What's in a name?
Hmmm, maybe there are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and a periodic re-hashing of the "what's the difference between information design and information architecture?" question. I hosted one such discussion a couple years back in a feature called What's In A Name? for the ID SIG newsletter. I had some great responses from some great IA and ID luminaries (and I still like, in a perverse way, that Richard Saul Wurman called this question "academic and pointless" ... hell, he responded, didn't he :).
So, the 2003 version comes from Clark MacLeod on his weblog, Kelake (courtesy InfoDesign).
Here's my commentary. One, I do happen to like Jesse James Garrett's focus on cognition (IA) and perception (ID) which he happened to make here. I used to refer to that as focus on structure versus presentation. Yep, there's overlap, but I also liked the idea that the IA helped you find a page and the ID helped you make use of the page.
Two, I disagree with Clark about where IA and IDs come from. He writes:
Information architects come from a variety of backgrounds, but I sense that a majority of them display an orientation toward language. Information designers, on the other hand, tend to be oriented toward the visual arts. As a result, the majority of information designers come from exactly one discipline: graphic design.
For me, both of these statements are a bit awkward. My major issue is with the categorization of IDs. That's certainly true historically, especially since for many folks, information graphics are the only products of information designers. (Tho I think the jury is still out on whether Richard Saul Wurman is "really" an IA or an ID. Here are some of his comments
related to the subject: here and here.)
But if you talk about the web (isn't that what today's IA is really interested in?), the page is as much if not more about text as it is about graphics, and thus explains the interest of those of us who come out of a language focus. Part of the problem is that some text-oriented folks spent a lot of time doing this kind of work except they called it document design. Karen Schriver (who wrote Dynamics in document design and Ginny Redish (who founded the Document Design Center at the American Institutes for Research in 1979...alas, no longer in business) are both examples of people out of a writing/language field who looked at the issues of usable design. Their work included considerations of color, type size, hierarchy (on the page and in the document), line length, and so forth.
What Tufte and Wurman talk about is fine when you're talking a one page graph or poster. But hello? Do we think that there's no need for paying attention to issues of design once the content starts spanning multiple pages? I think not! For me, information design is what happens when you take the visual world of the graphic designer and integrate it with the textual world of the tech writer. Go figure. Like Wurman says, you make the complex clear.
So, yes Virginia, I happen to think that there's a difference between IA and ID. And for now, I like the idea of cognition/perception as a differentiator...unless, of course, you are talking about big IA or ID or UX which tends to have far more overlap due to its strategic (rather than tactical) focus. But I guess that's a whole other can o' worms :)
This thread is particularly timely; I am actually in the process of writing articles for both boxesandarrows and digital web magazine that touch on these topics in two different ways, along with designing a book that clarifies and shares the potential of ID.
First of all, while the past conversation that you cite on these topics was excellent, it is sadly outdated. Since 1998 much has changed not the least of which being the self-definition of Information Design as a field and the juxtaposition with the evolution/mainstreaming of consumer and business technology during that time.
While I will not be able to do it justice in this forum, the short answer is that ID is a *discipline* that guides the production of all information whereas IA is a *tactical process* that addresses the structure/content components of all information solutions - not just web as is often the (assumed) case.
While this is an oversimplification, ID "came into being" very organically - people who were largely graphic designers saw the value in crafting raw data into rich information and used the tools at their disposal to do so. Then, between the backgrounds and objectives of ID's key stakeholders, it comfortably nestled into the position of being what is still today largely considered an offshoot of graphic design. In reality, and really from the beginning, ID was about providing clarity. About creating information that is as effective as possible. Even more than that, it has long had a "soft" side that expands that definition to include making the world better (as Toby Braun calls it, a "peaceful art"). That component of the discipline - the fact that its aims were spilled well over into the realm of idealism and beyond practicality - is one of the reasons that it did not evolve with technology, in the 1990's in particular.
In short, ID provides guidance to all of the "production disciplines" (no condescension intended or implied) - IA, graphic design, variety of different programming approaches in application development, experience design as some of the more linear examples - without being a production discipline itself. Then, the basic tenets of ID are germane and relevant to human interaction and communication in the broadest sense, touching essentially everyone but in a less...immersive and essential way than it affects the more linear sort of disciplines suggested above.
For example, the upcoming 2by Two conference in Chicago, Illinois, co-sponsored by the International Institute for Information Design, is based on "Preparing for the Future of Knowledge Presentation" and focuses on a very rich, horizontal collection of topic matters, housed under five umbrellas: Communication and Conceptualization; Making Information Flow; Identifying User Needs; New Media, New Contexts, New Knowledge; Building Collaboration. Certainly you can see the intersections with IA, but crossing media and level of thought in an immersive way.
My interpretation of the whole "big IA/little IA" question is that it is really a question of ID/IA. Both are valuable and important, but they are happening at different vertical levels.
To try and bottle the answer, and contextualize this into your/JJG's points, the perception piece that you are calling ID is really different manifestations of "interface design" at the most generic level, to include anything from graphic design to experience design to even *writing* and beyond. Some of it may even fall under IA itself. ID is the piece that ties the multiple disciplines together. It guides IA; it guides graphic design; it guides writing - and onward. IA *is*, in fact, as you are characterizing it but ID is something quite different.
At once this seems too short to do the topic justice yet too long for this particular communication forum. I enjoy your work and appreciate being able to participate in the converation.
