Information Design

While few designers have been explicitly taught the issues paramount to clear communication (e.g., organization, presentation, goals and messages, clarity, and complexity), these functions at least have been addressed on a subconscious level by anyone who attempts to organize their thoughts and communicate them. Information Design doesn't ignore aesthetic concerns but it doesn't focus on them either. However, there is no reason why elegantly structured or well-architected data can't also be beautiful. Information Design does not replace graphic design and other visual disciplines, but is the structure through which these capabilities are expressed.

An understanding of Information Design starts with the essential view that the vast amount of things that bombard our senses everyday are not pieces of information but merely data. Richard Saul Wurman expresses this in his book, Information Anxiety. Data is fairly worthless to most of us; it is the product of research or creation (such as writing), but it is not an adequate product for communicating. To have informational value, it must be organized, transformed, and presented in a way that gives it meaning.

Information is also not the end of the continuum of understanding. Just as data can be transformed into meaningful information, so can information be transformed into knowledge and, further, into wisdom. Knowledge is a phenomenon that we can build for others just as we can build information for others from data. This is done through Interaction Design and the creation of experiences. Think for a moment how difficult it is to build a meaningful experience for others. It is first necessary to understand your audience; what their needs, abilities, interests, and expectations are; and how to reach them. Brenda Laurel often states that interactive media "is not about information, it is about experience." She is absolutely correct but, in creating these experiences for others (and even for ourselves to some degree), we must understand and properly structure the information and data with which we use to build experiences.

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Copyright 1994 Nathan Shedroff


Brenda Laurel is one of the most qualified interface designers in the industry and the biggest proponent of designing experiences. Her edited book, The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design is a great place to start and her book Computers as Theater is a good place to continue.

The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design , ed. Brenda Laurel, Reading, MA: Addison­Wesley Publishing Co., 1990