How People Interact with Information Presentation

How People Interact with Information Presentation

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0152-9.ch010


This chapter considers how the presentation of information on a display affects the HII. The type and order of the presentation exerts a strong influence on how people perceive and interpret information. The white area in figure 1 shows the area of the HII model relevant to this chapter. The design team’s goal must be to ensure the presentation provides only relevant information, presents it in a salient manner, and in a way that corresponds to people’s expectations and needs. It must make information relationships salient. In many failed designs, these simple concepts fail to hold true.
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People's first assumptions about meaning are derived from the presentation, before they engage with the content—PeterMerholz

Figure 1.

How people approach information presentation

This chapter looks at:

  • Adapting to displayed information: Examines how people change how they view information based on how it gets presented.

  • Amount of information: Describes how the ability of people to integrate information depends on the amount they have to handle. Large amounts of information often result in information overload and dumping of information. While consistency of presentation is important, the consistency choices must first fit the information needs for a proper presentation.

  • Framing effects: How the information gets framed has a strong effect on the type of decision people reach. Framing takes one or more aspects of a situation and increases their relative salience, even when they don’t necessarily deserve that increase.

  • Presentation order: Information gets its relative priority based on the order in which it was viewed. The first information read is viewed as more important and effects how later information gets interpreted.

  • Integration of visual and verbal information: HII information almost always consists of a combination of textual and graphical information. Effective integration requires the two forms work together.



The idea of properly presenting information can be described with a cooking analogy. The raw data is like providing restaurant diners with the flour, eggs, shortening, baking powder, and milk and expecting them to mix and bake biscuits. People deserve to be served biscuits, not the ingredients to make biscuits. Even worse is not providing them with shortening because it tends to make a greasy mess (i.e., this data is hard to collect or display). But obviously without it, the biscuits are less than appetizing and may not even be biscuits.

Unfortunately, after long-term exposure to consistently poor presentations and content, many people either expect to make their own biscuits or simply go without because the end result is always so bad. People can easily tell when biscuits are uneatable, but with information, the poor quality is not as obvious. Missing information (not providing shortening), poor quality information, or providing easy-to-obtain information (we have lots of baking powder, so let’s use lots of that) all compromise the HII. People expect biscuits to be served a nice golden brown and flaky. Burned or undercooked gooey biscuits cause them to turn away. Likewise, the information needs to be properly presented, but creating golden-brown and flaky information is much harder than baking golden-brown and flaky biscuits.

In the end, the information presentation to a plant operator, a physician, a business executive, or a general reader strongly influences how they build the mental picture of a situation and, consequently, how they respond to or act upon the information. Thus, how people process information depends on the presentation; more than simply having information available (in a way that was the simplest format for the design team to achieve), the presentation must match the person’s current information needs. In the final analysis, the connections between the relationships within their mental model and the presentation of the information are all people have available for understanding a situation. Poor presentation, rather than poor content, is often the major communication issue for poor writers or designers because they believe too strongly that as long as the information exists their communication task is finished. Rather than taking responsibility for communicating information, the writer has pushed the interpretive burden onto the reader, a job which should never be so delegated (Mirel, 1998, 2003).

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