> see article on interface design, AXIS tokyo 2000
> see presentation on vernacular public design, visionplus7 tokyo 2000

> see article on information design, IdN hong kong 1994

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In 1994, Publish magazine, San Francisco commissioned a redesign of the US Individual Income Tax Form to three information design studios: MetaDesign, Thom Lepley, and myself.

Since government forms reach the largest and most diverse audiences, I look at such projects in an ignorant way: the less I know, the easier it is to find the problems.

The first step was to question the assignment itself: not only the appearance, but the concept and structure needed redesign: Start with the most difficult, and the rest falls into place.

The content breaks down most easily into: personal and financial information, and obligations to pay versus options to deduct and save. All this was indistinguishably intertwined in strings of legalese -made rather for evaluation than for ease-of-use. It had to be untangled and reshaped into a user-centered solution.

Personal information went to the beginning, followed by a consistent string of financial information. The language had to be rewritten and broken down into understandable pieces.
I reassigned the existing colors to indicate Tax Savings versus Expenses: the entire form can still be photocopied well. For recognition value, my form retained its traditional blue color, distinguishing it from the green EZ and the pink A form, and is set in Franklin Gothic, already used in other government forms. White fields for data entry were kept, but different shapes now indicate writing-in versus checking-off. Other treatments link references within the form to those found in the accompanying workbook. Pictograms proved of no use for financial terminology.

I was pleased to see that my competitors had approached the problem in quite different ways: even such a functional assignment resulted in expressing each designers' personality.
Our different results also make it clear that cooperation with the government would require a combined effort from all of us, which I would welcome.

Joachim Muller-Lance graduated with honors from the Basel School of Design in Switzerland and studied Fine Arts at Cooper Union in New York. He has been a senior designer at Access Press/The Understanding Business New York/San Francisco, designed cultural exhibitions and publications related to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, and was Lead information designer for Barclays Global Investors in San Francisco for 3 years. He received the Gold Prize of the 1993 Morisawa Awards for his "Lance" typeface family, and two awards for his first Kanji and Latin typeface "Shirokuro" at the 1999 Morisawa Awards. Since 1997, Joachim is principal of Kame Design, for graphic and information design, typefaces, cartooning and animation.


Improvement through ignorance:
Redesign uf the 1040 U.S. individual income tax form

Joachim Muller-Lance
(originally published for the visionplus7 conference, tokyo 1999)

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