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Information design is an increasingly important niche in the graphic design world.
Unlike other types of Designers focused primarily on aesthetics — making something look attractive and appealing — Information Designers are coupling those principles with the ultimate goal of making information accessible and clear.
While conveying information through design dates way back to early street signs or hand-drawn maps, this field is now highly specialized thanks to the power of modern technology and data collection.
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“It’s the pleasing, efficient, visual presentation of information that can be used to drive insights and create value,” explains Christopher Moorehead, Director of Information Design at leading professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“If you’re not creating value with it, it’s not information design — it’s a pretty picture.”
Information Designers typically work for design agencies, newspapers, or professional services firms, providing design work with specific targets in mind: Corporate clients, readers, or users of a particular system, like a transit network, for example.
And their output can be diverse, from infographics in a publication to wayfinding systems in the real world.
So what, exactly, do Information Designers do day-to-day?
Research and Brainstorming
Before diving into any project, there’s always a period of research and brainstorming to understand how best to convey information so it makes sense to someone viewing it.
“We tend to think about our audiences and who we are working with, and I think it’s fundamental that we have this human-centered aspect to the data processes,” says Isabel Meirelles, a professor in the faculty of design at Toronto-based OCAD University.
While explaining her daily workflow in a blog post, UK-based Information Designer Non Wood offered an example of building a wireframe infographic for a client and starting from the basic groundwork of understanding the client’s goals and brainstorming key points and visual ideas.
“I find additional reading and research essential to being able to design information; it’s crucial to understand content before being able to design for it,” she adds.
Analyzing and Presenting Data
A major part of modern information design is analyzing and presenting data, whether it’s financial charts in a report for a client or a news-based infographic in a consumer magazine — and doing so in a way that communicates the information clearly and effectively to real people.
“You need to understand data. And you need to have a little interest in cognitive psychology,” says Moorehead.
Meirelles says this part of the role is so crucial given the massive amounts of information we’re now collecting as a society, since unpacking it requires a thorough understanding of data analysis and a keen sense of ethical boundaries when you’re interpreting it.
Moorehead says the final product of all that data-crunching needs to be beneficial, not just easy to understand. “It’s creating value for the user, but not necessarily financial value,” he explains. “Take wayfinding. It keeps you from getting lost and wasting time.”
And it also needs to be accurate, he stresses.
“It’s about using the correct chart for the type of data,” Moorehead says, “and don’t mislead people with data.”
Applying Design Principles
There’s no question information design is built on traditional design principles, and modern Information Designers use those guidelines to boost the clarity of their work.
Moorehead says while designing a project, he’ll always use best practices stemming from those principles with a clear purpose in mind.
Composition, for instance, is key, he says. But picking a design element like a typeface isn’t just about making it pleasing to the eye, but also ensuring that the work is easy for your audience to read and follows accessibility requirements.
Same goes with color choices. One report Moorehead worked on involved using specific colors for different departments throughout the entire document — allowing people to scan quickly and instantly know what area was being discussed.
“Every color is supposed to have a meaning, like color-coding information,” he explains. “We never use color just because it’s pretty.”
After the research, brainstorming, data analysis, and design phases are over, Information Designers then have to deliver project proofs to their managers, editors or clients — followed by re-jigging the design until the final product is just right.
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