Information design for ADHD
June 19, 2007 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Tufte didn't cover this one: How do I display quantitative information to ADHD users?

I’m involved in a project where we need to present financial information to teenagers, some of whom display ADHD symptoms.

We are mainly talking about: here's your bank balance and its ups and downs. My usual response is: provide numbers and visual displays in as dense a manner as possible. Grids of numbers for accuracy, sparklines for trends, all the stuff the cool kids use.

Does anyone have any insights or resources? My Google fu is turning up plenty of support groups, but few resources for information designers.
posted by mrbugsentry to Technology (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Try to find a way that's not just _looking_ at charts and information. Maybe something they can touch and handle would be better: pennies, monopoly money, a nicer house vs. an awful apartment/room, something very concrete demonstrating the anxiety and hopelessness of the un-responsible "lifestyle" vs. the tangible and intangible rewards of deferred gratification.

Maybe mix in one very concrete thing between every _very simple, clean, clear, and beautiful_ chart and just a few words.

I think that managing money is hard for some people because it seems so abstract. Thus, if you can connect the sense-filling real-life objects they understand viscerally to the less-urgent numbers they have to deal with, you could help a lot.

This "props" idea may not be your regular job, but I guarantee it will make a huge difference.

Make sure you're not treating them as younger than they are, though, at the same time.
posted by amtho at 7:16 AM on June 19, 2007

Really, most advice on creating bullet-free presentations will help you here. As someone with AD/HD, I hate staring at slides with endless bullets, or grids of information. This translates to the page, as well. But as amtho said, props can help. If it's not that kind of media, simple graphical presentations that make the point will work well. Keep in mind that many people with AD/HD have creative thought processes, and they may be quicker to "get" your point than others.

I'd go so far as to suggest working directly with one of those teens. Kids and adults with AD/HD are able to devote considerable attention to ideas that are interesting to them, and you may find that one of those kids is interested in writing, in math, in presentations, or in something else that will compliment your own goals. Get them involved! You'd be doing more for their self esteem than many of their social leaders have, I'm sure.
posted by Merdryn at 7:28 AM on June 19, 2007

If you have the time and budget, this is an excellent opportunity to do user testing -- the only way to know what works best is to find out with a small group of teens. You could do a really simple paper prototyping session with 3-5 participants where you lay out a few different graphs and give them a few related tasks (like, "what is the overall x value?" etc.).

The key is to find out how they perform with the prototypes, rather than what they think about them. You'll be able to see them pause, think over the graphs, and can compare how long each task took (you can score with 0, 1, or 2 -- didn't finish, finished with problems, finished easily). Afterwards you can ask them about their performance.

Here's a good overview of simple paper prototype testing, there's countless other books, etc., on the topic.

if you don't have the time/budget, try digging up articles from CHI - that's a huge usability conference that's undoubtedly done some research about teens.
posted by ukdanae at 7:42 AM on June 19, 2007

Try to find a way that's not just _looking_ at charts and information. Maybe something they can touch and handle would be better: pennies, monopoly money, a nicer house vs. an awful apartment/room, something very concrete demonstrating the anxiety and hopelessness of the un-responsible "lifestyle" vs. the tangible and intangible rewards of deferred gratification.

Teenagers, dude, Teenagers. And it's AD(H)D, not aphasia.

I think good design is good design in this case - if you're doing it well for people in general, it would be good for those with short attention spans. I can't think of anything specific to those with limited ability to focus - isn't the whole objective of design (in a case like this) to allow for quick perusal of data, and set up logical connections between things?
posted by phrontist at 7:43 AM on June 19, 2007

Having ADHD I can tell you this: I hate, and I mean HATE looking at graphs and charts. I see them a lot in my science and math classes, but it just doesn't sink in for me. I have to try and find real life examples to help me get my head around it.

You may not be able to use this, but I had a teacher who would always tell funny stories that relate to what you are trying to teach/ or just examples in general. Then he would quickly ask us (as a group) to give answers to questions after reviewing the concept.

However, the students need to actively learn it too. Maybe ask them how they learn the best, and go from there. I had to figure out by trial and error what worked for me.

You may want to check out this website. It is designed for online learning, but it may be useful to you!

Hope that it helps! Good luck
posted by slc228 at 10:00 AM on June 19, 2007

Seconding slc - graphs and charts suck. Real life examples are everything for me.

There is the book Cartoon Statistics that has tons of cute real life examples for stats.
posted by k8t at 10:32 AM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Let me jump in to say I'm surprised about the negative reaction to graphs. A lot of resources seem to prefer visuals to numbers.

To clarify: the project is a web page which would show current and future income and expenses. Right now, it looks like a ledger, which I fear is not appropriate for the audience.
posted by mrbugsentry at 12:22 PM on June 19, 2007

As an interaction designer with ADHD and recent teenager, here's my two cents:

Make it Pretty
We're visual. We like looking at things, and manipulating them in our minds. If something is overly complex or unpleasant to look at, we're not doing to want to spend much time concentrating on it.

Graphs are Good
Numbers mean nothing. I need to be able to see trends and a visual history. Think of Tufte's favorite infographic, the one of napoleon's downfall; this is the kind of thing we eat up. We can follow it with our eyes and then extract quantitative information from the qualitative shapes.

Despite the outcry against graphs, they will work in this case, because they relate directly to real life.

Design for Adults
Many AD/HD kids are way ahead of their peers. They think more like adults than children, and should be treated more as adults. Don't dumb down your designs just because they are under 18.

Good Design
As said above, good design is good design, and nothing changes just because we might be a little less attentive than other people. If the design works well for people without AD/HD, it should work well with those of us with it. Your biggest fear should be low quality design.

Feel free to ping me if you have any other questions.
posted by dantekgeek at 5:45 PM on June 19, 2007

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