Visualizing the Program: Graphically Communicating Design Research

Presented by: Kendra L. Ordia

The Information Age and the increased graphic fluency of the public has changed the way we communicate requiring design students to develop conscious methods and strategies for translating patterns, data, and research into tangible graphic forms building the dialogue between the graphic image and viewer. During the Programming phase, students are expected to become more knowledgeable about numerous aspects of a project by exploring, researching, and gaining insight to make informed and intelligent design decisions in the subsequent phases. All of the information for the project is gathered and analyzed during this phase as the student identifies the pragmatic, architectural, and poetic needs and demonstrates the depth of their consideration of the needs in a diagrammatic manner that illustrates a thoughtful approach and encourages creative use of the information. However, students consistently struggle to link their written, programmatic research to their conceptual design phases. By visualizing the research gained in programming, students are able to develop a graphic vocabulary to communicate knowledge quickly and efficiently utilizing the processing power of the human visual system while creating a bridge between written and graphic analysis (Laseau 1980, 6). The notion that a picture can replace a thousand words or that a graph can replace a table of numbers has long been accepted. Information graphics (or infographics) provide a format that “utilizes engaging visuals that not only appeal to an audience hungry for information, but also aid in the comprehension and retention of the material being presented” (Lankow, Ritchie, Crooks 2012, 12). This basic process of making research visual allows the viewer to more easily comprehend the meaning by identifying patterns, trends, and outliers of data. Qualitative graphic elements and quantitative information can be expressed graphically to reinforce or explain the project problem statement, goals, and objectives. One of the primary means for this recognition is that our brains are able to identify and process many of these visual cues simultaneously through a course of action called preattentive process preceding any cognitive attempts to focus on any specific area. This process also allows us to filter through a diversity of media keeping our brains engaged as we digest the material more efficiently further facilitating understanding. However, it is not simply enough to make the subject matter visual – it must also be visually interesting. Constantly keeping the objective in mind, the information can be communicated in an engaging manner by using illustrative metaphor, representative iconography, or relevant framework. Overall, the goal is to establish clarity from complexity and to extend the reach of our memory systems (Lankow, et al. 2012, 45). In addition to committing an image to memory, infographics provide the student the opportunity to succinctly explain the evidence for design and gain buy-in from reviewers more quickly as they understand what elements are important for informing the program and ultimately the design. Studies have shown the connections between the illustrative elements of graphics and the retention rates of the information displayed. Apart from attracting people to the information through the aesthetics of the infographic, the designer can also reduce the amount of time it takes the viewer to comprehend the message by using some simple graphic design tools: a story cannot be told with color and symbols only. The strongest visualizations are supported by written narratives to bring clarity to an infographic as images work to convey a concept for location, detail, or spatial structures. Infographics provide a visual format for design students to guide the viewer through a specific set of their programming data to leave the viewer with a detailed message about the interface between their research and design.


  • Lankow, Jason, Josh Ritchie, and Ross Crooks. Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2012.
  • Laseau, Paul. Graphic Thinking for Architects and Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980.
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