Designing for Attention Deficit Disorder

emax's picture

I need to do some research on designing for an audience with adult attention deficit disorder.

I understand that establishing a clear hierarchy and keeping things clean are essential starting points, but I'm hoping to find some articles, books, and good examples to help me really grasp all of the things I need to consider. Personal observations are also welcome.

I'll be going to a specialty design book store this weekend (SWIPE in Toronto). Every time I step in there I feel overwhelmed, so I'm hoping if I have some good suggestions I'll know where to start.

Thanks!

(Wasn't sure if this should be posted to General Discussions or Design...)

aluminum's picture

I have adult ADD. I don't think there is really anything specific to accommodate us design-wise other than don't write boring documents. ;o)

Alessandro Segalini's picture

I have a T-shirt from a paper factory in Canada that reads on the back in a grot "Boring Paper Sucks."

emax's picture

Haha, point taken aluminum — I'll advise the copy writer on that.

aluminum's picture

I suppose, in general, the more visual one can be when explaining concepts vs. being solely text-laden, the better.

ADD in children is still a relatively new condition, so you may have a tough time finding specifics on design especially for adult ADD.

There are several books about dealing with ADD in adults, though, so perhaps those might shed some light on issues that could then be brought over into the context of visual design.

blank's picture

Just keep the hierarchy clear and don’t do stuff that will annoy readers. For example, last night I was trying to read Wired at arm’s length, and whatever genius designed it had the bright idea of typesetting much of the magazine with tiny text, very light tiny text, and not much leading throughtout. I found this very irritating, got distracted by the wall of televisions in front of me and started watching CNN.

will powers's picture

For some years I designed a lot of books for a publisher catering to the recovery market: adults trying to re-build lives after succumbing to substance abuse. At the same time I was designing a lot of poetry and literature; I had much better understanding and expertise in those areas. So it took the publisher and me a few tries to get me on the right track, and design for people whose comprehension abilities were not the same as the literati.

Now ADD and recovering from substance abuse are not exactly the same things, but I think some of the same principles will apply.

It ended up that clear visual hierarchies was the most compelling bit of advice I got from the publisher, as has been noted above. The books were written with clear text hierarchies. I had to reinforce them visually. Organization was key here.

Many typographers hate to hear a client ask "Please make the type a bit bigger." It was indeed necessary for these books. Many of these readers had a tough time getting from the start of a line of type to the other, so we used shorter measures and larger type.

I ended up with files that had lots and lots of text style sheets, to accommodate both the text and visual hierarchies. Just marking up the ms so I could get through it when it came time to compose pages was a major chore.

Perhaps in addition to going to a specialty design store this weekend you may wish to visit a good book store that has a section devoted to these matters. Hazelden was the publisher for whom I was designing. I have not done anything for them for 10 years, but I'm sure they've published newer books for the same readers.

Good luck.

powers

aluminum's picture

"Now ADD and recovering from substance abuse are not exactly the same things"

Well...there's a pretty big gap there, I think. ;o)

That said, in general, it seems that everyone is in agreement that 'good information design' benefits everyone.

The core issue with my ADD is that I don't like to stick with one task for an hour at a time. I'd rather (and sometimes need to) jump between 2 or 3 tasks constantly over 3 hours rather than spend one solid hour on each. Someone mentioned WIRED, and though I don't know how it is today, around 5 years ago it was a very ADD-centric design. Most of the magazine was chopped up in to small bits. Sidebars, half-page columns. Lots of grids and info design. And, yea, a few large articles.

Again, I know I said it tongue in cheek, but 'don't make it boring' seems to ring true. When designing, try to break the content up into digestible chunks.

We ADD folks love short story compendiums more so than the epic novel. ;o)

As for type size, at least for me, that wouldn't matter too much. Readable is readable independent of ADD. (but that's just me)

Lantz's picture

Speaking as someone who was diagnosed with ADD as a teen, (I sometimes wonder if I was a case study for the definiton of the term) there are some specific things that come to mind, such as keeping column width relatively narrow, keeping the margins fairly large and clean, and opening the leading a bit.

One of the coping techniques taught to students is to cover the facing page of textbooks with a blank piece of paper and another piece of paper to guide your eye down the page. I think words per line is more important than actual font size, overall. Reading long lines of text is tedious for most, but can really cause frustrating problems for the attention deprived as they try to find the first word in the next line. After a reading the same line twice a few times, the minds of some can decide to think about other things, even while their eyes continue to scan down the page.

