FMP: Thinking about a design solution

For this blog post, I will be discussing the design solution for this brief. After my Pecha Kucha presentation last month, I realised the presentation pushed me to think about elements earlier than I would usually do, so although I have a basic understanding of them, I will be revisiting them to discuss them in detail. This will enable me to state what the design solution should be.


Presenting the Information

Infographics

My research has already shown that infographics are the best way forward with the design solution (as can be read here.)


Content

The content is very important part as that’s what will be communicated to the audience through my designs. It must be relevant and targeted, and looking into the subject of astronomy, there are many different sub-sections the designs could cover as I’ve found when looking through some astronomy books and posters I own. Below, I will analyse their content, and perhaps their design if there is something good worth pointing out (or maybe bad as well!)

Astronomy (Kingfisher Pocket Guides)

A “complete and practical” pocket guide that provides a comprehensive and thorough guide to astronomy. I’ve had this book for a very long time, and I have always found it to be useful.

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It is important to think that the most important astronomical body to us does not appear in the night sky, the Sun. It would be a mistake to leave it out, as astronomers observe it, even though the methods used differ from viewing the night sky, due to safety requirements.

While the basic layout is alright, I think the fact box could be made more prominent to get the audience more interested in the incredible properties the Sun has.

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This book also features star maps and charts showing the stars and their respective constellations, but with so many maps depending on what hemisphere you’re in, what time of the day and year it is, makes for slow progress to find what you want. This is something I would very much like to improve for the audience so less time is spent trying to work out where to look. Whether that is possible or not will need investigating throughout the project.

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The book also covers the Solar System, and it makes for an interesting read with brief write-ups combined with imagery and information. Something that really stood out to me was the illustrated diagrams of the planets cut in half to examine their inner structure. I have not seen this before with planets, and is very intriguing as you can see instead of imagine what the inner structure of a planet is. Including information such as this will help the audience to build up their interest and knowledge of what they are looking at.

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Overall, the content of this book is really impressive, and something I will be taking note of when I design my book.

Astronomy with Patrick Moore (Teach Yourself)

A book I was given several years ago, and had never bothered to fully look at it because I was immediately put off by the sheer volume of text and few images. However, now I’ve properly read some sections in order to write this blog post, the text is actually very easy to follow and informative to all so this will influence how the text is written (not laid out though) in the book I design.

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The few diagrams that are there are minimal and ordered, helping to explain the subject discussed. Again, this is another aid for the audience to understand the information.IMG_5490_web IMG_5494_web

I was pleased to come across a very useful and helpful list of the constellations in the night sky. This is an important feature of my project and I want to make sure I create an accurate list. As there are so many constellations, I will probably just focus on the most important ones, marked in capital letters as the book will be a more basic guide, but I can always include a list as this book does as I don’t want to deceive the audience into thinking there are less constellations than there really is.

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Overall, I think the content in this book is interesting, but would appeal to many more people if it was designed with more consideration towards the fact that visual imagery is easier to learn than pages of text.

Encyclopedia of Space (Dorling Kindersley)

Being an encyclopedia, this book covers a much larger area of subjects than I will, but the relevance here is in the audience of 7-12 years old the book is aimed at. From my research into the audience demographics, I now know that this age range make up a section of the audience and how family orientated the programme is. I was given this book in 2003, when I was 10, so I was ‘target audience’ and thought the book was great. While I have grown up and moved on, I’ve kept this book as I still think it has some interesting sections as well as some great photography and illustration.

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While the design is inconsistent and nothing to get excited about as everything is too condensed, even for those with short attention spans, there are many good diagrams, which explain very simply how a planet functions, as can be seen below.

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The book also features reasonably clear star maps, although I have never understood why light blue backgrounds are used, when the night sky is not that colour. Marking the stars in white leads to poor contrast, and reduced legibility lessened.

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Overall, it’s a interesting book and gives me a great idea as to how visual communication can work with this particular audience type.

