What information design is

The Information Design Conference this year (12th and 13th of april) started with a great (in my opinion) presentation of Per Mollerup, Professor of Communication Design at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. Basically, he introduced many concepts or elements that are part of information design as a discipline and that we were going to hear many times during those two intense days of talks. The way he related one concept to the other was extremely clear and logical, so it was a pleasure to hear.

I will briefly explain below the main things that I took out of Per’s presentation.

First of all, there is no such thing as one definition of information design that explains everything it involves. “The Information Design Handbook” (Visocky O’Grady 2008) tries to collect many definitions so you can create your own idea of it. But when something gets close to explain this broad discipline, the definition becomes too long and thus harder to understand and remember.

Mollerup himself, stated that information design is explanation, and that good information design is clear explanation. Although I don’t think that this definition captures how strong the role of visual communication is, I believe it is clear and, especially, catchy.

Some of the concepts that he explained later were Clarity and Simplicity, Complex and Complicated. Simple and Complex are attributes of what it’s being explained, but clear and complicated result from the design and the user’s perception and interaction with the information. Thus, Complex consists in many interrelated elements, Complicated is something difficult to understand and analyse, and Simplicity is a means to achieve Clarity.

Furthermore, information design or information designers deal with 3 other concepts: Aesthetics, Functionality and Ethics. These are related to Norman’s 3 ways of relationship between people and products: Visceral, Behavioural and Reflexive. According to Mollerup, aesthetics affect the 3 visceral, behavioural and reflexive level, whereas functionality only affects behavioural and ethics the reflexive level.

There were more concepts mentioned, but the ones described above are those that I thought were more relevant. After this kick off, the conference started with more than 25 short talks to come, covering several topics such as wayfinding, information design for interaction, document design, data visualisation, language and content, collaboration in design and finally information design for health. This list is just a great example to show how broad the field is for information design, covering from content to graphics and from research to innovation.


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