Thanks for the comment! I look forward to reading your pieces on the subject (be sure to alert me...I'll want to make sure there's a pointer).
That said, I'm curious about some of your statements. You write: "Since 1998 much has changed not the least of which being the self-definition of Information Design as a field and the juxtaposition with the evolution/mainstreaming of consumer and business technology during that time."
First, maybe I'm misreading, but the article I had pointed you to was done in 2001. In two years, yes, a lot has changed (particularly the increased visibility/conversations about IA). But while I've heard all sorts of commentary about UX as an umbrella (and been in a few interesting conversations about it), it seems to me that things are still shaking out. I'm only an interested bystander in the IA field, but I bet money the SIGIA folks would likely have some interesting responses to your ID is a discipline, but IA is a tactical process comment. I think they'd have more interesting things to say about your comment that "ID is the piece that ties the multiple disciplines together."
The people I have been having ID conversations with (those who are instrumental in the Information Design Journal and the ID mailing lists) don't seem to be making this same kinds of authoritative statements...and I'm not sure I agree with yours (it has this squishy quality to it that makes it hard to pin down). But there are a lot of different feeders into the field of information design. I do know that IIID has their own focus (choosing to focus predominantly on the graphic design applications, for example). But there is a rich, 20+ year history (primarily European) to ID and I'm wondering how that fits into your view of information design?
I find your comment about IDers "making the world better" very interesting. I've never said it (because I don't think I'm politically savvy to do it without getting it wrong), but I've often thought that there's a socialist (in a good way) bent to many information designers. But I wonder why you think that interfered with ID's technical evolution. Was that due to philosophy/political bent? How so?
BTW, I agree with you that this is *not* just about the web. I'm as interested in usable print communications (and so on) as I am the web. But boy, the Internet/WWW phenomenon is like a black hole...there's so many kinds of interesting things going on, both technically and politically, that it is hard not to make it the centerpiece of discussions!
Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I'm going to respond to some of your points - again trying to straddle the line of doing the topic justice while remaining viable in this medium - acknowledging that further clarification may be necessary.
It is true that the level of "authoritative statements" I made above are not mainstream right now, including in the Information Design field itself. However, we are actually in the process of networking with a number of key stakeholders - Peter Simlinger, Director of the International Institute for Information Design and Professor Bob Swinehart, Upcoming President of the same organization visited us in Toledo last month, among other connections - as a prelude to approaching the overall ID/information professions communities and re-examining the state and future of the discipline.
There is a tremendous vacuum right now, one that RSW identified in "Information Architects" but remains unfilled more than six years later.
Looking at it from the perspective of "service providers", there are many different services that *should* be tightly wound together: business consultancies, research firms, marketing communications firms, advertising agencies, design shops, technology companies, web development companies, software development companies...among others. Information ties together all of these different type of providers, both from the perspective of *what* they are providing (deliverable) as well as *how* they are doing it (context and process).
Looking at it from the perspective of businesses, there are many different needs splintered across departments, de-centralized, not operating together, not leveraging the same investments and outside partnerships, despite virtually begging to do so. Information ties all of those things together, yet is not recognized as such and contributes to shocking inefficiency.
One of the "problems" that "we" have (using "we" in the loosest possible way, to include those of us on both the corporate and agency side who strive to best provide our company and clients with a better way through information-related means) is not agreeing to a common focus among ourselves, including about terms. Regrettably, this prevents us from providing a united front, one that would enable us to formalize and mainstream a focus and execution on the *right* things, in the *right* ways. In order to take our good work to the next level, above the tactical level, into the enterprise level, and eventually to the paradigmatic level, we need momentum, clarity and shared vision.
To clarify my earlier post, I think that the information architecture community has done *amazing* work over the last six years. Dovetailing with the mainstream of the web, a number of exceptional and right-minded people identified the need and opportunity to improve the medium and today have an impressive, formal body of knowledge. Many "clients" still don't know what IA is, but they sure do recognize and appreciate the results. This has occured very quickly and is impressive.
I am on the outside of the IA community - by virtue of my schedule moreso than by choice - but have absorbed some of the "big IA" and "little IA" conversations. At its core IA is about the structure and content of information. There is more to it, but that is the general core of where it came from and why. In *every* discipline, talented and multi-faceted individuals rise out of their "natural contraints" and spread their wings into other areas. Because so many of the people in the IA community *are* pioneers and very high-level they fall into this group. They are attempting to set the level of the discipline at their own level, perhaps without intending to do so. Thus, boundaries are being stretched and tested in a way that not only loses many members of the community rank-and-file who are not on that level, it also threatens other disciplines and activities that are well established and do not appreciate the perceived encroachment. I particularly found some of Nathan Shedroff's comments on point in the two-part interview Adam Greenfield did with him some months back.
The Information Design "thesis" is one that places the discipline as the director of other disciplines. Does not replace them, minimize them or invalidate them. It informs them, brings them closer together, and guides them. A website that is built from an "Information Design" perspective is one that balances the many components of discover, planning, production and management (strategy, IA, interface development, application development, delivery infrastructure, management and continuity, etc.). Whereas a vast majority of deliverables currently produced are inappropriately focused on the core specialty of the individual, team or firm leading its creation, ID strives to balance those in order to achieve the goals of ID - most pointedly making information as *effective* as possible.
