Information design is explained in only three languages in
Wikipedia. The term is not even listed in Encyclopaedia
Britannica. This shows that the discipline is still far from
having established itself, although its approach is as old as the
cultural history of mankind. Information design focuses on the
efficient graphic design of complex sets of information employing
an interdisciplinary approach. The rapidly increasing complexity of
data from our everyday lives has in the past decades led to
information design distinguishing itself in the broad field of
visual communication as a specific discipline with its own courses
of study, practitioners and theoreticians.
Information design is the transfer of complex data to, for the most
part, two-dimensional visual representations that aim at
communicating, documenting and preserving knowledge. It deals with
making entire sets of facts and their interrelations
comprehensible, with the objective of creating transparency and
eliminating uncertainty. At best, representations of information
achieve a transfer, by deriving additional knowledge and creating
interaction via the organization, combination and density of facts.
They are not representations of what one sees but what one
To design the 'meaning of complex information' is a task that
demands from information designers systematic thinking and a
combination of analytical, editorial and graphic abilities. The top
priority lies in addressing the content of the information.
Moreover, methods of navigation, order and abstraction belong to
the basic knowledge required. The efficiency demanded from
Information design necessitates the examination of human perception
and cultural circumstances; the demand of sustainability requires
that visualization practitioners constantly think ahead.
To practice Information design implies viewing the world through
a special filter, disassembling it with analytical curiosity, to
then assemble it again in a simplified way and with a feeling for
precision and detail.
Information design evolved from an interdisciplinary attitude. The
persons who have had a lasting influence on the field come from
different disciplines. They have repeatedly cooperated with other
disciplines in a content-related way and used these other
approaches and methods of thought as inspiration. In addition to
innovative, graphic representations, they have above all invented
new methods of order, navigation and interaction. Hence, they have
established essential standards for the interpretation of complex
sets of facts and provided new orientation aids for our everyday
Information design demands an interdisciplinary approach to
communication, e.g., by combining with each other the skills of
graphic design, 3-D design, digital media, cognitive science,
information theory, and cultural sciences. Information design is
not practiced in a media-bound way. It intends to elaborate common
solution strategies together with other disciplines. It thus
differs from classical graphic design, which is to a large extent
geared to 'multidisciplinarity' and additively utilizes methods of
other disciplines without establishing a unified conceptual
framework structure linking these disciplines.
Information design understands interdisciplinarity as the
synthesis of different partial aspects; the mere juxtaposition of
these aspects does not suffice. The discipline has its roots, among
others, in information theory and the psychology of perception, and
is therefore a combination of research and design. However, the
research aspect of information design goes beyond the usual
research on the acquisition of information. It has more in common
with the systematic gathering of information as it is performed in
academic or journalistic research.
Technical and graphic standards are an important part of
information design's repertory. In addition to claiming absolute
objectivity, they are often indispensable for applied information
design solutions. However, it is frequently the case that a
subjective bias of information design representations cannot be
avoided and that standard models at times do not achieve their
purpose. There is no formula for good Information design. Many
tasks ask for new concepts and graphic solutions, because the
amount of information in our daily lives is constantly increasing
and incessantly changing its structure.
How can the information design repertory be expanded in the
future? Until now, only applied research has become established in
Information design, a functional research that in view of a
business application attempts to solve specific, often technical,
problems. A free examination of complex systems, which is in line
with the approach of Information design, is usually not attributed
to it. Experimental research is neglected or even frowned upon.
However, it is desirable for information design to turn to the
'experiment.' It is important to create experimental
platforms-interdisciplinary forums in which theoretical and visual
research merge and new content-related and visual concepts are
tested in a playful manner. An autonomous research approach could
help reflect upon and expand the methods of information design.
This would also give new impetus to commercially oriented
solutions. Artistic disciplines could provide a source of
inspiration and thought-provoking impulses to this end.
The awareness that information design can be at once inspiring,
enlightening, entertaining and functional is yet to be achieved by
consumers and many of its practitioners. It is now in keeping with
the times, in information design as well, to offer a multi-faceted
interpretation of the world.
Sylvia Harris was recognized with the AIGA Medal
for an unerring commitment to using design to improve the civic
experience and for influencing a generation of designers as a teacher
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, interview, awards
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