Annegrete completed her PhD thesis, Information design of ecological cycle network diagrams in science textbooks, in 2010. This research identifies existing rationales and processes in current design practice in educational publishing. Applying a practice-led approach, it demonstrates how design theory can be applied to investigate existing design settings and visual outputs.

The thesis illustrates how fragmented practical settings and processes may result in disintegrated outcomes. Based on these findings, it presents a set of recommendations for enhanced future practice


Thesis abstract

Network diagrams of ecological cycles, eg, carbon and nitrogen cycles, are a common feature in science textbooks for 14-18 years age groups. From an information design perspective these diagrams raise a particularly interesting challenge; that of categorising up to six types of biological information using two graphic syntactic roles – nodes and connecting arrows – whilst ensuring an effective and unambiguous message. This practice-led thesis reviews the precision of information categorisation in 209 network diagrams collected from UK and Danish science textbooks (1935-2009). Visual content analysis and graphic syntax theory (Engelhardt, 2002) is applied to review the existing information categorisation in relation to four types of graphic ineffectiveness: 1) implicit nodes, 2) imprecise relative spatial positioning of graphic objects, 3) polysemy, and 4) inconsistent visual attributes or verbal syntax. This review finds 29 types of ineffective graphic tactics, which may result in ambiguous messages due to illogical linking sequences, implicit circulating elements, and confusion about chemical transfer and transformations.

Based on these analysis findings, the design process in educational publishing is investigated. This identifies the rationale informing the transformation of information into network diagrams, based on semi-structured interviews with 19 editors, authors, designers, and illustrators in six publishing houses (3 in UK, 3 in Denmark). The rationale is mapped using phenomenographic analysis method and existing theories on the design process, namely brief development and translation stages (Crilly, 2005), choice points and the problem setting process (Schön, 2006), problem-solution co-evolution (Dorst and Cross, 2001), and design constraints (Lawson, 2006). The curriculum purpose of the ecological cycle network diagram is found to tightly constrain the identified rationale and the graphic decision-making based mainly on tacit knowledge.

In a final discussion the research findings are integrated by identifying models of design activities (Dumas and Mintzberg, 1993) present in the investigated professional practice. This reveals how design decisions may influence the occurrence of ineffective graphic tactics. Recommendations for alternative information transformation strategies are then presented, centred on integrating graphic syntax knowledge into the current processes. These recommendations are anchored in suggestions by the interviewed participants.



  • Crilly, N. (2005) Product aesthetics representing designer intent and consumer response, PhD-Thesis, Cambridge: University of Cambridge.
  • Dorst, K. and Cross, N. (2001) ‘Creativity in the design process: co-evolution of problem-solution’. Design studies, 22(5), pp. 425-437.
  • Dumas, A. and Mintzberg, H (1991) ‘Managing the Form, Function and Fit of Design’, Design Management Journal, Summer 1991.
  • Engelhardt, Y. (2002) The language of graphics – a framework for the analysis of syntax and meaning in maps, charts and diagrams, PhD-Thesis, Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam.
  • Lawson, B. (2006) How designers think, 4th edition, Oxford: Architectural press
  • Schön, D. (2006) The reflective practitioner, 2nd edition, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing

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