The impact of information design on recovery after bowel surgery. How can the design of patient information resources lead to improved comprehension and decreased anxiety?

Postgraduate students

Stephanie Sciberras (MA Design), Hyejin Ha (MA Design)


Bowel surgery is the most common treatment for numerous bowel diseases including cancer. The provision of information before and after bowel surgery is an important element of recovery. Pre-operative education assists in the psychological preparation for surgery, which has been shown to have a positive impact on patient satisfaction, pain management, and the duration of hospital stay.

Traditionally, information is provided before surgery and delivered in text heavy written format, which presents a number of challenges, such as patients feeling overwhelmed, especially when diagnoses of cancer and plans for major surgery are discussed concurrently. Previous evidence also shows patients desire to be pro-actively involved in their recovery. Unfortunately, the development of new education interventions uncommonly involves patients and other information specialists in their design.

To tackle this problem, a mixed-methods user-centered design approach was conducted to redesign an existing patient information booklet in order to meet patient needs and improve communication among patients and medical staff. For example, among other methods, a ‘within co-design’ approach was used to identify stakeholder needs. Several usability tests and iterations were conducted throughout the design development to create a more visualized design format that follows research-based cognitive and design principles. Empirical testing was then conducted to evaluate and validate the final booklet design, collecting both qualitative and quantitative data.

Results show significant differences in the performance and users’ preference between text dense information and a combination of text and visualized information. This in-depth research focusing on the booklet was then followed by the development of companion outputs (website and environmental infographics) through the same mixed-methods user-centered design approach.

All in all, this study provides significant evidence and important guidelines on how to effectively communicate bowel surgery recovery information to patients, in order to increase their understanding and active role in their recovery, as well as minimize their uncertainties and anxiety. Although focusing on a specific scenario, these findings are also widely applicable to many forms of healthcare information.

Publications and outputs

1. Paper: Lonsdale MDS, Sciberras S, Ha H, Chapman S. 2019. Enhancing bowel cancer surgery recovery through information design. The impact of combining design and cognitive principles with user-centered research methods, on patient understanding of surgery recovery information.  Visible Language, 54.1.

2. Booklet:  (Password: Surgery)

3. Companion website: (Password: Surgery)

4. Environmental infographics: (Password: Surgery)