mythical, Oz-like Parking Office.
I am just grateful that this is not at the entrance to the ER.
The Golden Gate Bridge district met with the local cycling community last year to prepare "point of need" signage during some construction work that would have cyclists and pedestrians mixed at all times on the east sidewalk. Normally cyclists use the west sidewalk during peak hours (commutes, weekends) so this kind of mixing isn't as much of an issue.
It's an interesting problem in that there aren't established rules of the road for a sidewalk like this - do bikes go right, go left, up the middle? So any signs need to educate as to the convention, not just remind people to follow it. Also, most of the pedestrians are tourists on their first and only walk on the bridge; many aren't from the US. They may drive on the wrong side of the road and instinctively walk that way too - though apparently, right/left walking conventions don't always match driving ones. As for the cyclists, we're a mix of responsible riders, intolerant jerks riding too fast, and tourists on rental bikes.
I think they came up with a good point-of-need solution:
Bikes in both directions stay at the barrier on the roadway side; pedestrians are at the railing so they can enjoy the view. The bike graphic has arrows to convey how traffic should flow. A few of us commented that arrows didn't seem right beside the pedestrian graphic so they left them off (bikes need to pass each other safely in a predictable way, not so walkers).
The sidewalk graphic was repeated several times at intervals. Small blue signs were hung on the posts at the railing with a simpler bike/ped graphic. Interestingly some people commented that they noticed those blue signs, but not the sidewalk graphic (and vice versa).
Overall people followed this as well as can be expected. The bike/ped collision rate was almost zero during the several-month period of construction. Whether that's a result of these instructions at the point of need, or the 3 mph reality of trying to bike through a dense crowd of tourists in "SF" fleece hoodies, we'll never know!
Unrelated: the bridge is a suicide magnet of sorts, with someone jumping every 2-3 weeks on average. Mid-span there are crisis-hotline phones and blue signs reading, "Crisis counseling. There is hope. Make the call. The consequences of jumping from this bridge are fatal and tragic." Not quite an instruction, but certainly a point of need?
DSLR interfaces (Canon, Nikon for example) desperately need user interface improvement
Has anyone noticed how as the DSLR cameras are getting increasingly powerful, the user interfaces are getting
to be exponentially complex? Looking at the controls on the Nikon D700/7000 or even the Canon 60D/7D/5D3
models the meanings of various buttons keep changing based on the context and often in very non-intuitive and
inconsistent ways. The button/controls locations are also so inconsistent across the model ranges. It's time for
some 'Apple-like' design approaches for DSLR user interface design.
[ET RESPONSE: I agree completely with your diagnosis of high-end DSLR interfaces. Also there is excessive redundancy and overlap in the all the various settings, a product of featuritis. The new Nikon D800 has the same issues as well. Both Canon and Nikon have standardized on the same mess of an interface, a mutant cross between DOS and Windows 3. Maybe someday they could standardize on a better interface, or even compete with one another in DSLR interface design. Or they could build an iPhone5 into the back of the DSLR camera to preview images, control the camera, and provide different feature sets for different users. Or perhaps the user could wirelessly connect their iPhone to the camera contol system, a somewhat clunky matter for shooting out in the field. Somewhere else on this board, several years ago, I proposed a new model for sorting through and sampling multivariate image space, a model that could be implemented by the suggested built-in iPhone5.]
Green, yellow, and red appear on the floor of subway stations in San Francisco, California.
(The stations are for BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.) Green indicates where to
stand. Yellow and red indicate where not to stand.
Green means good, that is, a good place to wait while people leave the train. Green means
stand aside instead of moving forward. In other words, green means stop.
The sign succeeds as a reminder, but only if you know the rule. I see an example of
misapplied colors and poor instructions. The meaning would be clearer without the green.
Another possible misuse of green appears on the street above station. A traffic lane is
painted green to tell drivers where not to go. The lane is for bicycles.
I place sticky Post-it notes on the back of my laptop's screen to remind me of the things that I need to do on my journey
home from work. They are discovered again when I close the lid at the end of the day, before sliding it in to my
Generally, I put reminders in places I will visit at a time when I should be reminded. But even better yet is to put a tool in
a reminding place so that it is ready for use and also serves as a reminding prompt. Eg: leaving a small screwdriver in
my morning coffee cup to so that I am reminded to tighten my glasses before I leave the house.
I make piles of foods that I'm planning to cook together / eat together in the fridge. Provided I remember one of them, I
will remember all of them.
I once used a hire car that had a light activated voice playback device glued inside the cover over fuelling cap. On
opening, it announced that the vehicle used diesel and not petrol.
...in interface design, while this is a superb technique, it does require some care to make sure that information doesn't
become hidden until it is needed. Sometimes people want to be able to plan ahead or anticipate what will be needed
Akin to the sign telling drivers along the Great Ocean Road (Victoria) to drive on the left of the road - and related
to the "keep to the right" if not walking on the escalator picture - in the same Australian state you keep to the left
if not walking. And further, the "up"'escalator is sited to the left of the "down" escalator when going up.
A moving escalator must surely be the ultimate instruction at the point of need.