Information and Persuasion: Rivals or Partners?

Katherine McCoy, in Design Issues 16.3, 2000
Read April 2010

This article was the piece of writing that first drew my attention to the unexplored research area of how information is or can be persuasive. McCoy illuminates the traditionally-held view that information and persuasion are oppositional modes of communication, “representing the competing cultures of graphic design and advertising.” Persuasion, because of its connections with advertising, is usually viewed negatively and is shunned by communication designers. McCoy, however, believes that information and persuasion are more likely “modes of communication that overlap and interact.”

In a relatively short space, McCoy brings up many interesting ideas, including the idea of the need for all communication to persuade a person to pay attention in the first place. This reminds me of the quote from Things that Make us Smart, where Norman writes that a teacher must “entice and motivate the students into excitement and interest in the topic” (30). McCoy notes that persuasive rhetoric can be as simple as “boldface type highlighting a name.” From her writing, it seems that McCoy, similarly to Dick Buchanan, believes that all design is rhetoric.

Personally, I found this article very stimulating, and I agree with many of McCoy’s views. For example, I do think that designers use rhetorical devices to draw a viewer’s attention—this reminds me of the chapter on color in Tufte’s Envisioning Information, although I have no idea whether Tufte would agree with McCoy that this is a method of persuasion. I tend to lean more towards the school of thought that design is rhetoric, and I agree with McCoy when she points out that the interaction between information and persuasion is complex, and that it is an area that should be further explored.

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