In this chapter we introduce information design and the insights it offers into the use of some ubiquitous documents of everyday life.1 We then explore one document genre which in nineteenth-century Britain marked the growth of a national information-gathering economy: the administrative form, a medium for the conduct of dialogues and interrogations between regulators and citizens. We consider the design and use of early census schedules and tax forms, describing interactions of language, layout and handwritten responses. The result is a picture of people’s engagement with the state mediated through forms, and also of the demands made on their reading, writing and numerical skills.
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