Presentation Matters! The Top Information Design Principles That You Need To Know

Communication is a vital skill that we developed and enhanced beyond the level that our counterparts in the animal world can currently rely on. However, we are still evolving and the amount of information we share rises every day. We are being trained or forced to perceive lots of complex information that we are to digest and to move on to the next batch.  So, it is almost critical to learn how to present yourself well, how to communicate your message effectively and how to make your information-based products  the ultimate delights for your customers.

The information you sell (be it a report or a dashboard of some sort) must be “pretty”, in other words, it should be quite visually appealing and well organized to make a difference for your users.  There is a fine line between the simplicity, enough information and information overload that you might want to test with your users.

“The danger of clutter – especially on a visual screen – is that it causes confusion that affects how well we perform tasks. To that end, visual clutter is a challenge for fighter pilots picking out a target, for people seeking important information in a user interface, and for web site and map designers, among others.” (MIT news).

To our luck, there is a whole discipline devoted to this question – Information Design that have to be a must read topic (and it is) for web application developers and product managers.  I find it very useful as well as a marketer and communicator.  In fact, anyone can benefit from this extra knowledge, or information to reduce the information overload we impose on our audiences.  According to Rune Pettersson, “Information Design is a multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional, and worldwide consideration. It is not possible to develop a number of firm message design rules telling the information designer exactly how to best design a message and develop information materials. However, based on research it is possible to formulate several ID-principles and then develop a number of guidelines for the design of effective and efficient messages and information materials.”- International Institute for Information Design  So what are those top 10 or 16 ID-principles that we should keep in mind while engaging in product design or testing a product or participating in a beta?  You can actually find 150 ID-guidelines for 16 designs principles in Rune’s research, “It Depends“:

  1. Define the problem (Find what the user wants to achieve)

  2. Provide structure (Develop a clear structure, minimize the number of levels, show the  hierarchy graphically)

  3. Provide clarity (Go through the details: fonts, pictures, layouts, color, symbols, maps and make the all work in unison) – that’s where the pretty piece comes in!

  4. Provide simplicity (Check the readability of all items above)

  5. Provide emphasis (Use contrast and exaggeration or interactive elements to bring attention)

  6. Provide unity (Be consistent in your terminology, typography, layout and style) – make the information fluid!

  7. Consider information access (Use standards, internationally accepted, provide support for important context)

  8. Consider information costs (This one relates more to graphic design of web sites and implies production costs)

  9. Consider information ethics (Refers to considering copyright, media guidelines and image manipulation)

  10. Secure quality (Implies establishing the review cycles and ease of use for your reviewers to follow. If we apply that to a finished product, it can consider an organized storage or archives system).

  11. Strive for harmony ( I love this one – finding balance within the visual presentation of information)

  12. Follow aesthetic proportion (Implies finding the receiver’s aesthetic proportions, finding balance between the decorative use of color and cognitive importance)

  13. Facilitate attention (Refers to the mastery of bringing attention through text, layout, and colors)

  14. Facilitate perception (Here you must use your knowledge on perceptions of color, text, shapes, layout to make your message come through the way you want it to be)

  15. Facilitate mental processing (Utilize examples in text, provide realistic time for your audience to get the information, be consistent)

  16. Facilitate memory (Consists of presenting a limited number of information elements at the same time, with close connection of text and illustrations) – This is where the context is the key!

In addition, the information must be within the context, relevant and simple to produce actions you desire. Others call it the ability to provide a clear line of sight to show a complete picture. Others advise to present information in 3 blocks on one page to make it more meaningful and easily comprehensive. No pun intended, but there is so much information already about information design that helps simplify the information -that makes one’s head spin.  For example, there is even a comprehensive book of papers in IA (Information Architecture) or ID that one can immerse into to become an expert that can solve such problems in a matter if minutes.

While getting myself more into the subject, I found a good guide to make my quest for answers even easier and not so “overloaded” – I recommend to add ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” by Edward Tufte to your library.