The Information Design Handbook: Book Review

The science and practice of designing online learning has similarities with many fields, Information Design being one of them. Information design is about preparing and shaping information so it can be understood and used by people. Sound familiar?

It’s important for online learning practitioners to step out of the eLearning zone and take a look around. The Information Design Handbook is one way to do this.

I think the authors, Jen and Ken Visocky O’Grady, give you what you’d expect from a book in this field—it’s effectively organized, informative and has a nice touch of creativity. I’d say it’s an excellent introduction to the topic.

What’s Inside

After the initial introductory chapters on the need for Information Design, its history and definitions, the book explores the cognitive, communication and aesthetic principles associated with this field. This makes up the core or center of the book. The final chapters include some excellent case studies.

In the Cognitive section, the authors delve into some of the principles surrounding visual perception and provide tips for creating  visual hierarchies and aiding discrimination. They also discuss wayfinding—how we spatially orient ourselves in the environment.

The Communication chapter briefly introduces readers to diverse theories and models, which I find fascinating. Some theories discussed include: Saul Wurman’s LATCH system of information design, the inverted pyramid type of writing in journalism and the Uncertainty Reduction theory, which states that when uncertain, we seek information because uncertainty is unpleasant.

One of my favorites is the Principle of Least Effort, the brainchild of a general reference librarian at the US Library of Congress. It states that, “most researchers will tend to choose easily available information sources even when they are of objectively low quality, in preference to pursuing higher-quality sources whose use would required a greater expenditure of effort.” Maybe that’s why I often to go to Wikipedia.

The remainder of the core deals with Aesthetics, in which the authors delve into concepts for beginning designers. This includes grid system basics for creating hierarchy; principles of grouping, color and typography; how to avoid eye strain; cultural considerations and so on.

Finally, the case studies at the end of the book provide a practical application of the theories and concepts. Here the reader is taken through such projects as signage in a botanical garden, the visualization of data on the socioeconomic causes of crime, and the simplification of the NY city subway map, to name just a few of the many cases.

What’s in it for you?

Having a solid foundation in Information Design can help eLearning designers and developers create better learning experiences.  In addition to increasing one’s awareness of the best ways to present information, information design might help designers better support informal and unstructured learning.

As organizations move toward free-form alternatives to structured learning, an employee’s information literacy will become increasingly important. This refers to the ability to recognize when information is needed and to have the skills to find, evaluate and use it. In the near future (or even right now), instructional designers will be sought out to provide meaningful resources and well-designed information to facilitate independent learning.

The Information Design Handbook

Related Articles:
We Design Information Too
How To Create A Visual Hierarchy
How To Organize Content

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  1. kim @ cinecraft says

    The Visocky O’Gradys, who are local here in Cleveland, spoke on the topics in this book at a professional society meeting. Their presentation had the same excellence in design you’d expect from the book, there was a lot of interactivity, and they were very responsive during the Q & A. We had a lot of good comments on the meeting. If you have a chance to hear them present, it’s well worth it.


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