Information design integrates the verbal and visual presentation of information—graphically, spatially, and typographically. The purpose of information design is not to produce aesthetically pleasing decoration, but to highlight the structure of the information through grouping and signaling.
Information design involves decisions about content, organization, page layout, typography, color schemes, navigation, graphics, illustrations, and images. Best-practices are based on research about the way users interact with documents. Properly designed documents are comprehensible, satisfying, and usable.
Decisions about content and organization should be based on a thorough audience analysis. The goal is to present the right level of detail, at the right time, in the right sequence, to promote comprehension and retention. By understanding the demographics and behavioral patterns of the target audience, content can be optimized.
The visual design of a document has an immediate, subconscious impact on the reader and can help or hinder the interpretation of the information. Visual presentation also impacts retention of information.
People have expectations about how information and structural cues will be presented. When information designs meet those expectations, the reader can easily navigate the document and find the information they need. Common design techniques include use of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity to signal relationships between blocks of text.
Proper grouping of information improves comprehension by signalling semantic relationships. Contrast provides cues about the structure of the text. Alignment makes reading and navigation easier. Repetition of design elements allows the user to quickly understand the meaning of those elements, making the document easier to use. Using these techniques allows users to quickly scan a document and pick out the sections that are relevant.
Readers absorb information differently. Some readers prefer written text to learn new concepts. Others prefer a visual or auditory presentation. Still others learn kinesthetically, using a hands-on approach. Integrating multiple forms of media to present information increases the likelihood that users will comprehend and retain information and reduces the likelihood that they will give up and stop reading entirely.
Information design decisions must be properly documented to ensure consistency, especially when document developers collaborate on a project. Creation of style guides or style sheets is an essential part of the information design process.
In parallel with my studies in Technical Communication at UCSD, I developed a website for electronic musicians interested in building their own electronic drum synthesizer. This project was the basis for many of my class projects, and also demonstrated my skills in the application of HTML, XML, and DITA. The links below can be used to download the information design documents I created to support the website development process.