Yes, other disciplines have suggested that they serve as appropriate direction for other disciplines, or should be positioned to do so. But ID has key advantages: the focus on information of all types at both ends of the process cycle being one. Another is the marketability of the term.
There are many other reasons for this position on ID, but the marketability of it is the most clear from my perspective. ID can - relatively easily - be sold to corporate C-level professionals. I know; one of my core responsibilities is doing exactly that.
By point of comparison, the AIGA is attempting to broadly expand (and sell) the field of Design (big D). Their approach is very well thought and quite valid. It is actually very exciting, and I am glad to be part of that organization and thus a small part of it. However, it is really an uphill battle. "Design" carries a lot of pre-conceived baggage with it that will not be easily shed. It will be quite some time before the garden variety manufacturing CEO sits down to learn how his company can be more successful and accept that Design is the vehicle for that.
However, Information Design is sexy - in a way that Information Architecture, notably, is not. Information carries with it very systematic, positive, tangible, measurable implied benefits and meanings. Design carries with it very soft, creative, clever, differentiating implied benefits and meanings. By pulling them together there is a natural level of recognition and value that C-levels put on that. I know; I've seen it. Eyes light up. Ears perk up. Heads nod. Teaming up "Information" and "Architecture" is bringing together two words with similar connotation and feel. That is great for *structure* and *content* but not for *balancing everything*, to include that which spawns from both right and left-brained disciplines.
I have one client who is a regional VP for a very large international company that is involved in a variety of different industries. We've created numerous digital experiences for them over the past few years. After a lunch together about Information Design he asked to be sent more formal information as a prelude to making a presentation to the corporate CEO and international board of directors, as the first step in bringing the ID "vision" to their organization in an immersive, enterprise way.
That may end up coming together or it may not, but re-naming the approach to something like "Design" or "Information Architecture" (as opposed to Information Design) would not have had the same effect. ID is more than a great idea - and many of us have great ideas but call them different things - it is about making it sellable while remaining valid and true to its essence.
There are many analytical reasons why ID is the "right" thing to fill this vacuum; there are many analytical reasons why IA or Design or a number of other approaches/monikers are also the "right" thing to fill the vacuum. And key stakeholders in the different areas can make their cases eloquently and be quite correct and we can dance about and keep talking to ourselves without going anywhere. But what can we sell? Not sell on the level of justifying an approach to tactics, but sell on the level of creating awareness among C-levels that they *need* us.
I apologize if this is still feeling "squishy." I did not intend for this medium to be the sort of initial introduction to our approach and thoughts on this, but the organic nature of the conversation and from a timing perspective it just sort of happened.
Regarding your 2001 "What's In A Name?" conversation, I saw the 1998 link at the top of the front page and incorrectly had that number in my head as I skimmed through. My apologies.
I agree with your comment on the "socialist (in a good way) bent to many information designers." To answer your question about how that approach may have interfered, I mean that from the perspective of focus and activities more than philosophical or politcal bent. The latter certainly may have been a factor, but I do not have the proper context to approach that point. By focusing on, as Rune Petersson titled his excellent 2003 paper, "Information Design Makes For A Better World." Petersson drilled the business benefits underneath "Benefits to Society as a Whole." Insodoing, which is also parallel with the IIID pushing top level "to contribute to a better understanding within the human community with respect to cultural and economic issues by means of improved visual communication" there has not been an aggressive, proactive desire to fully connect and leverage natural extensions to the origins and legacy of the discipline. Thus, as the web became far forward in world consciousness it was different groups - prominent among them IA's - who stepped forward to fill that need in a way that is very consistent with the principles and approaches of ID.
There has not been a *successful*, concerted effort to focus on and close the ID sale to business in a broad, organized sense. So there is a keen understanding of the *scope* of ID throughout the community (create a better world is a large order, indeed, yet so accurate) but not a *focus* and *execution* on establishing that with business, which is the group best positioned to take advantage of the value of information.
It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and time to paint the mailbox! I will certainly let you know when/where the aforementioned publications show up, and would happily continue this thread as desired/appropriate.
I made some comments on my site Langemarks Café ( http://www.langemark.com/node/view/285 ) The central point being that we need to stop fighting for the Director spot by pointing to our title and say - "the xx is the natural Director". It doesn't work that way. The Director could come from any of the disciplines, or another. There's no free ticket to ride, and neither Information Architect nor Information Designer or any other title will buy you the place as Director.
Good heavens! Information Design as director of all the other disciplines? The unkind perspective: this is a powergrab by self-interested parties. The kinder perspective: when you have an (ID) hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Even ID in the larger sense (beyond infographics) isn't broad enough to assume a 'director' role.
ID is about understandability just as much as IA is about findability or interaction design is about usability. (arguments to expand beyond each of those prototypical, core concerns apply to each discipline relatively equally - you can't argue successfully for one, without successfully arguing for the others)
My personal candidate for that director role is "User Experience" and sometimes "User Experience Architect" (where architecture deals with the conceptual and design deals with the concrete realization of said concepts)
Trying to assert disciplinary primacy is pretty lame, particularly if your argument is that other disciplines aren't really disciplines at all. (forget the fact of books, conferences, professional organizations, etc. dedicated to IA and interaction design)
Anyways, the more important point is that *someone* with a UX perspective should be in that director role (whether we call them an IA, ID, the other ID, or UXA).
