In this article, we will talk about the importance and impact that information design has in every design project and how can that affect your performance as a designer, whether positively or negatively. Indeed, we are currently surrounded by information design every day. From train station maps to infographics, exhibitions to tutorials, it is all around us. Regardless, most of the time, we do not give it a second thought, nor do we necessarily know how to pin it down. What counts and what does not? Here we will discuss all that.
Understanding Information Design
Information design is the practice of delivering information in a way that makes it most accessible and effortlessly understood by users. Information design is targeted to specific audiences in particular situations to meet defined purposes. In its most sophisticated forms, it helps users comprehend complex data by organizing and simplifying data and information in ways they can quickly get.
This process has come to be associated intimately with graphic design and the display of information for efficacy and function versus pure aesthetics. It was popularized by Edward Tufte, Richard Saul Wurman, and their contemporaries. Information design is also closely related to the field of data visualization. This process overlaps particularly with experiential and environmental graphic design, specifically in the presentation of information on signage, visual displays, interpretive graphics, and exhibitions. It is a core competency of environmental and experiential graphic design and an important tool for practitioners in these disciplines. In particular, where complex information must be conveyed, information design can improve comprehension by creating a visual hierarchy that emphasizes the most critical content.
Types of Information Design
Information design is all about combining pieces of information and data so it makes sense to the reader. It is an exceptionally broad umbrella. Here are some examples of how this process operates.
For example, bite-sized information is turned into infographics, how-to videos, or tutorials.
Searchable information is represented by search engines, product lists, or websites. Educational resources can be seen as museum guides, exhibits, or microsites. Moreover, curated information can turn into exhibits, infographics, look-books, wayfinding information into digital and physical maps, trail information, escape plans, and health and safety into safety posters, medical apps, or leaflets. Furthermore, you can see experiential scents used in stores, video window displays, or 4D cinemas.
Taking into account that long list of examples, you can see that the range is huge. This is by no means an exhaustive list, though it should illustrate the breadth and variety an information designer might deal with day-to-day.
Differences Between Information Design and Data Visualization
Data and information are two words with similar meanings. Information is ‘The imparting of knowledge in general”, whereas data, on the other hand, is defined as “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” Thus, data is facts and figures, whereas information can be anything from statistics to a lecture, story, or graph. Put more simply, information gives the viewer a message, and data gives the viewer raw material from which they can draw their conclusions.
In data visualization, graphs, timetables, and charts can be added as more information becomes available. It could be the Kanban board you use to keep jobs on track, a speedometer, or a price list. Information design, on the other hand, encompasses graphics such as infographics, which in themselves can include data visualization, and any other tool that leads the viewer toward a bite-sized conclusion.
Touchpoints Between Information Design and UX Design
User Experience design is all about designing a process that feels amazing to use. The information must be clear, understandable, and delivered in a way that leads the user logically from beginning to end without them feeling lost or crushed. It is commonly associated with web design. A UX designer in this context researches, designs, tests, and validates design choices until they solve a problem in the most user-friendly way possible.
On the other hand (but not that much), information design kind of follows the same principles. For starters, it is a human-centered design with the needs of the user placed at the center of every decision. This is what is known as design thinking, a process that helps us extract and apply human-centered techniques to solve problems. In the case of information design, it is solving the problem of ‘how do we share this information in a way that is easier to understand?’
Suppose that your information design project is to design a graphic that focuses on food hygiene safety. Here is what this process might look like to be a solid one.
The designer will visit the kitchen where the food prep will occur. They might chat with the kitchen staff about how they generally work, what problems they are facing, and what they might need from a sign. If it is not likely to visit the place in person, the designer might do some research either on their team or with the help of a UX researcher.
In the second place, the designer defines what is needed using things they learned while talking with the kitchen staff. With our food hygiene sign example, requirements might include things like lamination so the poster does not crush if it gets moist. It should also probably have pictures rather than words so international workers can understand the message and extra-large diagrams that employees and see from afar.
Then, the designer, or the whole design team too, comes up with ideas that answer the requirements. They will also consider things like how best to make sure the poster is clear, attractive, and easy to comprehend.
This is the first draft of your design. It will be put up in the kitchen as a trial run. Design prototyping aims to collect real-world feedback, which is highly necessary.
Ask yourself if the poster doing its job. There may be metrics to measure here, like a reduction in food poisoning cases, better hygiene scores from local authorities, an increase in hand-washing among staff, etc. Or perhaps the posters are working but could be made better. Once feedback has been shared with the designer, they will go back to stage one and refine the posters until they are as close to answering the brief as doable.
Now you know everything you need to know to start focusing more on information design. By doing so, you will see better results in your performance sooner than you might think.