Who got that job?

October 5, 2007

Rob Waller: Professor of information design, department of typography and graphic communication, Reading University

Job advertised in The Times Higher , February 23, 2007

Rob Waller, who is driven by a "need to know how information works", has returned to Reading University, where he trained in design as an undergraduate 30 years ago, to take up the post of professor of information design.

"After nearly 15 years of consultancy work for leading international agencies, the hankering to go back to academia full-time 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 forefront."

Professor Waller is currently writing the business plan for what is hoped will be a flagship research institute at Reading, the "Simplification Centre", which will bring a multidisciplinary 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, according to surveys from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the Simplification Centre will be set up to help government departments communicate clearly with the UK population.

"The level of effort and skill [deployed] in most government departments to communicate the complexity of information is dismal and has been declining since the 1980s," Professor Waller said. "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.

"The Government expects consumers to make a decision they are not equipped for."

Professor Waller cites books published by Dorling Kindersley and Reader's Digest as masterful examples of information design, blending images and words in ways that have been successfully carried forward into many newspapers.

"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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