Astro Box (Philip’s)

A really impressive box that contains a planisphere, a star chart map, a book about using a telescope, plus a star finder book. It makes for a very comprehensive guide to viewing the night sky, going into much greater detail than any other guide I have looked at.

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I have to say I had not come across a planisphere before, and I think it is an intriguing way of presenting the night sky to the audience. I will need to fully understand how it works before I can say whether or not this will be a great way of presenting the information to the audience.

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The planisphere is made from two pieces of plastic, with the base featuring a map of the night sky and the times and dates, whereas the top contains the direction, angles, and a viewfinder.

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I haven’t read through this guide fully to see how useful it is, I expect it’s very useful, but there’s a lot of text and it’s definitely a more in-depth guide than I am looking to include.

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I originally thought that a planisphere could be used wherever you were, but looking through one of the guide books, I was surprised to see that they only cover certain areas, which is not particularly flexible. I must decide whether I focus specifically on the British audience (in the northern hemisphere) or whether I should widen my focus to cover all of the world. Although I would like it to be comprehensive, realistically the vast majority of my audience will be British, and therefore based in the northern hemisphere.

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I definitely like the fact that it tells you how to read a ‘sky map’ as it is not always the easiest thing to pick up and read. This will suit the audience I am designing for as many will not know immediately how to use one to its full potential.

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Like the Patrick Moore book I looked at earlier, this book features a list of constellations, but also other objects which can be observed in the night sky, such as galaxies. I think this would be great to include in the book as there’s more out there in the night sky than just stars.

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The Star Finder book is full of charts that give a monthly guide to viewing the night sky, making it very detailed.

IMG_5572_web IMG_5574_web Picking out the magnitudes of the stars in a key is something I will need to include, as it is important to know how bright a star is as the dimmer ones may not be visible in areas of light pollution, and the brightest stars provide excellent waypoints.

I think the key would be improved by using transparency rather than such a big size difference to distinguish between the different magnitudes as it would be more realistic to the audience, as looking into the night sky, there isn’t a huge difference in the size of stars, although this increases when using more powerful equipment.IMG_5575_web

Splitting the star charts across a spread is something I may have to consider because of the fact this allows for a larger chart. This would mean a book with a small turn-in would be much better than a large one, as it would lay flatter on a surface and have less gap, or none, between the two halves. It would also be better in general so the book doesn’t snap shut and pages stay flat when the audience are trying to read it, especially if they’re viewing the night sky as well.

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Using constellations as waypoints is a really good way for helping people to learn where things are in the night sky.

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It is also very useful to me to have notes about each constellation as I can use this to build up my knowledge and put it towards the content in my book that I design.

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As the star chart is A1, I found it easier to take a photo of it shown on the back of the box, but it is clear to see that there are three charts  spread across the majority, as well a lot of text in the left quarter that gives very detailed information as to the stars.

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It is interesting to look at the star map and see there is three regions that star maps can be roughly broken down into, the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere, as well as the equatorial regions which cover a section above and below the Equator.

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The Night Sky booklets (The Telegraph & Astronomy Now)

I’ve also saved several free Telegraph supplements over the years that have been a guide to the night sky, some with more success than others. These two supplements cover the Solar System and the stars and galaxies, and while I do not like having two separate supplements (although I understand why they do this) at least each supplement can be independent of the other.

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I think showing a map of the Solar System is a good idea, as it sets the scene. The shame is that the sizes are unrealistic, whereas the Stargazing LIVE online resource got around the problem easily by comparing the sizes of the planets to pieces of food that people are more familiar with.

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It’s good to see each planet given a spread, but disappointing that the images are not the focal point of the design, instead there is a lot of text, which the casual audience member is unlikely to read through.

