What is information design?

Via Communication Nation, “What is information design?“:

“There are as many definitions of information design as there are information designers. Some think it’s the presentation of complex or potentially confusing information. Others see it as a method to visualize quantitative data. In the end it comes down to how you define information and what you mean by design.

Here are my definitions:

Information: Anything that people need to be aware of in order to make better decisions.

Design: The discipline of developing structures which enhance people’s lives.

So if you can agree with those definitions, a good definition for information design might be:

Information design: The discipline of developing structures which allow people to find information that’s relevant to them, and use it to make decisions which enhance their lives.

This sounds simple when you say it that way, but it has broad implications to a field that most people think of as ‘the chart people.’ It’s a broad role that crosses organizational silos and goes straight to the heart of what is essential. It includes things like interface design, meeting design, and standards for organization-wide communication.”

I’m not sure I would tie information to decisions for the same reason that Senge separates decision-making from dialogue. There’s a trap in defining a thing by how it can be used. This confused the verbs “be” and “do” which is a logical typing error. The danger of logical typing is the implicit hierarchy.

Design, I think, isn’t about developing structures. The process of developing a structure is about a specific deliverable, an instantiation of a larger principle. The larger principle is the climax of design, whereas the deliverable is the denouement. Design is a discipline that seeks to understand what should be and to then develop ways to approximate or approach that. Further, design should be iterative, going through and asking what should be again and again, and still again as it attempts to approximate and approach a changing ideal. This changing ideal changes not so much because it is uncertain, but because each design decision changes the conditions from which it comes.

This fluid condition comes in part from the way in which design also should ask questions about the boundaries and constraints in which the design process takes place. Design doesn’t just surface and determine the boundary conditions, but also questions them. These boundary conditions are determined from collaboration between designer and client, which can be an artificial distinction. The simple distinction is that a process of design is for someone and by someone, but these should be in relationship.

So, design is a process that simultaneously asks what should be and what can be for the purpose of co-creating something. In this case, that something is not information. The something is yet to be determined. Information is one of the boundary conditions. Information is the media in which the work is to be done, a material to become something.