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Information design is the practice of presenting information in a way that fosters efficient and effective understanding of it. The term has come to be used specifically for graphic design for displaying information effectively, rather than just attractively or for artistic expression. Information design is closely related to the field of data visualization and is often taught as part of graphic design courses.
The term 'information design' emerged as a multidisciplinary area of study in the 1970s. Some graphic designers started to use the term, and it was consolidated with the publication of the Information Design Journal in 1979, and later with the setting up of the related Information Design Association (IDA) in 1991. In 1982, Edward Tufte produced a book on information design called The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The term information graphics tends to be used by those primarily concerned with diagramming and display of quantitative information.
In technical communication, information design refers to creating an information structure for a set of information aimed at specified audiences. It can be practiced on different scales.
- On a large scale, it implies choosing relevant content and dividing it into separate manuals by audience and purpose.
- On a medium scale, it means organizing the content in each manual and making sure that overviews, concepts, examples, references, and definitions are included and that topics follow an organizing principle.
- On a fine scale, it includes logical development of topics, emphasis on what's important, clear writing, navigational clues, and even page design, choice of font, and use of white space.
Similar skills for organization and structure are brought to bear in designing web sites, with additional constraints and functions that earn a designer the title information architect. In computer science and information technology, 'information design' is sometimes a rough synonym for (but is not necessarily the same discipline as) information architecture, the design of information systems, databases, or data structures. This sense includes data modeling and process analysis. In the United States, the title of information designer is sometimes used by graphic designers who specialize in creating websites. The skill set of the information designer, as the title is applied more globally, is closer to that of the information architect in the U.S.
Information design is associated with the age of technology but it does have historical roots. Early instances of modern information design include these effective examples:
- John Snow's spot maps, which pinpointed the source of a deadly cholera outbreak in 1850s London
- Charles Joseph Minard's 1861 diagram depicting Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812
- Otto Neurath's International Picture Language of the 1930s
- Florence Nightingale's information graphic depicting army mortality rates
The Minard diagram shows the losses suffered by Napoleon's army in the 1812-1813 period. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface (x and y), time, direction of movement, and temperature. This multivariate display on a two dimensional surface tells a story that can be grasped immediately while identifying the source data to build credibility. Edward Tufte wrote in 1983 that: "It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn."
Information design can be used for broad audiences (such as signs in airports) or specific audiences (such as personalized telephone bills). The resulting work often seeks to improve a user's trust of a product (such as medicine packaging inserts, operational instructions for industrial machinery and information for emergencies).
Governments and regulatory authorities have legislated about a number of information design issues, such as the minimum size of type in financial small print, the labeling of ingredients in processed food, and the testing of medicine labeling. Examples of this are the Truth in Lending Act in the USA, which introduced the Schumer box (a concise summary of charges for people applying for a credit card), and the Guideline on the Readability of the Labelling and Package Leaflet of Medicinal Products for Human Use (European Commission, Revision 1, 12 January 2009).
Professor Edward Tufte explained that users of information displays are executing particular analytical tasks such as making comparisons or determining causality. The design principle of the information graphic should support the analytical task, showing the comparison or causality.
- Chief Experience Officer (CXO)
- Content management
- Data Visualization
- Information architecture
- Knowledge visualization
- New Epoch Notation Painting
- Plain language
- Technical communication
- Technical illustration
- Visual literacy
- Web indexing
- "The Origins of the Information Design Association" (PDF). University of Reading. 2008. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
- Tufte, Edward (1983). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press. ISBN 0961392142.
- "Information Design FAQ". Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- Edward Tufte-Presentation-August 2013
- International Institute for Information Design
- Communication Research Institute: Information Design for the Information Age
- Information Design Journal
- UK Information Design Association
- Society for Technical Communication Information Design – Information Architecture (ID–IA) Special Interest Group (SIG)
- Visualizing Information for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design Booklet on information design for non-profit and non-governmental organizations.
- McCandless, David (2010). "The beauty of data visualization".