Using an information design approach

Information design is about developing the text, visual elements and look of a document or website to make it as readable, engaging and effective as possible. This is often thought to be something for designers to worry about, but the best results come from integrating writing, editing and design.

Information design process

The process starts at the earliest stages of document development and has 3 scales:

  • large-scale analysis and organisation of the content (the ‘story’), so that information has structure, is engaging and flows logically – this helps readers to understand the main messages
  • medium-scale mapping of the elements of the story, creating visual concepts and revising the text to help readers navigate and understand the content
  • fine-scale styling and presentation of the content, including text, fonts, colours, graphical elements, figures, tables, graphs and diagrams, in a way that will focus readers’ attention on the details.

Preparing content for publication involves complex editorial and design tasks at each scale. An example of an information design approach is as follows.

Large scale

Writing and editorial tasks:

  • Analyse the content in relation to the aim of, and audience for, the information.
  • Develop an outline, headings and storyline that convey the information in a logical and engaging way.
  • Identify where visual displays could help tell your story, and what information should be used to create these visuals.
  • Define an appropriate writing style.

Design and development tasks:

  • Understand the purpose of the information and how the audience will access it (eg print, online, mobile).
  • Consider information structure, length and overall formats (eg manual with technical diagrams, report with data tables and graphs, ‘glossy’ photo-filled brochure, information website, functional mobile app).

Medium scale

Writing and editorial tasks:

  • Refine and revise the text to ensure that writing is clear and concise, and that the ‘characters’ in the story are introduced and presented accurately and consistently to support the story.
  • Ensure that text and visual displays are well matched – the text above and surrounding a table, graph or image should refer and relate to this image.
  • Use elements of the story to guide development of tools for navigation and understanding, such as flowcharts, process steps, key points boxes and infographics.

Design and development tasks:

  • Map elements of the content to guide visual concepts, images, colours and page styles that capture the essence of the publication.
  • Develop features to help readers navigate and understand the information (eg flowcharts, infographics, site structure, menus, colour coding, headers and footers).
  • Plan purposeful interactive features such as data visualisations, infographics and flowcharts to engage readers.

Fine scale

Writing and editorial tasks:

  • Copyedit to ensure accurate and consistent word styles, language and grammar, abbreviations, cross-references, citations, terminology and other editorial matters.
  • Edit tables, figures and other images, and write alternative text for all of these to ensure that the information is accurate, clear and easy to understand.

Design and development tasks:

  • Design the details of the print or digital page layout.
  • Attend to details of presentation – including colour, fonts, and placement of text, tables, images and infographics – to maintain readers’ attention and improve understanding.
  • Provide additional functionality, such as cross-linking and accessibility features, to ensure that readers have flexible access to all the information.

This approach can be adapted to suit your needs. It can be used for any stage of your project – from research through to publishing. It can also be used for any type of publication project: 

  The process of information design for a web-based publication: small, medium and large scale approaches to research, writing, editing, design and publishing.
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