Monday, February 20, 2012

Sense-Making: A theory for information design

     Sense-making was developed as an evaluation tool to determine how human beings experience their interactions with outside stimuli, such as media and institutions. The findings discovered through use of sense-making evaluative studies were applied to applicable information and communication systems. The underlying goal of sense-making is to create an open channel between the human element effectively utilizing the nonhuman element. The human being is in constant movement from one situation to the next. Sense-making creates a clear walkway from one situation to the next for the human being.

     Sense-making is a powerful tool for many applications, including the design of information. It's power lies in its' ability to anticipate roadblocks for the human being, and eliminate them. It analyzes the position of the person, the position of the outside force or entity, and seeks to make a clear channel for usefulness and understanding between the two.

      One pitfall of sense-making is that it can never really end. If we are living in a reality lacking order and seek to create order, our work can never be finished. Additionally, any model of such a theory is very abstract, and cannot be easily used by all types of thinkers.

     Sense making can be used in the blog environment by bridging gaps between human action, human understanding, and human action after the understanding is incorporated into his or her world. For instance, since the goal of this blog post is to describe the theory of sense-making and its' usefulness in information design, a great achievement hereafter would be for a reader to pick up a pen and put himself in a situation, identify the blocks between his goals and himself, and devise a plan for dissolving those blocks. Once the situation is outlined on paper, we have the theory of sense-making in information design put into action.

Please bear with me as we change gears...

       A man is walking into a university. Why is he walking into the university? He is walking into the university to pay his bill. Where does he go in the university to pay his bill? The man goes to the cashier's office. How does the man find the cashier's office? He follows the signs in the university which point to the cashier's office. What ways can he pay his bill? He can pay with cash or credit card. Why, he asks, can he not pay with a check? The university does not accept checks. Why did his bill state that checks were accepted? There was a change in policy after his bill was printed.

      The above example is one of sense-making. When asking and answering the questions involved in this man's trip to the university, the reader understands the details of the situation. One could also devise from this example that the university may have failed to provide necessary information to the man when sending his bill pertaining to the upcoming changes in policy. Sense-making would have the goal to guide the man through the university, and allow him to pay his bill in an uncomplicated manner. If the man had nothing with him but his checkbook, he couldn't pay his bill and thus there was a gap between this man and resolving the situation that sense-making could address.

       Sense-making in the context of information design asks the same sorts of questions. The who, what, why, and how of the situation are what will guide our information design. And if we leave our information-users confused at the end of our information presentation, we haven't made sense to them, have we? As information designers using the sense-making approach we have to be wary of communication glitches, inadequate information, navigation of information, and most importantly what blocks stand in the way of our information being presented effectively, and how to make the transition from data on a sheet to useful information in any given circumstance in the most effective way possible.


  1. I find that every theory of information design has the same goal. That of taking information and transforming it into a form that can be understood. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways in this case sense-making the designer identifies blocks to understanding and attempts to dissolve those blocks. In my preferred theory of structured writing one breaks information down into component parts and combines them with graphics at times to convey information. I think of it as something like mashing information up like baby food so it will 'go down' easier.

  2. I like the colors you choose for the background and text as I find darker colors easier to read. The font and text size also contribute to making the narrative easy to read. Some people may prefer a bit larger point size, but for me it works very well. Your narrative flows really well and gives a good description of the Sense-Making Theory without neglecting to highlight some of its lesser qualities. The use of an image to break up different parts of the text is helpful to the reader. We already know something is coming by noticing the image before we even get to that part of the narrative.

  3. I enjoyed reading your blog post. You made the sense-making theory very easy to understand especially with your example of the man walking into a university. You have effectively communicated what the sense-making theory is about. I also like your choice of background color as it makes your text and graphic stand out.

  4. I enjoyed reading your blog. It made me understand the theory of sense-making a little bit better.

  5. I really like the design of your blog. The background color is relaxing on the eyes and makes it easy to scan your page. I also like the use of the font colors. Also, the graphic you used in the center of the page has colors that draw your eye to that portion of the page. The photo also nicely represents your intended message in the blocks before and after the photo even though they are two separate sections. My only suggestion would be providing a smoother transition from the paragraph above and the one right after the photo. It may have been helpful to include a more descriptive sentence to lead into the next thought. That part didn't read as smooth as the rest of the page did for me.