What is information design?

Posted by Patrick Robertshaw on
I get asked this often enough it seemed a good subject for inforock.it's inaugural blog post.

Put simply information design is the practice of clearly presenting information so as to foster efficient and effective understanding. It boils down to thinking about what you want to communicate, and presenting it as clearly and accessibly as possible for your intended audience.

From a graphic design stand point (my main focus) this is often also called data-visualisation. Whichever way you label it the focus is (or should be) the same: clearly and effectively communicating information visually.

Why should you care?

As the world around us gets increasingly information-dense, the need for good information design grows too. People have short attention spans, and a lot of things competing for their limited focus. 

If you don't get your audience's attention - often in the first few seconds of seeing your content - they'll move on. One way to capture and hold attention is with well thought out visuals.

Effective information design doesn't always have to be bespoke, or even particularly original. We can't all be William Playfair after all! There are some simple things to bear in mind when presenting your data though that help keep it effective.

Who is it for?

This is always top of my list when working on a new project. Taking time to define and understand your intended audience can make the difference between grabbing their attention and sending them to sleep.

If you're working with your own source data getting a second perspective on it can really help here. And if you're working on someone else's statistics, it's vital to take the time to talk with them about who they're wanting to present it to.

Should you shock or soothe?

I'm a big believer that we human beings are not binary creatures. While the phrase "two sides to every story" is popular for a reason (it's a great shorthand for the simple truth that people have different perceptions and perspectives) there are usually many shades in between any given two sides once you start looking. 

That said, besides the fun alliteration, deciding whether to shock or soothe your audience is useful in shaping how you present your information. As with most binaries often the best answer is to do both together.

If I have data to present that's startling I'll try to find a visual presentation that's going to be comfortable to the audience. Shocking data presented shockingly is less likely to stick.

Conversely if I need to draw the audience's attention to something that's usually taken for granted I'll look for an original angle to pitch it from. People don't really retain new information if they think they already know it.

Stay focussed

In my opinion the single biggest pitfall in information design is the temptation too cram too much in. Spending time to clearly define exactly what information you're trying to convey is essential... and something I probably haven't managed to do in this first post :D but it's a big topic and hopefully I've covered the basics.

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