Also, special attention should be placed on the use of visual aides, where possible, like a well made graph or illustration or well chosen photograph to give the reader a break to absorb before continuing.

Of course, a lot of this depends on what type of project you are working on... I'm thinking here of textbooks.

However, do post back about any resources you find on the subject, it's never something I actively looked for, but I would definitely be interested to hear the conclusions of people who actually study this.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Don't write long paragraphs! ;-)

But seriously, and echoing Lantz, I was taught that a comfortable line length for text is 10 to 12 words, or 55 to 65 characters.

russellm's picture

ADD in all it's forms is so common place, at some point one has to ask; is it really a disorder at all, or just the way some people are. Maybe the real problem is bad disign and lack lustre, lazy, boring education systems.

-=®=-

billtroop's picture

I dunno, Alessandro - - has anyone actually proved that it is nurture, rather than adversity, that in fact nurtures creativity? What writer, what painter, what musician, what, even, type-designer, emerged from the Arcadian cocoon?

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Hello Bill, I don't live in what we have been called 'third world' so I don't quite have a physical answer to you, put it is often a misfortune to me to observe this civilized society longing for creativity.

charles ellertson's picture

ADD in all it’s forms is so common place,

I believe in this context the word you want is "commonplace"

at some point one has to ask; is it really a disorder at all, or just the way some people are.

I'm trying to figure this out. You mean it is only a disorder if there is an outside agent, like a virus or bacteria? So diabetes & auto-immune "problems" aren't "disorders," but "just the way people are"?

Maybe the real problem is bad disign and lack lustre, lazy, boring education systems.

Long ago, say before 1960, schools were viewed as places where one could go to get information (then called "knowledge") more quickly than if left to their own devices. In general, if you did poorly, it was because you didn't work hard enough. Always exceptions to this, of course.

40-some short years later, if you don't do well, it is somebody else's fault. The teachers. The educational system. The student is never to blame. In passing, I expect we'll soon pass laws providing parents that can't afford them access to helicopters -- in the interest of fairness, of course.

* * *

Vis-a-vis education, there is an interesting example in this thread.

. . . I was taught that a comfortable line length for text is 10 to 12 words, or 55 to 65 characters.

This may be true. It has been around a long time, since before the 1960s anyway. Almost a canonical proclamation. But consider: most of the studies that are that old need repeating; the statistical methods of the first half of the 20th century were generally not too good.

Secondly, does the 55 to 65 characters include word spaces? If the "55 to 65" does not include word spaces, we have an average word about 5.4 to 5.5 characters long. That would let in "their". A short word like "the" would let in a long one, such as "because". But if wordspaces are included in the count, you have to back off almost one letter for average word length -- "they" becomes an example of average length.

Prolix stuff, "their", "the" & "because," right?

Why do I ask? Because justification takes place only by varying word spaces. Ten words on a line have 9 wordspaces; 12 words 11 wordspaces. So let's suppose that the last word in a line is "strength" or "thought". Let's assume the space of an average letter is half an em (500 units). "Strength" & "thought" cannot be hyphenated. If they won't fit on the line, the wordspaces in the line must be varied to either bring them up or take them down. That's about 4 ems of space for "strength"; 3.5 ems for "thought" (OK, "t"'s aren't 500 units, but there is always women, with a "w" & "m").

Let's also suppose a word space is 250 units -- four-to-em.

Pursuing further: with 10 words per line (nine spaces), that extra 4 ems that won't fit means the word spaces must take on the extra .44 ems, and are now .69 ems. The word spaces on this line more than double. Or, you could try to bring the word up. No, it won't fit.

Granted, the numbers used here take on an almost-worst-case scenario -- the word almost fits or just barely doesn't fit. But it happens, and there are longer words than "strength" or "thought" or "women's".

What is the point? The point is that one design school dicta: "Keep the line length to 55 to 65 characters" has a consequence. It seems to conflict with another one: "Keep word spacing even."

You do the math. If you come out anywhere near my numbers, the complaint about education should be not that it is too boring, but that it is too incomplete.

