Why is ID important?

Information design is about crafted artifacts (e.g., text, graphics, images, coded structures) dispersed through media (e.g., print, digital, social, etc.) on diverse platforms (e.g., written documents, websites, or podcasts).

Information designers use organization and structure to communicate information clearly and unambiguously to an intended audience, who will then access, absorb, and use the information.

User-centered focus (i.e., designing the artifact with the user’s perspective foremost) and iterative usability testing (i.e., repeated testing of the artifact with users, recurrent analysis of the test results, and ongoing improvements to the design based on the user-testing results) help to make sure that the design communicates the intended meaning to real users and avoids misinformation, disinformation, and non-information.

  • Misinformation: the designer attempts to communicate truth or accurate information through the artifact, but, either fails to communicate the intended information in a way understood by the user or communicates wrong information because of ambiguous phrasing, poor sentence construction, double meanings, or some other unforeseen issue;
  • Disinformation: the designer intends to communicate false, inaccurate, or partial information to leave an inaccurate or biased impression or covert lie;
  • Non-information: the designer either intentionally or unintentionally communicates irrelevant or distracting information. *

Practicing good information design principles from the early stages of design through artifact release minimizes or avoids information failures. Serious consequences can result from inattention to the principles of good design in the creation of informational artifacts:

  • For example, in an analysis of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, information designer Edward Tufte showed how the PowerPoint slides that NASA officials used to analyze safety factors for the launch, actually obscured serious problems with the weather conditions. If the details had been presented in a way that gave proper weight to these problem issues, the pre-launch team might have aborted the mission.  **
  • Another area where serious consequences can result from poorly designed product documentation happens in the documentation materials for medical products. Federal laws require that health and safety documentation must be written so that users can clearly understand the risks and benefits of product use, as well as to fully and safely understand all the procedures for using the products.

Whatever the purpose of an informational artifact, knowledgeable designers who carefully follow good information design principles will increase the clarity of the message and decrease opportunities for user error, whether the design project seems important, like a user manual for a medical device, or less serious, like the directions for seeding tomatoes on the back of a packet of seeds.

—Susan LaVelle

* Katz, Joel (2012), Designing of Information, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
** Tufte, Edward R (2001) [1983], The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (2nd ed.), Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

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