Information design embraces approaches and methodologies that go beyond purely visual design. It has been developing since the 1980s as a specialist discipline, with a growing research literature and critical tradition.
These are some terms that have been applied to information design, and to information designers and what they do.
Information design is...
"inclusive design" / "design for all" / "empathic design"
“the effective presentation of information”
“the design process (planning) applied to the communication of information (content, language, form)”
“the skill and practice of presenting information so that people can use it efficienly and effectively”
Information designers are concerned with...
“creating usable information”
“creating clear, organised, and concise communications (in any language) that are easy to read, understand and use”
“the configuration of information on a surface, and what happens when users interact with it”
“any situation in which complex and critical information has to be communicated, and where clear writing and design can help”
Information designers may come from an educational or skills background in...
anthropology; diagramming; engineering; ergonomics; ethnography; human factors; information management; interaction design; law; linguistics; marketing; programming; psychology; research; simplification; sociology; software; typography; usability.
Information designers may apply their training and skills in...
advertising; branding; content strategy; copywriting; data journalism; data management; e-learning; electronic publishing; exhibition design; information architecture; legal drafting; marketing; sign design; social media; technical writing; user experience; wayfinding.
Information design's history
Information design emerged as a multidisciplinary area of study in the 1970s (or even earlier). Interdisciplinary teams working in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have informed the history of information design and helped shape current approaches. A history of collaboration...
- Peter Burnhill (designer) and James Hartley (psychologist)
- Herbert Spencer's Royal College of Art team, which included Linda Reynolds (information science/user testing)
- Michael Twyman's curriculum at the University of Reading's Department of Typography (with input from psychology, linguistics and computer science departments)
- Liz Orna (information management) and Graham Stevens (designer)
- Michael Macdonald-Ross's Textual Communication Research Group at the Open University (MM-R, learning theorist, Peter Whalley, pyschologist, Rob Waller, designer)
- The Document Design Center in Washington DC (various disciplines)
- The Communication Design Center, Carnegie-Mellon University (graphic design, psychology and English department), with Siegel & Gale (design and writing)
- The Processing of Visible Language conferences: Paul Kolers (psychologist); Merald Wrolstad (design) and Herman Bouma (display technology)
- David Sless's Communication Research Institute in Canberra
- The Technical Communications curriculum at Coventry University (Clive Richards, Don Hinson, David Lewis)
- Patricia Wright's work at the Applied Psychology Unit of the Medical Research Council
- The Department of Social Security's Document Design Unit (a team of writers and designers), working with psychologist Elaine Kempson, Rob Waller at the Open University, Karel van der Waarde, and others)
- Similar work in Sweden and the Netherlands
- Ron Easterby and Harm Zwaga's (both psychologists)
- Het Vennenbos conference, leading to their book 'Information Design'
- The Design Usable Text symposium and the 1985 book (Tom Duffy and Rob Waller)
- The IIID Vision Plus conferences
- Information Design Journal (editorial board drawn from a range of disciplines) and the many conferences from 1984 onwards
- Consultancies like Cambridge Communications (Baddeley Associates), Siegel & Gale, Information Design Unit, Text Matters, Boag McCann, and/or/if, and others who employ designers and writers, with a user-centred approach.
- And no doubt others...
A mention of the term 'information design', thanks to (we believe) a meeting between Paul Stiff and Posy Simmonds at Reading University in 1981!