Saturday, August 9, 2008

information design

(Disclaimer: This is more of a data dump than anything, anything else!)

When I was in high school, my ultimate professional dream was to be a graphic designer. I'm not sure what it was that really made me want it. Thinking about it now, maybe it set me apart or gave me a creative outlet, maybe it gave me an area to explore and try to conquer. I also think it made me feel like an artist, which in a more conventional sense (drawing?), I never was.

I got an internship at a boutique design firm owned by two amazing designers. They were married, the guy was French. The junior designers whom I sat with told me on my first day that the most important question for a graphic designer is WHY. Why was this icon placed here instead of there, why this color, why this lay-out, why?

Design, after all, is not art. Design needs to make sense. And good design makes... invisible sense. (Does that make sense? Haha probably not.)

I've continue to carry a torch for graphic design although I don't do it anymore. I still appreciate something that I think was designed well. Tight grids and interesting typography still catch my eye.

Right now, my favorite branch of GD is information design. Arranging and presenting complex information in a way that makes it easier u
to se. In essence, it's about effective communication and it takes a lot of things into consideration, such as understanding what language and codes people easily understand, usability, ergonomics.

Maybe more than other kinds of design (I'm not entirely sure about this), information design takes the user's point of view so that the user experience is as simple and obvious as possible.

The most obvious application for this would be in wayfinding - helping people navigate museums, exhibits, transit systems, roads, etc. There is also informational graphics - signage on gym equipment, or appliances. It can also be applied to web design.

Several pages and tons of content go into any webpage. And the starting point of any webpage is a site map that details navigation through the site. I've seen maps that are pages and pages long, and the best maps take every option that users might need into account. (This is really dorky, but this excites me to no end. My new dream profession might just be web architect.)

And one thing this highlights to me is that what I love about graphic design isn't that it is artistic, but that it makes sense. That it is design, not art. Because there is, of course, the visual side of graphic design. But it's more about effective communication, not aesthetics. Not that there are no aesthetics in graphic design. But really good design doesn't just look pretty, but it makes sense.

One of the souvenirs I wanted to buy on a recent trip to New York was a poster of a map of the bus routes. Local public transportation really freaks me out for more reasons than I care to enumerate, but the bus and subway system in New York made complete and perfect sense. And what a beautiful map!


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