Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Information Design Process

Where to Begin? 

       When one is designing information, there are two parties that need to be taken into account immediately: the client, and the audience. In order to do this you know two things well:

  • Your Client
  • Your Audience 

     To know your client, there are several things to consider. You need to know what industry they exist in, what product or service they offer, where they are located, who they key decision makers are, and so on. To know your intended audience, there are several more considerations. First, you need to know who makes up your largest audience. You must understand your primary audience's demographics, as well as the demographics of any other significant audience. You must know what information they need to have. You must know what what context they will use this information in. You also need to know how your audience will interact with the information. For instance, some information will be read from a book or on a computer; still other information may be part of a wayfinding system of signage. 

     In my case, my client would likely be the teacher of my Information Design course. My audience would be distance learners at Empire State College. I don't know the typical demographics of my classmates, but I do know what context I am presenting information for, what information is needed, and how the information will be interacted with. I am presenting information for other students to critique and learn from. I am presenting the information outlined in the assignment for this blog post, and everyone who reads it will be doing so from a computer of one sort or another. Knowing these things helps me to present the information in a way that is appropriate to my client and audience. And personally, I think knowing the client and audience is the most important step in beginning to design information. I feel this way because this knowledge serves as the jumping off point for the project. Though, organization takes a very close second, because it doesn't matter how well you know who you are designing information for, if you cannot organize it in a coherent manner. 

     When you have your information, it must be organized in a manner that makes sense. The alphanumeric system can be useful for projects where a lot of information is involved. Content should always be reviewed while it is being organized and it should also be organized in such a fashion that it is appropriate for meeting both client and audience needs. You must be sure during the process of organizing that all pertinent information is in hand and ready to be put into the project. Before I posted this blog, I wrote out a few pages of notes and organized them to present this information in a structured manner. I made headings and subheadings in my notebook. I followed most of them, but modified some, as I began to type the information herein. 

     Additionally, it is imperative to plan for the maintenance of information. If the information is presented on a website, for instance, someone will need to know what information to update, when, and how to update said information. Sometimes maintenance of information will be done by persons outside of the client's company. Sometimes an internal person is or can be trained to maintain information. The format of the information also needs to be decided upon. While more and more information is being put on the Internet, paper publications remain in existence, and may be the best way to present certain information. There are more formats to choose from, still, including video, audio, and more. The maintenance of information I have done hasn't been in my blog. I have, however, maintained information on a website that I created. I have to do so periodically when new information becomes available, and when site members ask questions or bring up topics in my forums. 

The Next Step: The Creative Brief

     The creative brief is known by other names, but serves as a map for the design team. It outlines critical points of the project. It should be a workable reference for all of those involved. It also allows the client to have a clearer picture of what the finished product will look like. This promotes feedback and allows potential issues to surface before the project is started. I've never used a creative brief in the detail described here, because all of my detailed work has been done by and for myself. However, were I to work directly with a client, I can certainly see why I would use one. 

What is in a Creative Brief? 

  • Information about the client company including location, business or industry, etc. 
  • Competitor information 
  • Information on target markets or audiences
  • The purpose of the project
  • The reason for implementing the project at the present time, and any information about similar projects previously implemented that could be helpful in determining factors to ensure success of the current project
  • A brief project overview giving key information
  • Goals
    • Problems to solve
    • Opportunities 
    • How success will be measured
    • Technical requirements
    • Creative requirements
    • Brand guidelines 
  • Project logistics 
  • Overview of the team working on the project
  • Key dates in project completion
  • Budget hours

What Else Can Help in Designing Information?

     User profiles and the creation of personas with those user profiles can greatly help in the information design process. A persona is basically an imaginary friend created of traits from expected users. The persona can be used to create scenarios where designers can anticipate the needs and quirks of the audiences they intend to serve. 

     Understanding typography is another important thing for effective information design. I worked on a desktop publishing certificate in junior college and typography was probably the most discussed element to creating user-friendly information designs. Understanding the need for proper spacing, the use of headings, subheadings, boldface fonts, and the like are all very relevant to making a document, website, magazine page, or any other piece of designed information easy to navigate, and thus easy to use. 

Site Maps

     Site maps are most effective for projects containing lots of information. The site map is similar to a flowchart and should be created before designing starts. It outlines all elements of the project, and will likely show headings, subheadings, and become a visual example of the way in which the information will be organized. The site map is a place to organize data and ensures that a plan can be approved before design begins. 

Testing the Project 

      Testing a project prototype with persons of the appropriate audience is a great way to get user feedback in the design phase. Testing should not be overlooked as a vital part of the process. 

My Thoughts on the Process 

      This process is one described by Kim Baer in the Information Design Workbook. Much of the information is new to me, but I can see its' relevance. One thing I think I would add to the process is the use of diagrams in the very beginning. Now, the site map is a diagram, but it comes right before beginning design. I think diagrams showing the flow of information from the client to the audience, and then the audience back to the client, as well as some that show the hierarchy of those working on the project could eliminate confusion in the beginning stages. I think these diagrams could not only illustrate important information up front, but could also aid the client in beginning to acclimate to the design process early on. 

Sample diagram of blog feedback flow for Information Design course



  1. Wendy,
    I think you have covered all the information required in the process of Information Design. I enjoyed your thoughts on the process at the end of your post and your diagram of the blog feedback. Your diagram helps by giving a visual picture of how the feed back process works. I found your blog easy to read with the light font on the dark background. Good Job.
    Patrick Warren

  2. Wendy,

    It was smart of you to differentiate the client from the audience right from the beginning of your post, this distinction is very important. It is important to collaborate with the client throughout the project to make sure you are on the same page regarding the needs, experiences, and personalities of the intended audience. It is also important for the client to distinguish priorities between different potential audiences. For example, if the website sells clothes for young women, it is more important to design the site to meet their needs, rather than the needs of older women or men since their experience with the site will likely be limited. Regarding your recommendation to use diagrams from the beginning of the project, I think that the creative brief is supposed to incorporate diagrams and other visuals to clarify client information, specific roles of team members, logistics, etc..

    Nice work!