When I worked at R/GA in NYC the IA was the project lead. This fact was mainly just one part of a pitched battle between IA and visual design at R/GA though. After going through much organizational angst with many companies I am left with the impression that designers are designers, whether in the realms of IA, ID, visual design, etc., and that creating artificial distinctions or groups gets in the way of making good work (fundamentally and incontrovertibly a collaborative enterprise). Individuals have varying competencies and interests, but the nature of the project should have much more to do with what project members do than whatever 'discipline' they belong to.
I agree with Jess here. What is the point of saying that one discipline is better or a "director" over the others? What does ID, as the directing discipline, have to do with "making the complex clear"? Since when did such political aspiration become a part of improving the delivery/presentation of information?
What’s in a name? Nothing until you attach actions to it. George Washington; Adolph Hitler. That’s what’s in a name.
If ID should be positioned to rule over the other disciplines, we all might as well as hang up our "artisan" concepts and bow to the almighty Information Designer.
I bet Tufte is shaking his head right now.
Yikes! Ah well, I guess this is a bit like whack-a-mole...it is hard to focus on the other comments when you have something so tempting to take a whack at.
Anyways, for the record, I like the ID as director concept. But it needn't be something that is positioned as an end-all, be-all hierarchy. In the film analogy, directors come from different fields. Some (go figure) were originally actors. Some were editors. Some were cinematographers. And heck, maybe some just started directing.
So, in the classic "it depends" sense, which role is best suited for the director job is probably a factor of what type of project it is.
The one challenge with naming things is that most of these labels do carry some tactical level baggage, which is probably why everyone gets anxious when they are used strategically. I remember commenting at last year's STC conference that I'd see no reason to even be in a discussion about the usefulness of usability certification, but if it were called user-centered design, at least it'd feel more relevant to me.
As far as Tufte goes, God love him. I'm fascinated by good information graphics, and he and Wurman have really put this topic on the map (pardon the pun). But Tufte is ID's Jakob Nielson. He's got impressive credentials and great media visibility, but I don't know that I'd say he's representative of the whole field.
BTW, Jason Kottke just recently dug up an old CHI-WEB post from Norman on Tufte: http://www.kottke.org/03/04/030412norman_on_tu.html
I don't really get Norman's point about the chart junk; there are no "drawings of soldiers" on the original (see http://www.edwardtufte.com/786055875/tufte/graphics/poster_OrigMinard.gif ), although I've seen versions which did (and which I complained about: http://www.idblog.org/archives/000034.html ).
I totally agree with the Film Director analogy - directors assume the role with many backgrounds (acting, filming, scripting, etc.)
The key is that they're no longer an actor, cinematographer, or screenwriter when they sit in that director's chair. There's a different title, because it's a different job.
Same thing with "Experience Director" - the person may have an ID, IA, usability, interaction design, whatever background. But that doesn't mean that ID then becomes the guiding discipline, or IA, or usability. Experience Architecture is more general, and beyond the scope of any of those individual disciplines.
George Olsen has more good thoughts on this.
Yep, good point. So now all we have to do is to get all the tactical players to agree on the label for this different job *and* agree on the labels for the various tactical roles and we'll be where the film industry is. Hey, how hard could that be :).
I gotta say, I am surprised how much agreement there is about this dominance of IA thing. I suppose it has a certain amount of intellecctual elegance, but since when does the world run on that? Isn't it possible that this is appealing for personal reasons to the IAs who visit here, not organizational good thinking? Just checking.
In your 4/29, 3:19 PM post you touch on the point that I was trying to make - and judging from the responses apparently not very eloquently - about ID:
"Same thing with 'Experience Director' - the person may have an ID, IA, usability, interaction design, whatever background. But that doesn't mean that ID then becomes the guiding discipline, or IA, or usability. Experience Architecture is more general, and beyond the scope of any of those individual disciplines."
My point being that the "commonly accepted" definition of ID is not accurate. That ID "is more general, and beyond the scope of any of those individual disciplines." While what Tufte, as the iconic example, does *is a manifestation of an ID approach*, so are a number of other things. Tufte is not synonymous with ID.
This is not an attempt to say ID is one of a number of tactical manifestations and the most important of them, as you suggest; rather, that ID is not a tactical thing at all. It falls on a different continuum. I am treating ID in the same way that you are using "Experience Director" and "Experience Architecture." It is a clarification of terms.
As others have suggested, what the "director" spot is "called" ultimately is not terribly important. I do agree with that. I also happen to think that ID is the best candidate for that - particularly on the enterprise level - and have a litany of cogent reasons why. As you obviously have for UX and others have for IA. Let us try to focus on the essential elements of the dialogue and not hyper-focus on a single clumsy use/lack-of-use of the word "discipline" (which was later corrected).
My hope is to engage in productive dialogue on the topic, collaborate and *listen* to each other with the intention of determining the proper solution be it "our own" or not, and then focus where we need to focus - converting the rest of the world! :-)
Once again, while "what" term goes where is not terribly important, mapping this universe out in a way that garners *cross disciplinary* support would provide real traction for us all. And, as Beth so aptly clarified, this is not about *hierarchy* or this-is-more-valuable-than-that.
My asbestos undies are scratching a bit, though - I need to change! ;-)
Dirk - from googling you, you appear a reasonable fellow, not some power-hungry crazy man ;) But having just spent 4 days with leading information designers*, I didn't see any of them really wanting to take on the Director role. The ID field is quite happy with the "commonly accepted definition". In fact, a commonly accepted definition of some sort is fundamental to the existence of a field (despite all the 'defining the damn thing' discussions, IA is fundamentally about structuring information). I think it's far easier to adopt a new term for that strategic Director role than to shift perception and practice of established fields like IA or ID.
