Profile: Rob Waller

Who got that job?

By Martyn Bull
Times Higher Education, 5 October 2007

Professor Rob Waller, Professor of Information Design,
Department of Typography and Graphic Communication,
University of Reading

Rob Waller has been appointed as Professor of Information Design at the University of Reading. Driven by a “need to know how information works”, Professor Waller returns to Reading, where he trained in Design as an undergraduate thirty years ago.

“After nearly 15 years of consultancy work for leading international agencies, the hankering to go full-time back to academia became too strong,” he said. “In business you are constantly selling and meeting deadlines. The pressure is insane and there is no time to reflect. In academia, ideas are at the foremost.”

Professor Waller is currently writing the business plan for a flagship research institute at Reading, ‘The Simplification Centre’, which will bring a multi-disciplinary approach to information design.

With literacy levels of much of the UK job-seeking population ranked below the level needed to function in a complex, advanced society in surveys from the OECD, The Simplification Centre will play an important role in helping government departments to communicate clearly with the UK population.

“The level of effort and skill in most government departments to communicate the complexity of information is dismal and has been declining since the 80s,” said Professor Waller.

“The Northern Rock crisis is a perfect example. Government policy is to treat consumers equally and allow them to make informed decisions, but they don’t have the complex overview of the banking system to realise that the way Northern Rock is financed is completely different to other banks. Government expects consumers to make a decision that they are not equipped to do.”

Professor Waller cites the books by Dorling-Kindersley and Readers Digest as masterful examples of information design, blending together images and words in ways that have been successfully carried forward into many newspaper designs.

“We need to get away from the idea of the author as the deliverer of information, forcing all meaning and accessibility into the words.  The unit of meaning is now the digital screen and the entire printed page. We must put users at the heart of communication,” he said.

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