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I am wondering whether to pick out the Moon in more detail to discuss, as even with the naked eye details of it are clearly visible, so with binoculars and telescopes the level of detail that can be seen is apparently incredible. Depending on space in the book, I wonder if it is worth including a map of the Moon.

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The content of this spread is useful to me, because as I discussed earlier, I think the book needs a section about how to view the night sky, so that a section of the audience who might be completely new know where to start. As a design point, I wondered about the bright red (looks brighter still in real life!) but it makes sense as one of the tips is to use a red torch to look at resources when out and about viewing the night sky so it does not affect your night vision.

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These star maps are broken up into seasons, and it is now becoming increasingly important to me that there does not seem to be a way of having one map/chart that would cover every view. This means I will need to spend more time seeing what will be the best solution.

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Stargazing: A Practical Guide (The Telegraph & Sky at Night)

This was a more recent guide produced, and although I’m focusing on the content, I have to say the quality of the paper used is abysmal. It might be cheap, but being just one step up from newspaper is not great for something that people may want to keep as it will just fall apart over time, and none of the images look good, when in fact I’ve seen them in other resources and they look great.

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Moving away from the content to the design for a bit, I thought this was a very interesting way of showing a constellation. Instead of just showing a vector drawing or a photograph, it combines the two.
I think this method could work really well for the book as I have been thinking about focusing on a particular constellation for each page.

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Following on a point I made with the last supplement, I can understand why the newspaper wants to produce a guide in two halves as it can encourage people to buy a newspaper they wouldn’t have done otherwise, but I think spreading information out over two guides is never as good as just having one, especially when half the calendar is in one, and half in the other. It’s just not convenient for the audience and will probably put people off.

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This key is a rather interesting way of picking out everything on the map, which is helpful for the audience. I definitely think I will need to include a key for my charts in order to make the information as understandable as possible for the audience.IMG_5626_web

With these Telegraph guides being larger than the last ones I looked at, it gives more room for the information, although I think there is a lot more text than imagery, which isn’t the most engaging way to attract an audience.

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Across the two booklets, the maps cover the entire year except January, so a star map is shown next to a calendar.

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The Night Sky (Daily Telegraph):

The Daily Telegraph also produces a star chart for the month ahead, which I felt would be a useful guide to look at. This particular one I saved from a couple of years ago with the first of the new style maps. Being printed on newspaper guarantees poor quality, but it is readable, and probably won’t be kept for long, if at all, with the way that newspaper are usually read and disposed of.

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I think this is one of the best maps so far in showing how the constellation got its name, an example being Gemini, the Twins, which is clear to be seen from looking at it. The same goes for Orion, the Hunter, where it’s possible to make out someone hunting.

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National Geographic poster

This is a poster I’ve had for a long while now, and it is the imagery that clearly makes this poster desirable, with a stunning up-close shot that highlights the energy contained in the Sun. There are also other images to show what the Sun looks like when viewed through different filters and cameras.

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The other side of the poster focuses on space weather, and it features an intriguing illustrative diagram of how the Sun is structured, something I will be interested in including in my designs for the same reasons I discussed for the planets earlier in the Kingfisher book.

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The Independent Guide to the Sun poster (The Independent) 

This poster takes a different look at the Sun, producing a rough guide about it, much in the same way I am thinking of producing a rough guide to viewing the night sky. The content picks out the key things people will want to know, and is generally a decent poster, although I feel some of the design choices are questionable.

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Again, I have picked out an illustration showing the Sun’s structure, to highlight just how different illustrations can be. Personally, I think that the National Geographic one was more effective as it was more realistic and better showed the Sun’s energy with the vibrance of the colours, whereas this looks pale and ‘cold’ compared to the fiery scheme of colours used in the Nat Geo one.

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Welcome to Mars poster (Sunday Times)

This A1 poster of the unsuccessful Beagle mission to Mars gives an amazing view of the Red Planet, and is the better for letting the image stand out.