Ben - you wrote "I gotta say, I am surprised how much agreement there is about this dominance of IA thing. I suppose it has a certain amount of intellecctual elegance, but since when does the world run on that?"
I'm not sure what "dominance of IA" you're talking about. I don't think IA should be the Director, just like I don't think ID should be the Director. It should be something else, like Experience Architect, or Experience Director, or Jubble Jubble Hammerloo ;-) (just so long as it's *not* an established UX field).
* Creating Communicational Spaces conference.
I agree with Jess that the ID field is (more or less) happy with the 'commonly accepted definition' (though like the IAs, different IDs have wider or narrower views of this definition).
That said, I think that who takes on the director role in large part depends on what kind of project it is. I would hardly expect a traditional IDer to take on the director role for a large e-commerce web site. On the other hand, I wouldn't expect a traditional IAer to take on the director role for a project in ID space (maybe the total redesign of the US' 1040 tax instructions). And isn't it *very* safe to say that the IAers aren't that interested in the wayfinding kinds of projects (which have nothing to do with the Wurman/Tufte ID that most think of) that some IDers are? Though maybe some of the AIGA experience design folks are.
I'm not sure about "Jubble Jubble Hammerloo" :), but I do agree that we're not well served by a label for the strategic, oversight activity that is confused with a tactical, functional activity.
While I am a bit sympathetic to Dirk's position that if you take "information" (big sense) and "design" (big sense) together, they work well for this overview role, ID suffers from the same fate that IA and usability do...too many people see these as the labels for tactical activities.
I think that we are starting to look at this in the same basic way.
Beth and Jess both made the point that the present constitution of ID is such that there is not a real desire to re-define what the different individual people who identify themselves with it do. That is true. But ID suffers from a serious case of brand fog and confusion. Some see it as Tufte; some see it as being based in English/writing (Carngie Mellon University a prominent example); some see it as a synonym for IA; newer professionals see it as a little horizontal rectangle in Jesse's "Elements" diagram. So while we all see ID in "some" specific way, it is really something of a mess. By contrast at a fundamental level - not of specifics but generalities - IA has a (relatively) well accepted understanding, as does UX. I mean, there is certainly a lot of intra-disciplinary wrangling, but what has been clarified is such that a sophisticated-but-uninvolved marketing or IT person on the client side has a sense of where those terms map. Not so for ID. Regardless of "where" ID would finally land, it really is ripe for a re-definition; better, a clarification of its definition.
Returning to the larger question, I do agree (this was not stated explicitly but a summary of articulated points) that the "answer" should either be in the realm of "Experience" (or the control/design/architecture of how humans interact with and process information) or "Information" (or the control/design/architecture of that which humans interact and process). From a *business* persepctive, I do think Information is more sellable, but there are strong reasons that either could be correct.
Regarding the action word, "design" is more broad than "architecture" and lends itself to a generalist approach. Also, my initial research into a linguistic map of terms suggests that architecture would actually be a subset of design. Jess suggests actually using "Experience Director" and having "Director" be in the "title," but that sort of limits it to being a *title* and not a *discipline*.
Those are my thoughts on a very dark and rainy spring morning...
One more quibble. I'm not sure that I'd agree that IA and UX have a "(relatively) well accepted understanding." You must not hang out on the SIGIA list! Here's a tidbit from Friday:
That IA is still trying to shed its LIS-derived image problem or its perceived attachment to the dotcom model is most unfortunate, but nevertheless perfectly illustrates why it's important to not let a small group define/hijack a nascent title: the world around moves on and you're left with an outdated outlook/reputation.
BTW, your comment re design being broader than architecture is probably true. But the man who coined the term "information architecture" (even if he was really talking about tactical ID) did so since he felt there was a somewhat negative public connotation of the designers as decorator rather than problem solver (see http://list.informationdesign.org/pipermail/infodesign/1998-April/000056.html ). Talk about Sisyphean task to make the shift back to the general view of design! Oh, and it's not just the public. I do have a teeny-tiny issue with the occasional tendency of the design community to treat design as synonymous with product design or industrial design.
Those so inclined might be interested in checking out what some others, including Nathan Shedroff and Erik Spiekermann, had to say in response to Wurman's comments (see http://list.informationdesign.org/pipermail/infodesign/1998-June/000063.html ). And to round it out with a more current discussion, I'd check out the ED vs IA thread on Christina's weblog (see http://www.eleganthack.com/archives/003145.html ).
Wow, it took some time to read the various links you provided but there were extremely interesting and relevant.
Since I did not have time to take notes and properly systematize my interpretations, I apologize in advance for what will be a somewhat scatter-shot response.
Regarding the history of information design, I've actually read (and I kick myself for not annotating this) that it formally began in 1972 or 1973 with the publication of a book/classification of some sort that was the first formal and recognized example of ID. I apologize for the weakness of the example but the point being I was under the impression that ID pre-dated RSW's public use of IA in 1976.
That conversation from 1998 was very interesting, and very representative of the time. "Information Architects" was still enjoying full blush (while today it it out-of-print) and the structure/content on the web definition/manifestation of IA had not taken root. So, situationally, those very sound rationales for IA as opposed to ID in describing the same thing made sense, yet I do not think they are still germane. The landscape today is much different.