Looping back, it may be true that a text prepared especially for people with ADD needs to be designed a certain way, I don't know. But that does not mean these design principles don't have compromises. And it certainly doesn't mean a designer should be "creative," their job here is to be effective -- To look at the audience, not their own boredom quotient.

aluminum's picture

"ADD in all it’s forms is so common place, at some point one has to ask; is it really a disorder at all"

A lot of disorders are disorders only in the context of this particular modern life. IMHO, ADD is more about the brain being different. You either accommodate the different brain, or you accommodate the workplace by altering the brain. Both are valid, just different solutions.

That said, the arts tend to have a high ratio of ADD folks. I'm sure it's no accident. ;o)

As for it being an issue in the schools, it's definitely an issue, but I think it's partly an issue of the rather formulaic and structured school system we have in a large part of the US. The schools have to genericize the curriculum to (attempt to) accommodate everyone rather than having the ability/opportunity/resources to tailor it to each child's strengths.

In context that we can understand, it's like being told to create design solutions for a french restaurant, a fortune 500 bank, and a punk band with just Helvetica and canary colored copy paper. ;o)

(which actually sounds like a fun challenge, now that I think about it...)

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Some time ago a student pass me this link to "South Park, ADD Treatment" :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPZ_5qMr-ds

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Why do I ask? Because justification takes place only by varying word spaces.

What is the point? The point is that one design school dicta: “Keep the line length to 55 to 65 characters” has a consequence. It seems to conflict with another one: “Keep word spacing even.”

charles_e, you raise some good points about my rather brief comment. (And yes, it is almost a canonical proclamation.) My own choice would be to set the text ragged right, to render all of the word spaces equal in width. And of course that would lead to a discussion of the rag itself, and of whether or not to use word breaks... :-)

I was only trying to provide the most basic guideline... One can learn so much from trial and error, though -- from trying different things and seeing the results with one's own eyes.

charles ellertson's picture

Ricardo,

One can learn so much from trial and error, though — from trying different things and seeing the results with one’s own eyes.

Yes. And I have to admit I sandbagged you just a bit. Actually, I do think that 10-12 words per line is about right. But I also think this is more like 72-73 characters per line. And the .7 em-wordspace line does happen, even with 75-character line, esp. if that unhappy sequence falls on the first line of a paragraph.

I've used the above example before, but usually with people who have a host of hyphenation "don't" rules. I'm sure you can create your own examples.

What I was really aiming at is the notion of audience. A generalization to be sure, but one big difference between an artist and a typical graphic designer is the artist gets to pick his/her audience. If the work only appeals to a small number of people, that's ok.

That's not true for a designer who's been hired for a task. And what that task is varies a lot as well. I'd assume with most book design, we can assume that the buyer/reader bought the book because of the author or the topic. The reader wants the book, and will even put up with a bit of bad design and still read it. I'd imagine it is just the opposite with an advertisement. The hoped-for reader does *not* want to read the ad, it is the designer and copywrier's job to lure them in.

But in both cases, the designer serves other people's goals, not purely their own. The same would be true for designing material for people with ADD. The only way to find out what is most effective is to study that audience, who likely both does & does not want to be there. And as always, theories should taken with skepticism; be tested against observation where the goal is not to prove the theory, but to see what's really going on.

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Charles, your words reminded me to this article, of some interest :
"By July 1999, the choices were narrowed to five finalists, all with different approaches. One of them, British architect Norman Foster, arrived with five associates, two trays of slides, and detailed mockups of two specific designs. He talked for an hour and a half. In contrast, Italian Renzo Piano simply began by rearranging the room chairs in a circle. Then he pulled out a blank sketch pad and listened as board members described the issues that were important to them – nature, biodiversity, naturalistic forms. As they talked, Piano sketched."

Ch's picture

what was the question again ?

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

And as always, theories should taken with skepticism; be tested against observation where the goal is not to prove the theory, but to see what’s really going on.

Charles, thanks for your reply, and I absolutely agree with what you say at the end. Back in the mid-80s I saw Jorge Frascara give a talk in which he described the method used to test a series of safety symbols, and it involved bringing in test audiences, recording their observations, revising the symbols, etc.

Chiba Chiba's picture

If you can read spanish, this article is about Sarakanda, a typeface that is supposed to help children with ADD and other learning disorders.

http://www.tipografia-montevideo.info/notas/sarkanda.htm

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