DfRL: Information is Power

We had a lecture this morning regarding Information design as fundamentally we are being asked to work with data and use/reference an Information design system within our final outcomes. Information design aims to effectively communicate/display data which is complex & unstructured. We started looking at some of the historical influences of information design talking about the work of Charles Minard (Napolean’s march to Moscow, 1869) Florence Nightingale (Cause of Mortality in the army 1858) and the London Underground map (1931). This highlighted to me that there has always been a need to visually see data sets.

Florence Nightingale (1838) Cause of Mortality in the Army. Wikimedia Commons.

We spoke about how sometimes a certain ways of representing data aren’t suitable for the content. David used the example of a pie chart that highlighted the biggest states within America. It would be easy to the see the biggest state however the small the sections got the less you were able to understand what the data was saying, they start to look the same. It showed me that thinking about the complexity of the data is important in order to ensure that you’re representing it effectively.

David made reference to Gestalt’s principles of Perception, which looks at the way in which our minds might organise something we see. Designers are able to use this in two ways, to create effective solutions and see what other reactions it might cause. Gestalt’s laws are as follows:

  • Closer – looking at the overarching subject as a whole
  • Similarity – grouping similar objects together.
  • Proximity – grouping things located near each other
  • symmetry – Recognisable Recognition
  • Continuity – Having visual elements aligned belonging together
  • Common Fate – perceive objects that move in the same direction as belonging together.

We then moved forward to talk about the 4 main groupings within information design: Infographics, Data Visualization, Models & Diagrams and Visual Thinking. Infographics are subjective they are visual representations of facts, numbers and events which tell a story. This differs from Data Visualization where you are abstracting data into a form that can be easily processed by the audience. Data Visualization gives a clear idea about the data from just a quick glance. Rather than telling a premeditated story it allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. I found that Nicholas Feltons work highlighted the difference for me clearly. His infographic work was more typographic based where as the data Visualization work was more abstract and even could be used on the context of a bottle .

Nicholas Felton Infographics (2008) Annual Report. http://feltron.com/FAR08.html
Nicholas Felton (2010) Between Five Bells. http://feltron.com/B5B.html

Visual thinking is like graphic recording it’s a way of visualing thoughts on a topic or key messages. It would be best used to discuss with a client or to rationalise your thoughts when researching. Visually you’re telling your story through this idea.

“Sense Making” this was the best way in which to define what information design is. It’s about making sense of complex data and reducing communication to the absolute essentials. Information design is always trying to convey a message or story. Visual Story telling is what it means to show the information with equal parts clarity and creativity. It might even work using a visual metaphor sometimes like in the example ‘Largest Bankruptcies in History’ below.

Overall I found that there are a lot of different elements within information design, but it’s about simplifying the complex data in the best way possible. Chosing the correct type of system for the data in order to create that effective communication.

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