Relevance and communication design

Scott, Kate (2021) Relevance and communication design. In: Relevance Researchers Network Seminar; 27 Oct 2021, Held online. (Unpublished)


In this paper, I use ideas from relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson, 1995; Carston, 2002; Wilson and Sperber, 2012; Clark, 2013) to explain the relative success of three different types of nutritional information labelling on food packaging: reference intake (RI) (formally Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA)), traffic lights, and warning labels. Studies (Arrúa et al., 2017) have shown that warning improved consumer’s ability to identify unhealthy products, compared with both RI and traffic light system labels. Warnings and traffic light system labels performed equally well, however, when participants were asked to identify the most healthful product. I demonstrate how these findings can be explained in terms of the processing effort required of the consumer when accessing relevant contextual assumptions and deriving relevant implications in different decision-making contexts. That is, I show how the success of the various labelling systems is linked to their relevance in the context of interpretation. This analysis illustrates the explanatory power of relevance theory in relation to visual communication, and has implications for communication design and policy more generally. Arrúa, A. et al. (2017) 'Warnings as a directive front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme: comparison with the Guideline Daily Amount and traffic-light systems', Public Health Nutrition, 20(13), pp.2308-2317. Carston, R. (2002) Thoughts and Utterances : The Pragmatics of Explicit Communication. Oxford: Blackwell. Clark, B. (2013) Relevance Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. (1995) Relevance : Communication and Cognition. 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell. Wilson, D. and Sperber, D. (2012) Meaning and Relevance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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