Information design

Information design

Information design has been defined as the art and science of preparing information so that it can be used by human beings with efficiency and effectiveness.

Information design has its origins as a subset of, or synonym for graphic design and it is often taught as part of graphic design courses. One of the first uses of the term was by the London graphic design consultancy Pentagram, who used the term in the 1970s to mean their graphic design, as distinct from product or other kinds of design. Since that time, the term has come to be used specifically for graphic design that has the purpose of displaying information effectively, rather than just attractively, or for the purpose of self expression by the designer as artist.

During the 1980s information design broadened to include responsibility for message content and language, and a greater role for user-testing and research than had been traditional in mainstream graphic design.

Information designers who have their roots in professional writing sometimes refer to the field as 'document design', particularly in the USA. The term Information graphics tends to be used by those primarily concerned with diagramming and display of quantitative information.

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 modelling and process analysis.


Information design probably emerged with humans' first efforts to communicate with one another. Early instances of modern information design include John Snow's spot maps, which pinpointed the source of an 1850s London cholera outbreak, Charles Joseph Minard's 1861 diagram depicting Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812, and Otto Neurath's International Picture Language of the 1930s.

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 Information Design Journal in 1979. During the late 60s and 70s, the Journal of Typographic Research (since renamed Visible Language) was publishing research on a wider range of information design topics than its name suggested. Its editor, Merald Wrolstad, co-organised a series of Processing of Visible Language conferences, which brought together designers, psychologists, linguists, and interface engineers. Proceedings of other multidisciplinary conferences at the time include Easterby & Zwaga (1984) and Duffy & Waller (1985). Schriver (1997) has a good history of the emergence of information design.

Channels and document types


The audiences information designers cater to may be very broad (for example, the signs in airports are for everybody), or very specific - information products such as telephone bills may personalized for individual customers using market segmentation and information management techniques and technologies similar to those used in direct marketing.

A common characteristic of information design projects is an attempt to create or reinforce trust between users and design artifacts. These artifacts are associated with increased responsibility, such as medicine packaging inserts, operational instructions for industrial machinery, and information provided for use in emergencies. In other words, the audience has a reliance on the information conveyed.

This means that information designers have an unusual degree of power over their audiences when compared to other designers,Fact|date=April 2007 and "with great power comes great responsibility". The increased responsibility means information designers require accountability, and this is developed through user testing of design artifacts.

The power relationship between information designers and their clients is also different from that between graphic designers and their clients. Information designers seek to serve the interests of their clients' audiences as well as those of their clients, and they will often advocate for the audience over the client.


Information design draws on a wide range of competencies that are seldom possessed by a single person. For this reason, information designers tend to work on information products in teams that include specialists and other information designers.

In the United States, the title of information designer is sometimes used by graphic designers who specialize in creating websites. The skillset of the information designer, as the title is applied more globally, is closer to that of the information architect in the U.S.

This list is indicative rather than prescriptive or fully descriptive.


Using, commissioning, co-ordinating and understanding research. All design involves research as an initial stage. Information design research is likely to involve some or all of the following:
* Business process investigation and analysis
* Qualitative and quantitative user research
* Reference to existing academic research (e.g., ergonomics, cognitive and perceptual psychology)
* Craft knowledge: what has been tried before


Using words, diagrams, type and sequencing to restructure messages so that they tell a story more effectively.

Writing for clear communication

Writing and/or editing to make messages clear, unambiguous and understandable by their intended audience(s).

Graphic and typographic design

Designing the appearance of an information product so that users can find what they want and understand it when they get there.

Information visualisation

Creating graphic displays which turn data into lucid information.


Understanding how to make preliminary visualizations, models and prototypes which allow discussion and useful testing.


Understanding the range of techniques available for testing prototype and finished information products with their intended audiences. There are a wide range of techniques available, which vary according to the media used and the intended process and audience(s). The ability to select and manage suitable methods in particular projects.


The ability to work well with a range of specialisms and to act as 'professional amateur' in such teams, representing the user.


Understanding what accessibility means for an intended audience. The ability to assess risk realistically. Information design is actually all about accessibility in the wider sense.


Understanding chosen production media and processes. The ability to specify to production specialists in a wide range of industries (print, video, software, web, product manufacturers) clearly and efficiently.

Typical applications and contexts

Information design affects to a wide range of applications and document genres, including financial information, administrative documents such as forms, medical and pharmaceutical information, food and health information, user guides, technical manuals, travel information, and wayfinding information.

Governments and regulatory authorities have legislated about a number of information design issues, such as the minimum size of font in financial small print, the labelling of ingredients in processed food, and the testing of medicine labelling. Examples of this are the Truth In Lending Act in the USA, that introduced the 'Schumer box' (a concise summary of charges for people applying for a credit card), and the Guideline on the Readability of the Label and Package Leaflet of Medicinal Products for Human Use (European Commission September 1998).

ee also

* Knowledge visualization
* Visual literacy
* Web indexing
* New Epoch Notation Painting
* Information architecture
* Graphic design
* Typography
* Wayfinding

External links

* []
* [ International Institute for Information Design]
* [ Design Council: About Information Design - "The essentials of information design by Sue Walker and Mark Barratt"]
* [ Communication Research Institute of Australia: "Information Design for the Information Age"]
* [ Information Design Journal]
* [ UK Information Design Association]
* [ Society for Technical Communication ID-IA SIG]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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