As we’re always interested in learning how we can communicate complex information better and staying aware of new techniques or trends, we took the time to read and consider the 16 interviews curated by Inge Gobert and Johan Van Looveren in this publication “Thoughts on Designing Information”. Designed using a clear international style with many large images as examples of what is discussed the book covers several key areas of information design.
Each of the interviewees was from a specific and related design discipline such as: exhibition design, infographics, interaction design, digital design, way finding systems, graphic design, mapping, architecture, editorial design, app design and product design. However from whichever design discipline, each design professional is innately concerned with relaying complex information, using their expertise to help their audience understand their chosen subject matter better or be aware of it at all.
The conversations resulting from well posed questions provided valuable insight into the practise, interest, different approaches and thinking in terms of complex data visualisation and communication. Many drew attention to the growing interest by creatives in this area of design; as a response to the increasing amount of data being created and the ability of technology to manage and deliver it to audiences helping them to discover new insights and understanding.
Three interviewee with points worth noting within this blog article are:
Peter Crnokrak a previous researcher in the field of genetics is now an artist and designer who makes use of data visualisation to bring attention to social issues with critical purpose. He takes issue with designers not making the best use of their chosen medium to effectively communicate information to the wider public even when they have the means and opportunity to do so, which leads to admitted anger. Peter doesn’t want to visualise science, instead his intention is to ask his audience to spend time with his work and encourages them to understand its layers thus giving deeper insights into what is being shown which is largely qualitative and not quantitative.
Tim Fendley is included as he was responsible for the relatively recent street signage found in Glasgow, which is rather useful and aesthetically synergistic to the look of the city. He has done that same kind of work for the cities of: London, Brighton, Dublin, Cleveland, Vancover and New York. What I took away from his interview was the need to work with those who matter, and when it comes to urban planning, that’s a lot of people with all kinds of interests and personal perspectives. Furthermore he highlights the need to be observational, to put yourself in someone else shoes to understand that not everyone follows a line. This subtle but important point is critical to getting at how people actually live and navigate urban areas. Like cities, as our brains each store information differently and some cities are better at providing reference points than others.
Mark Porter the art director who was instrumental in the holistic redesign of The Guardian discussed the importance of relationship and collaboration with the editor and the freedom to suggest ideas. He initially arrived to work on the weekend supplements but was asked to do more and more, which lead to the entire redesign of printed and digital media. Although his key point worth mentioning here is his warning of how information graphics or data visualisation can often be used by editors to fill pages as illustration and not relay any data. The example he cited was during the Iraq war when the editor wanted maps, arrows and images of war equipment to create a spread. Mark saw this as more of a visual editorial than data visualisation. He went on to underline how the journalists need to be careful when thinking of reporting data and avoid using it as a story telling tool with bias.
We strongly suggest this book to all graphic designers, exhibition designers and those involved in data visualisation. As even though it is in no way a technical publication, it strongly informs the design sensibilities of those who read it.