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Defining Information Design:


(Extracts from the book, "Content and Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication Edited by Michael J. Albers University of Memphis
Beth Mazur University of Baltimore LEA LAWRENCE ERLBAUM ASSOCIATES, PUBLISHERS 2003 Mahwah, New Jersey London)


It is ironic that defining information design is a major problem facing the information design discipline. Any article or book on information design will have a definition in it, ranging from being synonymous with graphic design to web design to technical communication, and all variations between. The definitions never match. In a special issue of Technical Communication (May, 2000), a section on information design contained at least three definitions in the introduction and commentaries alone.But what is information design? The Vienna-based International Institute of Information Design (2000) admits that information design can be hard to define, because it is an interdisciplinary approach which combines skills in graphic design, writing and editing, illustration, and human factors. Information designers seek to combine skills in these fields to make complex information easier to understand.

Before considering various definitions of information design, I must solidly reject some definitions I have found. Actually, no one has explicitly defined information design in these terms, rather the definition was apparent from context of their usage. Information design is not equivalent to or a synonym for:
• Graphical design
• Web design
• Information architecture
Various leading figures—who come from a language-based background in information design—have placed their own definitions on the table. But as you can see reading these definitions, they come in radically different flavors, although they contain similar elements. (For more definitions of information design, see Carliner, in this volume. )

Janice Redish

Information design is what we do to develop a document (or communication) that works for its users. Working for its users means that the people who must or want to use the information can:
• find what they need,
• understand what they find, and
• use what they understand appropriately.

Conrad Taylor

One may be a professional writer or illustrator or designer, or combine these into the profession of technical communicator; but I (somewhat controversially) don't regard information design as a profession. I see it more as a stance that one takes, like a political or moral stance. Whether we create software manuals or street signs or schoolbooks, by aligning ourselves with the aspirations of information design, we are making a promise to ourselves and each other to improve the quality of communication, respecting and improving the lives of our fellows.

Information Design Journal

Information design is the art and the science of presenting information so that it is understandable and easy to use: effective, efficient and attractive.

Karen Schriver

Document design is a field concerned with creating texts (broadly defined) that integrate words and pictures in ways that help people to achieve their specific goals for using texts at home, school, or work.

Saul Carliner

[I]nformation design may be better defined as:Preparing communication products so that they achieve the performance objectives established for them. This involves:
1. Analyzing communication problems.
2. Establishing performance objectives that, when achieved, address these objectives.
3. Developing a blueprint for a communication effort to address those objectives.
4. Developing the components of the planned communication effort solution.
5. Evaluating the ultimate effectiveness of the effort.

A major reason for the varying definitions comes from the immaturity of the information design discipline and the bias of each person that reflects the previous experiences. Right now, information design can handle and should have a wide range of definitions that help spur debate and inquiry into exactly what the field does and how it should focus itself. As information design matures into its own field, an overall agreedupon definition will emerge; one that will probably take elements from each of the foregoing definitions but will integrate them in a unique way.
The journals, research agenda, and expected practitioner actions all contribute to a discipline definition and expectations. The field has one major English language journal, Information Design Journal, but much of the research appears in the journals of the underlying disciplines and reflects each discipline's biases. There are several universities who have created a program in information design and I expect many more programs to appear over the next few years. All these forces, acting together over the next several years, will yield a much stronger and concise definition of information design.


Publication Information: Book Title: Content & Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication. Contributors: Michael J. Albers - editor, Beth Mazur - editor. Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of Publication: Mahwah, NJ. Publication Year: 2003. Page Numbers 1-9.

COMMENTS

gapminder: an interesting website of information design
usabilitynews: this is a news of information design about usability
Adobe: information design on global warming
informationarchitectureinstitue: The Institute for Information Architecture