Internally, there is a lot of debate about what IA "is," yet externally I think there is a relatively solid perception that IA is "LIS-derived image...perceived attachment to the dotcom model" So IA "is" something externally (that is actually pretty accurate up to a point) as well as internally. ID is not. Externally, people don't know what ID is. They *assume* it to be one thing or another, most typically some high-powered version of graphic design, yet in reality it is not that at all. So, there is an external (broad) understanding of "what IA is" that is at least fairly accurate but there is NOT and external (broad) understanding of "what ID is" with any accuracy or consistency at all.
Going back to the 1998 conversation, and Nathan's points in the more recent thread about IA/ID being the same thing, I think that IA has eveolved in such a way to become a more tactical manifestation. Not in a bad way; not ignorant of strategy or not involved in it or not replete with brilliant visionaries - but defined nonetheless. Meanwhile, while ID has remained somewhat stationary in the similar 4/5 year period, it remains what I will call (thanks, RSW) the understanding discipline. And profoundly different from what IA now "is".
Yes, I know that the IA community sees IA in much different (and still being defined) terms, big, little and so forth. And without a doubt, people in that community, aspects of the discipline itself and the work that they do, tie into larger things and enjoy a profound and important scope. Yet, at the end of the day, there is a relatively large body of knowledge connected to IA and a majority of it has to do with applying tactical skills or processes in one way or another.
So, to try and tie this together, we used to have ID and IA as essentially synonomous things, both relating to creating understanding in the world in a broad, macro, multi-disciplinary, strategic way. Then, with the rise of the web, very talented and capable people carved out new space - pertaining to some large degree to structure and content - and very definitively called this information architecture. My contention is that ID remained what it was - the macro understanding discipline - while the IA term organically shifted from RSW's manifestation to what we have today. I do agree with Nathan's confusion as to why the current IA community seems to gloss over the clearly articulated legacy and evolution of these terms vis a vis RSW, Spiekermann, et. al.
Even *if* IA were loosely defined as relating to the structure and content of information, I do not think that the "fear" of it becoming "outdated" is valid. *Structure* and *content* are SO very important in terms of well designed information, communication and understanding. All of what we are talking about is important, regardless of the monikers.
What's in a name, indeed?
As a matter of fact, my chapter in Content and Complexity (see cover on right at top) included as much of information design's history as I could find.
The earliest mention of the term that I found was in 1970 from Edward Hamilton's "Graphic Design for the Computer Age." However, I credited the origin of information design to the 1978 NATO Conference on Visual Presentation at Het Vennenbos in the Netherlands. The two major artifacts of that conference were the 1984 book "Information Design: The Design and Evaluation of Signs and Printed Material" (edited by Easterby and Zwaga) and the Information Design Journal, which appeared in 1979 (and is still going strong: http://www.benjamins.nl/idj ).
But I must still quibble about is whether there is a relatively solid interpretation of IA, even externally. Similarly, I'm not sure where there is any agreement that ID is viewed as the "macro understanding discipline." By whom? I know that there are some who have made the point (Ginny Redish in STC's Tech Comm in May 2000) that ID (or document design) can have this big picture aspect to it, but I just don't see it in the literature or community I've been participating in.
Who was using information design this way in the 80s and 90s? From what I've found, it was the European community (the primary contributors to IDJ, along with the Australians), who seem to be at least with arms length of the info design as graphic design on steriods approach (though I think there's a lot more to it than that :).
BTW, are you aware of any educational programs in ID that emphasize the scope you describe? The ones I've found (see http://www.stcsig.org/id/degrees.html ) tend to be more in the tactical sense.
That said, I don't disagree with you that the landscape is different today. And I think that the space for IA may well be better suited to the complexity of structure and content of info that are today's information systems (a la Lou's recent blog entry on enterprise IA at http://louisrosenfeld.com/home/bloug_archive/000172.html ). Of course, being the Kind Polar Bear of IAs, he isn't exactly the one leading the charge for IA and ID being synonymous :).
Thanks for sharing the specifics you've found on the origins of the term "information design." I just might have to order your book. :-)
Regarding the question of IA's external perception, it is relative. Certainly, very few CEO's are familiar with IA. But in my experience your VP of IT is. Your VP of marketing might be. Directors as well in related areas. Not *all* of them; certainly not! But enough. IA is not just an emic term used by the insiders; it has penetrated beyond that level. And, in my experience, those (external) who *are* familiar view it in the "tactical IA" sense. Honestly, it is a credit to the folks in the IA community to have achieved meaningful penetration!
So, no, it is not mainstream in a meaningful way. But from the perspective that much of what "we" practitioners do flies under the radar on the client side, IA has achieved an unusual level of penetration given its short history (non-RSW version) and what penetration it does have largely manifests in a consistent, Polar Bear IA, way.
This is all, admittedly, in my "one man's experience" of aggressively selling executive/C-levels all this fun stuff. Mileage may vary.
Regarding (lack of) agreement to ID as a "macro understanding discipline," throughout the practitioner base, that is true. Here is my case for ID despite that fact, presented with maximum data density as a tribute to E.T.:
- RSW established IA, which he defined in a way that he and other gurus also treated ID as synonomous with, in 1976
- RSW positioned IA/ID (*his* conception of those terms, pre-Polar Bear) as the "macro understanding discipline" (my word choice, not his).
