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Monthly Dose of Design: Improve Your Discussion Guides with Visual Design

In this Monthly Dose of Design, learn how to apply design principles to discussion guides.

In last month’s Monthly Dose of Design, we identified design fundamentals for researchers.

However, at Northstar, we believe that design can influence the whole research process – not just the final output! Therefore, this month we will tell you how you can easily apply design principals to discussion guides to aid legibility and ease of reading. By doing so, your clients will better understand this vital research document when you send it to them and you will be able to better conduct conversations with your research participants.

Below are two examples of a discussion guide. One which uses design principals and one which doesn’t.

By using the design principals illustrated on the left, here is what you can hope to achieve with your discussion guides:

Firstly, it is vital to make sure your reader can clearly read the guide while understanding what’s important within it…

A Clear Reading Path

A clear reading path is the most important visual design consideration to make when designing a discussion guide. Losing your client within a sea of text will harm their understanding of what you intend to discuss and how you are going to meet their objectives. Equally, not being able to identify your next discussion point in a focus group or interview will harm the quality of engagement you have with your participants. Reading a discussion guide should be a journey aided with visual cues such as numbers, colours and shapes. These design assets can help you and your client read the guide more easily.

Hierarchy of Importance

It is essential to visually signpost important points within your guide’s content. This will ensure your client can easily see what your discussion points are, and you can make sure you emphasise these in your focus group or interview. You can do this by making important elements bigger and bolder than a less important element which might be smaller and fainter. Scale is often used to help communicate hierarchy by drawing attention towards and away from certain points. This signifies their importance within the guide – so make sure this is reflected in the font sizes you are using.

Secondly, the following design mechanisms can help enhance clarity of the reader path and content importance…

Avoid Long Lines of Text

The optimum words per line of text usually ranges around 13 and is best not to go beyond 18 words. Long lines of text can be fatiguing to read. Also, long lines of text increase the chance of getting lost whilst reading, and potentially you could end up re-reading the same line or accidentally skipping a line and losing the idea you’re discussing with participants.

Use Spacing Wisely

Provide enough inter-line spacing, or leading space (vertical space between the lines). This will make it easier for your reader’s eyes. Often to get the optimum line spacing you will need to go beyond the default line spacing your word processor or page layout program suggests. Remember, it will be you and your client reading the guide, not your PC!

Use Colours to Link Content

Just because the default colour of Microsoft Word is black and white, doesn’t mean that your guide should follow suit. Colours are a great way to link relevant content together such as questions to objectives or linking feedback to external references. Using colour to pair this information will make it clear to your client what questions are meeting which objectives and how you will use participant feedback within your discussion.

Highlight Important points

Highlighting key points, actions or questions makes them stand out and prevents you from missing them, and keeps less important notes in the background text.

What’s next…
Our next post will show you how to design research questionnaires so that layout, colour, sizing and interactivity can improve the survey experience for research participants.

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