There are a lot of people
out there who can tell you about information design. Details about white space, font pairings and illustration abound. And you can't take a step without stepping in the why - people singing the praises and value of information design. It's a lovely song of an exploding field.
What I crave is discussion about the middle ground: patterns of building information design: after strategy, before drafting. I've incorporated all I could find into my practice from the handful of well known practitioners. Because it seems hard for me to find, I've decided to share some of my core patterns here at Landwave. Incorporate them into your own practice, use them as you shop for information design services or direct information design professionals.
More Than It Seems
Today information design is frequently associated with journalistic and exhibitors practice of information graphics, user interface design in technology fields and slide decks in management. It seems like it sprung up just last week in our collective consciousness (it's been almost ten years with iPhone? Seriously?) When I look deeper, Information design thinking has been around a long time.
The graphic arts - poster design, way finding on streets, highways and buildings, the humble calling card, package design - are an old practice indeed. Story illustration in print and sculpture goes back millennia. Map making is the cartographers information design specialty. You could argue architecture is a kind of information design - "enter here, eat here, bathroom over there." Closer to home, you've been practicing information design since you had to show your work to teachers and make shopping lists.
We all consume information and we all create it.
As a professional designer though, my information design practice spans the following: information graphics and user interface (UI) design, design documentation. Information Design is a fancy way of saying, charts and illustrations packed with story goodness.
I use it to tell the whole story. You should too.
Use Real Data & Tell The Whole Story
I've seen circular arguments dissolve in the face of real data. I've seen projects wildly off course corrected by simple feedback and terminology everyone could agree on. Disagreements often begin without having basic terms and frameworks agreed upon. Eons later, the acrimony is like certain blue cheeses: an acquired taste.
Some communities operate knowing that terminology is rarely going to agree. So they begin their proposals with definitions and logical outlines - indulgently called frameworks. All in all it seems a useful practice in my world.
When I haven't had real data, I do detective work, canvasing members individually for their viewpoints on a common framework. I help them voice their concerns.
Anecdotes - "war stories" - carry information to be sure. They should be valued. But don't act on them without getting the full story with real frameworks and data.
Establish the orders of magnitude fast.
I was invited to spent a couple months sitting in meetings regarding the performance of a certain business unit. This outfit had a difficult past and there was enormous energy from multiple levels of the organization to get that past behind them.
One day I asked, "how much work do you do annually?" Between $4 and $10 million, with an average of about $5 million. "And you are a completely reimbursable service?" Yes. "So, let me get this straight. The annual operating budget of the organization is 50 times that and you guys essentially pay for yourselves?" Yes.
Their customers had no complaints to speak of. Their workflows and procedures could stand some attention. The energy had come from a difficult series of managers long gone. The crew was recovering under new leadership. But frankly, the money and emotional energy being expended was hardly worth the blood and treasure. I kindly said so and look forward to serving them if their operation grows.
In the meantime, another part of the organization - the one responsible for keeping track of capital expenditures - couldn't say for sure what their process was.
Mountain, meet Molehill.
Anecdotes Are Information