- E.T. is a self-titled Information Designer, and an objective view of his work shows that his solutions synthesize virtually *every* relevant (non-digital) information discipline. IOW, he creates "macro understanding" using sooo many tools, and he is an information designer. (query: how long has he considered himself an Information Designer for? I'm sure many, many moons).
- Erik Spiekermann advocated the RSW "version" in the 1998 thread that you linked to above.
- Nathan Shedroff advocated the RSW "version" as recently as today, as well as in the 1998 thread and the Christina Wodtke thread.
- Rune Pettersson's definition certainly seems to meet the criteria.
- Various contributors to Bob Jacobson's book position it in a roughly analogous way (broad, strategic, not at all tactical).
- Peter Simlinger (Director, IIID) has not expressly placed ID there, but we've spoken a couple of times in the last week and some of his comments very clearly suggest he personally sees ID in that way.
- To the contrary, which self-titled ID's who are considered *gurus* define ID as anything but "macro understanding"?
- The leadership of the IA community generally seems pretty sure there is a "big IA"/"enterprise IA" discipline out there, in addition to "little IA" or Polar Bear IA.
- Their definition of those big/enterprise terms generally seems consistent with or at least similar to how I am defining ID (based on the Gurus above).
- Concurrently, there *is* a very clear, large and well-established practitioner base and body of knowledge surrounding the term "information architecture" that is tactical and a component of the macro but not the macro itself.
- Concurrently, there *is* massive confusion and fog around the term "information design" - non-practitioners can't figure out *what* it is; practitioners who claim the title range from graphic design to writing to IA and beyond. It is fractured and decidedly broad. It stretches across various boundaries without consistent tactical grounding.
- Tracing from 1998, "information architecture" demonstrably changed into something different than how the gurus were positioning it at that time.
- Tracing from 1998, "information design" did not. A lot of people still claimed it, the web did not organically metamorphize it as happened with IA to provide clarity and focus, and today it is a sometimes forgotten, sometimes misunderstood, regularly underappreciated, never-seen-in-a-way-even-beginning-to-approach-consensus, discipline.
- The gurus of IA identify "Big IA." But does it make any sense to take one field (Polar Bear IA) that contributes as part of a collaboration with other peer disciplines, stick "Big" on the front of it, and have it be the unifying "macro understanding discipline" over the other peer tactical disciplines? *OR* doesn't it make more sense to...
- Take ID, which was defined as a "macro understanding discipline" years ago, has not been clearly, strongly re-defined as its synonym, IA, was, and keep it *right where it has been for a long time* in the position of "macro understanding discipline," something that the Polar Bear IA community itself identifies as a clear and present need?
Regarding the background of the discipline in Europe, and other reasons for a lack of this macro acknowledgment in the community as it stands (and acknowledging the major fracturing and lack of consistency between those who claim the title ID as a component in that) I have two schools of thought on that:
1. Early manifestations of ID were largely communicated through graphic design and visual disciplines because those were the available tools. Today we all are familiar with ED/UX, the power of the web, etc. but "back in the day" print ruled the roost. Visual mediums were predominant, with very little (formal) acknowledgment and movement toward integrating other senses beyond sight into (non-multimedia) design, and certainly few sophisticated digital opportunities thanks to technological limitations. Thus, because the *deliverable* of ID endeavors shared surface level characteristics with other disciplines, a causal connection was made more recently that these print/visual/so-called graphical manifestiations is the *only* realm of ID. And this causal connection was absolutely in error.
2. Information Design is an *approach* that people have adopted as a *title* out of the same confusion outlined in point 1 immeidately above. Some measure of people who claim the title probably should not. Or, better, while claiming the title, they should consider themselves as "a graphic designer/writer/information architect/whatever-one's-core-competency-is who follows the information design approach". In the case of an Edward Tufte, someone of almost singular ability, he is pulling so many of those things together that he really *is* an information designer in the most pure sense of the words.
I'm kind of winging it to some degree on this, getting into a realm where it is my independent analysis of this stuff that I am falling back on. A lot of my views have changed in just the last few weeks, too, as I've written a few articles that made me look more deeply at this, and been seriously pushed and enlightened by a variety of gurus and friends during pretty intense communcating and networking. No way am I going to try and read this enter thread again from the start, but I expect that my more refined approach of today differs from what I was saying in the beginning.
Some of it I am pretty sure is correct. Some might be incorrect analysis. Some might be incorrect facts. But there is more than just smoke here: there is fire! :-)
And (quickly) getting back to some of the earliest notes on this thread, this is *not* a battle for supremacy. It is a clarification. Honestly, the "stronger" position to be in as a discipline is the vital tactical position which can be communicated and understood more broadly and easily. I don't think it necessarily does ID any favors to positon it in this "macro understanding" way; perhaps in a humanistic sense it is a stronger and more compelling position, but not in a capitalistic sense.
And not to totally bloat this converation, but I think that at a "macro" level there needs to be an information discipline (dedicated to designing the world so humans perceive the world in a way that promotes the greatest possible understanding) *and* an experience discipline (dedicated to designing the point of interaction between humans and the world, in order to maximize the effectiveness of every interaction that humans have, one of the most important of those interactions being information).
But that is an entirely different mega-thread!
If "Information Design" is redefined (or clarified, or whatever) to be the overarching "macro understanding discipine" (or whatever) then what would you call the "tactical ID" activities?
