Information Design Is Solving Information Problems

For CDME2008 we were asked to look into an area of interest and develop a basic hypothesis into our Independent Study for Year Three. To do so we are to engage, discuss and contextualize the work and theories of professionals already working in our chosen field to further develop our own understanding. The purpose of this module is to introduce students with elements of primary research regarding the development of a concept, and to further develop their already established research skills – better equipping them for their area of study.

For me the foundations of my research started with Graphic Design.

‘The term information design is frequently applied to the layout of documents, interfaces and 3D imagery; however it can also refer to a host of information systems and environments’ (Snyder, 2011). This quote from an American lecturer in the field lays down the very foundation of what information design is, which is simply the practice of displaying information such as facts or figures in a visually appealing method that is much more simple for the mass public to understand. Louis Sullivan, 1896, stated that ‘Form Follows Function’, and in terms of working with the layout of pure information this couldn’t be more poignant. During the interview stage of the module, where students are asked to go and interview a professional in their field, I interviewed the Graphic Designer for the Worcestershire County Council, Neil Sullivan, 2013, who in response to a question involving the correlation between Form and Function stated that – ‘If you can get the right balance between informing the viewer of the correct message and attractiveness then this is a much better standard practice of work’ showing first-hand that this theory regarding both form and function is something that is applied within the place of work.

‘Avoid straightforward facts and dry statistics. Instead, focus on the relationship between the facts, the context and the connections that make the information meaningful.’ (McCandless, 2009). David McCandless is one of the biggest contemporary names in Information Design and talks freely about the beauty of Data Visualization and the language of the eye and mind in his TED talks (TedGlobal, 2010). This works similarly to the psychologist’s theory of dominant sides to the brain (Sperry, 1981). Both McCandless and Sperry claim that one side of the brain is more dominant than the other resulting in the subject being either more analytical and logical with their thoughts or alternatively, being more creative and sensitive to patterns, colour and shape. In terms of good design regarding

the layout of information, then it is this ‘Language of the Eye’ that is essential for recognizing the patterns and trends hidden within the data. Having a more unusual arrangement allows the designer to bring certain elements into focus more so than others, so the irrelevant facts are easily ignored. Typically humourous elements will also be added to further boost the appeal of the Info Graphic as with the ‘Mega Shark’ piece which illustrates how a 40 meter Shark could attack a low riding plane at cloud level with the proper acceleration out of the water (Taubman, 2010). I think the success of this piece in addition to it’s simplified composition which follows the Graphic’s Rule of Thirds (Smith, 1797), is the humourous iconographic images used within which are very similar to the work of Otto Neurath (1920’s) – as is evident from the cover page from his book. References are given so that the viewer can identify with the scale of the proposed size of ‘Mega Shark’ and the fact that this is fictional doesn’t detract from the value of the information.

‘A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words’ (Barnard, 1921). Working as a data journalist allows you the freedom of working outside the parameters of simply just text and into the much broader spectrum of working with both the copy and an image combined.

Otto Neurath (2011) is considered by many to be the originator of Information Design. In the recent rerelease of his book The Language Of The Global Polis he states that ‘Education requires simplification, that is, the empiricist notion of abstraction in the face of the complexity of facts.’ He then goes onto say that it is better to remember ‘simplified pictures than it is to forget accurate figures’ which works better for individuals who prefer to study with a visual, non-verbal learning style (Rolfe, 2012). This type of learning prefers the use of images and pictograms in textbooks and will remember something by mentally visualizing a picture rather than remembering a quote they read at the same time, proving a need for the subject of Information Design. This heavily iconographic style works with this type of use due to it being easily memorable and colourful.

Limited colour is something that has been transferred to many forms of media, as with the directional signage used in Britain today. During the late 1950’s measurements were put in place to amend all of the Wayfinding systems in the United Kingdom. The Ministry of Transport commissioned Richard ‘Jock’ Kinnear and Margaret Calvert to design a set of signage that was clear and understandable. From this we can determine that the basic fundamental of Wayfinding is to create signage that is intuitive on first sight and unnoticeable so that it blends into the current surroundings (Dan Hirst, 2009). The original commission set up to redesign the signage back in 1957 (Design Museum, 2006) was first used on the M6 bypass in Preston, but over time similar projects were set up to develop the road signs throughout Britain and eventually their work had become the model for modern road sign design. The colour coded system, known as the Guilford Ruling was introduced in the later part of the 1950’s after it’s pilot in Guilford, Surrey. It was one of the biggest updates to hit the directional signage for the past thirty years and was the practice of incorporating colours relevant to the particular route to make the Wayfinding journey easier for motorists to understand.

The uses of Information Design do not only cover that of displaying signage and information but also recognizing patterns that may have previously been hidden as with the cholera epidemic in the 1840’s (Snow, 1854). This thematic map by John Snow doesn’t only chart the cases of Cholera in the given area but also links the deaths to the surrounding water pumps to show the relationship between the two. If it wasn’t for this research into medical cartography then preventative measurements could not have been put into place to cure the epidemic that claimed so many lives (Vinten-Johansen, 2003).

Sadly due to the evolution of digital communication being incorporated into the modern world, the art of cartography is one that is slowly dying out. As can be seen by the ordinance survey statement (Page 16, Learning Journal). It’s only logical that people will access websites such as Google and use devices like satellite navigation systems to find their way from A to B when research suggests that drivers with a SatNav spend on average of 18% less time at the wheel as opposed to those without (AA, the. No Date). This is in no doubt due to user errors and the way that satnavs can intuitively help drivers avoid traffic incidents, congestion charges and toll roads. However when signs such as ‘Do Not Follow Your Satnav’ are installed throughout the country (Mail Online, 2007), it doesn’t seem reasonable that so much faith can be put into them. When working to a close brief, designers such as Sullivan said that it is standard practice to use a template which may have been pulled off of Google itself, making the whole process of cartography and map making a much quicker process (Sullivan, 2013).

The art of the Mapmaker and Wayfinding Engineer is most certainly not a dead concept as the technological user error encountered within a SatNav is nonexistent through the use of physical maps rendering Information Design and Wayfinding a more objective and accurate approach.

To conclude the research that I have looked at throughout the course of this module has helped me to expand upon my knowledge of Information Journalism and to develop my understanding on the methods and theory which I intend to develop even further for my Independent Study next year. This has led me onto the dissertation topic ‘Can there be such a thing as an Information Journalist?’

Currently journalism is predominantly a textual medium, with the public and most artists within the community not recognizing that Information Design can be used in effect to display data in a much more engaging and eye-catching way. Information Journalism is an unusual concept, but on a broader scale makes logical sense due to the way people respond to information presented and how humans are intrinsically engineered to communicate using the dominant half to their brain. Due to the modern age, information is shared a lot more effectively since the creation of the World Wide Web in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee (CERN, 2013), which has resulted in putting the infrastructure in place for designers to disseminate these stories.

For my Independent Study I will critique the different learning styles by conducting a survey to see if there is a correlation between the way people respond to a piece of Information Design and Wayfinding and whether they are comfortable switching from the technological maps to a paper one for long journeys if these maps are rendered different;y. I will then respond accordingly to these results and proceed with the findings to watch how people orientate themselves in a new surrounding without immediate Wayfinding approaches available to them.

Overall I have found this module to be one that is engaging in that it helps student to expand upon a topic that they hold a certain passion for.

Information Design Is Solving Information Problems.


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