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The other side of the poster focused on what the Beagle was planning to do once it had landed on Mars, with there being a lot of information about how it worked and why it had been sent there.

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Format

So with the content finalised, I just needed to decide how to best package it into various formats. I discussed this with one of my tutors and we agreed from the research I’d done a book made perfect sense as it would be a good piece of reference material that could also potentially double as a coffee-table book, thereby being of more interest to more people.

The book could also be used by the audience when stargazing more conveniently than a poster or map. A design in a poster format could still be produced, but focusing on an area that would be better suited to it as a display piece, such as a star chart or planisphere.

Book

I will be producing a printed book about viewing the night sky, with focus on, in priority order from top to bottom:

  • Constellations, their names and meanings, where to find them plus other info such as brightness of stars etc.
  • The Solar System, as the planets are important attractions in the night sky for astronomers.
  • An introduction to viewing the night sky, where to look, what equipment is needed and good advice and tips for the audience.

Unique Selling Point:

From my research so far with the astronomy books I own, it is a reasonably well-trodden path. As I would not be exploring a unique sector, it means I need to find a unique selling point that makes the book valuable to the audience. This will be achieved by aiming it towards the BBC Stargazing LIVE audience, which research in my last blog post has shown to be:

  • A varied audience, including lots of families and children.
  • New amateur astronomers, eager to learn the basics.

To this extent the book needs to be easy to understand, but not afraid of covering more complex areas of knowledge. Good design will make this possible, making it engaging and understandable. I have not been very impressed with the design of the books I have read so far, and while I will be continuing my research to see what else is out there, the book I produce will make better use of displaying imagery and information in an ordered structure.

As can be seen in the initial idea I sketched earlier in the project, I thought about making the constellations and their meanings into a poster, but concluded a book would be better.

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PDF/ebook:

I will also be producing at the very least a PDF version of the book, as research highlighted the BBC online resources have been very popular, with their star guide being downloaded 2.4 million times, and it makes sense to get the information out to as many people as possible that I adopt multiple formats.

Blurb BookSmart
St. Luke’s: A Journey from Iron to Stone – ebook version
Poster/Print

It is highly likely I will also be producing a poster/print with the following subject and qualities.

  • A Star Guide or Planisphere, a way of helping people learn how to best view the night sky.
  • Display-worthy, so can be displayed as a poster on someone’s wall, or as a framed print, depending on the interested audience.

Obviously being produced alongside the book, it is aimed towards the same audience, and has the same objectives. By making it engaging, interesting, and easy to understand, it should be successful.

Again, as I discussed with the book, creating a star chart in this format is not new, so my unique take on it which makes it worth having is that it meets the direct needs of the audience and crucially, I want to present the information in an easier way as I have seen how star charts have got to be viewed from different angles depending on the time of year, and I want to overcome that, hence why I am now looking into planispheres as that may be the answer, something my initial sketches below look into.

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I did also initially investigate whether to make a poster/print detailing the Solar System, but I have concluded that it would not be as useful as the star chart, and the book will cover that section instead, but I did have some ideas, which will carry across to the book such as showing how they orbit the Sun and infographics looking at their inner structure, as inspired by the Kingfisher Pocket Guide to astronomy I have.

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Conclusion & Reflection

This has been a crucial section of research for me, where I have established how I will respond to the design brief and meet the audience’s criteria. I am now aware the project is behind schedule, as the research should have been completed by now, the experimenting should nearly be done, and design work should be just beginning, but I am confident with the contingency time I added and the fact that there have been a couple of issues aside from the course that have held me back that are being fixed, means I should be able to catch up.

I think I will need to take a more holistic focus with this project from now on researching, experimenting and designing as I go, which when thinking about it, promises to be a good way of going about projects, especially when time is tight.

Next Steps

The next step of the project for me will be to sketch some ideas and experiment while researching into designs that I find inspiring to see what can be learned from them. I will also need to finalise the content to a greater degree that will be in the book.

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