Using the above nomenclature, "tactical ID" activities would be graphic design, writing, "Polar Bear IA" - among many others. Just as, for example, "Design" is the broad continuum of a specific domain, "Information Design" is also a broad continuum but within the domain of "Design" - as oppposed to a particular tactic. If that makes sense.
Going back to the broad question of the viability of this definition, I had the opportunity to attend the 2by Two Conference last week. The attendees included a variety of the veteran leaders in what some might refer to as the "graphic design part of the ID community" and none of those individuals who were exposed to this definition/clarification/whatever voiced an objection.
I'm actually in the process of publishing a few more articles on the basic subject, in particular the one with Boxes and Arrows that talks through ID as "the understanding discipline" and another that defines the top two domain levels of design while feeding into the third level. I'm actually looking for a publisher on the latter one as I think it is particularly valuable for the broad design community and would prefer to publish it in a more mainstream capacity. In case anyone reading this has any productive leads. :-)
I was thinking more about the Tufte-esque discipline? I don't think "graphic design" covers that - what would you call it?
Ah - sorry. I would call the "discipline" of Tufte and Wurman Information Design. They are bringing together many different tactical disciplines to create complicated (which is to say, making the very complex surprisingly clear) information solutions.
Think of it as a family tree:
Design is on top
Underneath that are Information and Product (Product is almost certainly not the right word, but that branch is intended to capture architecture, product, industrial, etc.)
Following the Information branch, underneath that are categories of end products (web, brochure, organization, etc.)
Following the web branch, underneath that are tactical disciplines that contribute to creating web solutions (IA, interface design, writing, etc.)
So, there are four levels of classification. When you combine multiple tactical disciplines, you move "up" a level, to the deliverable as category. When you are dealing with multiple deliverables, you move "up" a level, to the Information. When you are dealing with both Information and Product (again, wrong word) you move up to just Design.
Extrapolating that out, a graphic designer is someone who only uses graphics in their work. A web designer is someone who contributes to web deliverables using multiple tactical disciplines. An information designer is someone who uses multiple tactical disciplines and applies them to multiple media. A Designer is someone who achieves both information designer and its equivalent on the "Product" side.
I would take it a step farther and say that, to be called an information designer (for example), it is not enough to perform multiple tactics but that you have some level of...professional competency in each of them? I mean, I could pull out some paints and a canvas and go crazy but that doesn't make me a painter.
I'm not sure if this is making sense? It is all very clear in my head but I'm a bit concerned that I am not communicating clearly here...
Interesting - i've read most of Tufte's books and have even been to his 1 day "read the books" seminar, he talks a lot about graphics, tables, interfaces, etc but I don't think i've ever heard him mention words like "taxonomy", "controlled vocabulary" or even "information architecture" - by your definition he'd have to be competent in them and use them wouldn't he?
Not necessarily, Richard. While I cannot speak to Tufte's knowledge/application/understanding of any of the terms that you cite it is in the *execution* of designing the information that he meets that criteria. What Tufte designs - from my exposure to and experience with it - illustrates very successful information architecture. Whether he is versed in the formal tools and training is immaterial if he can accomplish the objective, which is a successful information deliverable that creates understanding and builds knowledge and wisdom. By and large, I think everyone would agree that Tufte succeeds in that way. He balances the different elements - the ideas, the structure, the words, the images - into producing effective information that creates understanding.
As an analogy, I was able to intuitively solve math problems in high school and college - but was not terribly successful grade-wise - because I did not "show my work" and exercise the discipline to learn the methods that they were trying to teach. Yet my final "answers" were largely correct. I did solve the problems, even if I could not claim to have mastered a list of specific methods.
Maybe we are all "Information Designers" regardless of breadth of discipline and level of skill, with the qualifier being who does or does not design information *well*, with *well* defined as best accomplishing project objectives - most typically necessitating a successful balance of ideas, structure, words and images, among others.
I'm not aware of any websites that Tufte has designed - he even partnered with an IA company for his own site! Almost everything I have seen that he's designed has been 'single page' charts, diagrams, graphs, etc ... the problems of information interpretation, comprehension and understandability (Info Design in my mind) are very different from those of organization, navigation and findability (IA) - so I see Tufte as a very skilled practioner in a discipline called Information Design (and while i'm very willing to explore the idea of using the term ID for something else - if we do that what are we going to call what Tufte does?)
A lot of what Tufte does fits very nicely (IMO) into a category of information design called information graphics. Other categories that make sense to me are public information products (tax forms, insurance applications, etc.), documents (which in my view differ only from the former in terms of their emphasis on text versus layout), and wayfinding systems. (Not sure why I don't have a category that fits the web better.)
But I think that Tufte also does information design to the extent that he argues for better use of visual elements and typography to convey information. For example, see the analysis he did about a slide related to the Columbia disaster.
Given the relatively long history of ID in this space (compared to the relatively recent introduction of online information systems), I see no real reason for information design to stop being concerned with these "traditional" products. Many folks may find the challenges (and impact) of solving information problems in the online space far more interesting. Or they're more interested in the big/strategic application of ID rather than the little/tactical application of it.
I like both. But for me, information design is still really about using words and pictures (and potentially sound and animation) to aid people in understanding information products.
You all make good points. I am new in a Master of Science (Technical and Professional Communication) program at Southern Polytechnic State University and I am learning so much about how design and visual aspects tie into writing documentation. I have so much to learn.
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