Foundations of ‘Information Design’

Some of the key principles that comprise information design are: the effective and persuasive communication of information, the appropriate delivery of Information as action enabler, the consideration of information as primarily context-dependent, the understanding of user cognitive processing, the practice of visual thinking and structure writing (or information mapping), and the development and the use of a comprehensive universal (e.g. iconic) visual language.

According to Robert Jacobson and Robert Horn, information design describes the emergence of a new visual language borne out of the necessity of understanding, managing, and communicating complexity. Fields stemming from the practice of information design include: “human factors in technology, educational psychology, computer interface design, performance technology, documentation design, typography research, advertising, communications, and structured writing.” (Horn; Jacobson, 1999:22) Information design is not a unified field and is termed differently in by its variety of practitioners. Tensions do exist amongst the multitude of expert fields; namely, between graphic design and technical communication, as well as between experts and novel practitioners. (Horn; Jacobson, 1999:24)

Because information design is not a unified field and because its practice is highly context dependent, it has long been a challenge for designers and researchers alike to develop a vocabulary to describe and pass over the essential ingredients necessary for effectively communicating meaningful and persuasive information.

When design is dependent on context, context is embedded in and transforms the variables within the practice information design. Attempts to create a universal language (e.g. iconic signage) have at times worked against other designers and researchers who have strived to revive and reclaim cultural and natural identity by using local and iconic visual representations. Horn introduced the term VLicons(™) which he coined to distinguish ‘visual language icons’ from words and language alone. VLicons juxtaposes both word and icon to provide a captivating, persuasive and memorable language that extracts the essence while yet communicating a meaningful visual experience. (Horn; Jacobson, 1999:24)

Research design, experience design, and cognitive science are the pillars of information design. This requires that designers of information combine various skill sets in order to provide meaningful interactions for consumers of information. Horn splits information design practitioners as such: inventors, analysts, universalists, collectors, writers, aestheticians, popularizers, and researchers. Jacobson, however, describes how information design can help one read, process, and transfer meaning. (Jacobson, 1999:10)

source: Jacobson, Robert (Ed.). Information Design. MIT Press, Massachussets: 1999