Effective Design for Patient Education Materials

From left to right: Stacy Robison, MHEd, MCHES, Xanthi Scrimgeour, MHEd, MCHES

From left to right: Stacy Robison, MHEd, MCHES, Xanthi Scrimgeour, MHEd, MCHES

Scrimgeour and Robison discussed what every health professional needs to know about designing health information. Good design makes materials easier to read and understand, so the materials are “Useful, Usable and Attractive.” They described information design as the “ability to take information and data and communicate it in a way that is clear and facilitates good decision making.” Design is more than aesthetics.  It helps people find what they need, understand what they find and remember what they read.

The presenters emphasized that it’s important to design for your readers: Understand them, think about what you want them to know or do, and organize the content accordingly. Identify the main messages – ideally no more than three. The main messages should come first, followed by the supporting information and then background details.

They listed 10 Tips for Designing Health Information:

  1.  Create a path for the eye to follow. Most readers start at the top left corner. Avoid visual cues at the bottom of the page, e.g., callouts.
  2. Use visual hierarchy. Distinct text size, color and placement help readers focus on the main message.
  3. Use a grid to align content and images for structural balance – similar to magazines and newspapers.
  4. Incorporate white space for a clean look.  Add padding around images.
  5. Use bulleted and numbered lists, which are easy to scan.
  6. Use conceptual cues, e.g., colors can reinforce key messages.
  7. Use images and captions to facilitate understanding.
  8. Use icons or images to call out important content.
  9. Consider sans serif fonts, which are cleaner and easier to read.
  10. Increase font size to 16 pixels or larger for Web and 12 points minimum for print text.

Scrimgeour and Robison urged the group to think outside the box. An example they gave was an information blanket (a blanket with health information on it) that was given to new moms. “It doesn’t have to be a brochure,” said Scrimgeour.