Good design gives information meaning

We have more information available now than ever before. Getting information is not the problem – making sense of it is!

Sifting and sorting – the key to meaning

People make meaning by sifting through information to find those bits that are important to them. They then sort it by placing like with like within their own mental model or view of the world.

The communicator who helps the user do this best, wins. That is, the best communicators work hard so the reader doesn’t have to. They take raw information and do some pre-sifting and pre-sorting for the user. This smooths the path and helps the information move more easily from the mind of the sender into the mind of the receiver.

Good information design is the key to making this sifting and sorting process easy for the user.

Eyes on the user

When designing information (or designing anything for that matter) it is vital to focus squarely on the user and how they will use it.

View content from the perspective of the user. Think about how they will encounter the information, and what they will be expected to do with it. Put yourself in their shoes.

Good design is important for information too

Just like any other product or service, information must be put together skilfully if it is to achieve its purpose.

Too much information, or information that is poorly structured or expressed, will not do the job.

One task of Information Design is translation:

  • technical language > everyday language
  • words and numbers > pictures and graphics
  • complex sentences, paragraphs > one thought at a time
  • information all at a single level > a structure that distinguishes between big ideas and detail

Rethinking expression

Take the time to be more concise and precise in your writing. Sometimes it means using a simpler word, or using a verb rather than a noun. Other times a serious rethink is needed.

Consider these examples:

Staff will be trained in the correct usage of chemicals.
is better as
Staff will be trained to correctly use chemicals.

P-X will contribute by developing advances in early diagnosis…
is better as
P-X will help us diagnose illness earlier …

It is reliant on …
is better as
It relies on ..

..constant degree of control
is better as
…constant control

the mechanism by which credits are to be distributed
is better as
the mechanism used to distribute credits

..during the refuelling of motor vehicles
is better as
.. during refuelling motor vehicles

…agreed that consideration be given to proposing the development of a set of guidance and decision support tools
is better as
… agreed to consider proposing a set of guidance tools

This type of scheme has the potential to significantly reduce the costs associated with gaining improvements in ore quality.
is better as
This type of scheme may significantly reduce the costs of improving ore quality.

There has been a substantial initiative to improve the accessibility to information held by the State.
is better as
There has been an effort to make information easier to get.

In order to achieve a successful outcome from this program it is considered necessary to have the support of the local Councils in areas where the program will be implemented.
is better as
Support from local councils is needed for the program to be successful.

The financial services sector, through its own activities and the influence it has over other activities can impact whether funds are directed toward activities that hinder or help the community. Influence can be exerted through more rigorous consideration of community risk in financing, the adoption of community criteria in investment strategies, and the integration of community issues into insurance products.

is better as
Financial institutions exert their influence by:

  • rigorously considering community risk when financing
  • adopting community criteria when developing investment strategies, and
  • integrating community risk into insurance products.