I’ve explained what I do for a living to my friends and relatives since 2001. I studied “English translation” or Translation Studies and majored in English, but instead of doing advanced studies in translation I did them in technical communication (much more suitable to my geek nature) and so the translator became a technical writer. If you cut a few corners, it was pretty simple to explain to grandma what a technical writer does (“I write user guides for phones”) but when I became an information designer, it became quite a bit more difficult.
The question of what information design and information architecture are have followed me around almost two decades, so I thought I’d write a few words about these two. I know the definitions may vary, but this is how we interpret them at Adina.
Information architecture is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts of something to be understandable. Information architecture is not just in documents, it’s elsewhere too: websites, software user interfaces, printed brochures, sign posts, and so on. A company must decide on the information architecture principles so that the technical communicators are better able to produce content in which the user/reader can find the right information at the right time in the right place.
Information design is the detailed planning of specific information that is to be provided to a particular audience through a publishing channel to meet specific objectives. In practice, information design is all about organizing content: what content you have and in which order. In the print world, for example, an information designer would be thinking about the order of chapters and topics in them. Online, on the other hand, they’d spend time thinking about how to organise standalone information that anyone can access from any direction.
Why do we need information architecture and information design? The amount of information has grown and it is possible to drown in the flood of information. Information overload lurks around every corner and in every news broadcast. Information design helps people understand complex data, makes information more logical, easily findable, and easily understandable, supports people who actively search for and study information and eases the life of the more passive ones. In the end, all this has a financial impact.
Evaluating the quality of information design is very difficult and creating KPIs for information design is hard. (Traditionally, you measure number of clicks and time taken to find the desired information, for example.) For instructions, ”good information design” is a subjective experience. Successful information design is invisible to the users which means getting positive feedback is difficult. When information design fails, it’s hard to say what exactly is wrong: ”I just feel like it”. The clearest feedback is that the user cannot find the information what they are looking for. What can you do to that, then? Well, that’s a topic for another blog.