Information Design Context


Information design, like many other aspects of technical communication, draws on many research disciplines and many fields of practice, including anthropology and ethnography, architecture, graphic design, human factors and cognitive psychology, instructional design and instructional technology, linguistics, organizational psychology, rhetoric, typography, and usability.
[WhatIsID, p.163]

Information design is what we do to develop a document (or communication) that works for its users. Working for its users means that the people who must or want to use the information can

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use what they understand appropriately

This definition comes with two additional points that information designers must always remember:

  • Most of the time, most users of functional information are using that information to reach a personal goal—to answer a question or to complete a task.
  • The users, not the information designer, decide how much time and effort to spend trying to find and understand the information they need.

[WhatIsID, p.163]

Information design in the narrower meaning of the way the information is presented on the page or screen is a part of the larger information design process. In this sense, information design encompasses layout, typography, color, relationship between words and pictures, and so forth.
[WhatIsID, p.164]

As I have written elsewhere (1985, 1996, 1999), a document in plain language is one that works for its users.
[WhatIsID, p.165]

Technical communicators know that for information on a page to be accessible, it must be chunked into small pieces, and the different page elements (such as headings, instructions, notes, screen shots) have to be clearly visible, separable, and easily identified. That’s even more true on the screen where the amount of space available is smaller, where reading from the screen is slower and more difficult than from paper, where people have come to expect less text and more visuals. Learning to turn text into visual presentations (lists, tables, maps, pictures, fragments) is one of the most important skills for a technical communicator turned Web designer.
[WhatIsID, p.166]

  1. Information design applies graphic design principles to information in order to communicate the information more effectively.
  2. Information design is the process of identifying, selecting, organizing, composing, and presenting information to an audience so that it can be used efficiently and effectively by that audience to achieve a specific purpose.
  3. Information design is the series of activities that an organization routinely applies to communication tasks to match purpose, audience, and presentation with the information to be conveyed in order to consistently produce optimally effective information products.

I think that these three approaches—which I call ornamental, holistic, and strategic—suggest where we have come from and where we are moving in the realm of information design.
[IDFuture, p.23]

Ellmer, B., & Lewanski, A. (2010). Recommendations for the Mercer University MSTCO Program: Research Report on the Topics of Knowledge Management, Content Management, Information Design, and Internationalization and Globalization. White paper prepared for TCO 485, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

In order to satisfy the information needs of the intended receivers, information design comprises analysis, planning, presentation and understanding of a message—its content, language and form.
[7TheoriesID, p.819]

Information design is complementary to information technology in the same way as architecture is complementary to “building technology” and engineering is complementary to technology.
[7TheoriesID, p.821]

The information designer is a person with competence to transform data into high-quality information.
[7TheoriesID, p.822]

Multimedia instructional design attempts to use cognitive research to combine words and pictures in ways that maximize learning effectiveness.
[7TheoriesID, p.825]

So far research in information design has often been oriented to solve distinct practical problems related to specific applications, rather than oriented to any known or unknown theory. Researchers are using a large number of different research methods in research on art and aesthetics disciplines, cognitive disciplines, communication disciplines, design disciplines, information disciplines, and language disciplines.
[IDTheories, p.6]

Combined disciplines are complex areas to research and study and it is obvious that information design, as an academic discipline, needs to incorporate theoretical contributions from other disciplines.
[IDTheories, p.9]

Information design comprises analysis, planning, presentation and understanding of a message–its content, language and form. The main objective for information design is to provide information materials needed by the interpreter in order to perform specific tasks.
[IDTheories, p.15]

A professional information designer has good skills in writing clear, comprehensible, and consistent texts; in creating clear illustrations, and in creating a clear, transparent typography and layout that will aid attention, perception, interpretation, understanding and learning for the intended receiver.
[IDTheories, p.13]

Information architecture involves the structural design of systems for organization of data to help people to find, navigate, and manage information in complex systems. This emerging discipline is focused on combining principles of architecture and design in order to support usability. Information architecture includes databases, Internet, intranets, library systems, online communities, and websites.
[IDTheories, p.31]

In the long term, I suspect information design will always have something of an identity crisis. To some extent it exists in contrast to other things as much as in its own right – by which I mean, it is not graphic design, nor copy-writing, nor advertising, etc. Information Design is cross-disciplinary and integrative in its approach, and that is always more difficult to communicate than a specialism.
[IDAOrigins, p.4]

Information design brings form and structure to information.
[ID4Advocacy, p.4]

Information makes data meaningful for audiences because it requires the creation of relationships and patterns between data.
[InfoInteractionDesign, p.4]


Information design is a young academic discipline, but it is not at all a new field of knowledge. It was not “divided away” from another discipline. Rather it was deliberately “put together” with elements from several different sources of experience and knowledge. Basically this happened in the late 1990s in different parts of the world.
[7TheoriesID, p.820]

Today information design education range from short courses to several years long programs, some even reaching PhD-level. The discipline is also named communication design, document design, and presentation design. In the future it is quite possible that some universities will introduce very similar design subjects and choose to use other names.
[7TheoriesID, p.820]

Information design of today has its origin and its roots in 1) graphic design, 2) education and teaching, and in 3) architecture and engineering, or rather construction and production.
[IDTheories, p.4]

John Carroll, now the Edward M. Frymoyer Professor of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State, a founder of SIGCHI and the field of human-computer interaction, spent much of the 1980s at IBM conducting research on how people use information to learn and use computers. This work resulted in the concept of minimalism in documentation.
[TechCommUX, p.194]

J. Carroll, The Nurnberg Funnel: Designing Minimalist Instruction for Practical Computer Skill. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990.
J. Carroll, Ed., Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.


Information design uses pictures, symbols, colors, and words to communicate ideas, illustrate information or express relationships visually.
[ID4Advocacy, p.3]

Information design adds seeing to reading to make complex data easier to understand and to use.
[ID4Advocacy, p.3]

Information Design doesn’t ignore aesthetic concerns but it doesn’t focus on them either. However, there is no reason why elegantly structured or well-architected data can’t also be beautiful. Information Design does not replace graphic design and other visual disciplines, but is the structure through which these capabilities are expressed.
[InfoInteractionDesign, p.2]

The Art of Human Computer Interface Design, Brenda Laurel Ed., Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1990

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