Perception versus Reality in Health and Communication:

Conveying the importance of design quality and interpretation through health communication tools

When disseminating information through vehicles such as documents for health communication, the quality of design is inherently of utmost importance to appropriately internalize the information alongside the design. Design quality has been defined by Champlin, Lazard, Mackert & Pasch (2014) as the concepts of a document working together to create the intended visual and contextual message in hopes of effectively communicating information across different platforms. Different aspects of a document including font, size, color, layout, space and borders work together to make up the spectrum of low to high quality design and effective communication. The authors suggest that first impressions of design quality impact how much attention is given to a message, and the elements must be understood separately, together, and apart. 

First impressions are so important in document design, particularly when designing health communication messages. During a first impression, readers make very quick inferences as to whether or not the information is trustworthy, of some quality, and relevant to their situation. As technical communicators – educators, professionals, and students alike – we design messages for mass audiences on a regular basis. For those of us interested in health communication, the messages that we create can quite literally be the stimulants that guide how individuals view their health, assess their health, and manage their health. 

The way we design messages as technical communicators sometimes is not enough, and we must consider the social and societal implications that come alongside design quality. Understanding theoretical perspectives allows us to dive deeper into existing perceptions and compare them to the reality that we are trying to alter positively through message and visual design quality. Interpretations are created based on attitudes, beliefs, perspectives, and social norms. In order to effectively communicate health messages through visual and textual design, technical communicators must emerge themselves into the world of their intended audience to avoid creating a bad first impression of information that is supposed to be helpful. 

Though this article is dated back to 2014 and it is now 2022, we must talk about what the world of online communication has done to message dissemination and design quality. The power of social media and online communication was in its earlier stages even just eight years ago in 2014, and now due to experiencing a global pandemic, nearly every ounce of communication and message sharing that we do is online oriented in some fashion. We can disseminate information so fast at such a high volume, so we must be extremely careful about what we say, how we say it, and what people could possibly think about it. Most importantly, we must understand how they will use this information. 

By becoming more effective message designers, we become more effective communicators and that is the goal for creating effective health messages for constituents who need it the most. In order to effectively reach groups that experience the most hardships regarding health inequities, we must understand where we can meet them in the middle and create messages that will leave them wanting more. 


Perceptions of design quality: An eye tracking study of attention and appeal in health advertisements, by Sara Champlin, Allison Lazard, Michael Mackert, and Keryn E. Pasch

Viewpoint Written by Kimberly N Uzzel, Texas State University

Edited by Jeranda Dennis, Texas State University

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