What Garbage Teaches You About Information Design

Posted by Katie Proctor on Dec 16, 2013

Moscone Center RecyclingOne of the things we do at Inqune is design information for our clients. Often, they already know what it is that they want to say, but need help presenting it in a way that their team will notice, understand, and retain. That’s where we come in: we can turn around a client’s expert content into first-rate instructional materials in a handful of days, so that when they present their expert content, it will stick with their teams into the next quarter & beyond.

So when I am out in the world, I am attentive to everyday instructional materials: the things in our world that are designed to teach us something.

Like recycling bins.

At Dreamforce, there were elaborate trash, compost, and recycling stations to ensure that every bit of packaging, produce, and promotional schwag discarded by the 130,000 registrants was directed into the appropriate waste stream.

Two elements of the Dreamforce waste disposal stations stood out to me.

Context-Specific Design

For the most part, the Dreamforce plaza was a walled-garden of waste: especially at mealtimes, the food service stations offered a discrete number of selections, and everyone eating from those stations had the same pieces of waste to manage at the end of their meal. The waste stations were designed specifically for this event, and the images on the cans exactly matched the objects that event-goers were holding in their hands for disposal.

It is far easier to know where to throw a plastic bottle if you see an image of that very bottle on the can where it goes, rather than having to check the plastics number on the bottle’s bottom against a printed number range.

The Human Factor

Among the army of event staff, there was a team of green-shirted personnel whose job it was to stand near the bins and make sure that trash went in the right place. The presence of these staff members was two-fold. First, they made conference-goes pay attention, indicating that there was something happening at that moment that was unlike what they were used to. Second, they were there to answer questions and help make sense of the already-very-clear signage.

By conference’s end, I imagine most participants were experts in Moscone Center’s waste-sorting policies.

The next time you have information that you want your people to notice, understand, and remember, think about how you can best accommodate the context in which they are learning, and strategically use available personnel: in person, in video, or via chat tools, to get them to stop, pay attention, and ask the questions they need answered to create deep understanding.

Need help with that? Drop us a line, we’d love to help.