in practice, an informed theory
InformForm is an international platform for information design, which celebrates and explores both practical and theoretical experimentation within the field of design. It prides itself on showcasing relevant examples of work by students, for students. Read More
Research as part of the design process is imperative. Relevant information gathering facilitates the development of subject awareness, as well as an increase in visual literacy. It’s the process of lateral thinking that allows us to create opportunities for creativity and insight.
Information gathering alone does not quantify research. It is only through analysis and evaluation that research becomes of value and can inform ideas and concepts. Analysis is the process of examination—gathering the essential details of something as well as any connections and context. Evaluation is the process of determining the significance and value of the aforementioned analysis. Finding pertinent information is the first step, analysing and understanding its value in relation to your idea is the next.
What does the word ‘idea’ or ‘concept’ mean in an information design context? Firstly it’s worth noting what the idea is not:
An idea is not a visual application or method i.e. “my idea is to do an infographic”
An idea is not a theme or subject matter i.e.“my idea is data security”
An idea is not a production method or format i.e.“my idea is to do a newspaper”
Instead, try and see an idea as a construct. An idea is formed by the designer’s willingness to communicate and informed by an understanding of to whom they would like to communicate to. The idea is given shape by the message and it creates a platform for visual experimentation and decision-making.
As designers, we are not merely responsible for the visual translation of content: we communicate ideas and messages and it is those messages that we try to represent visually. We have the opportunity to highlight the connections and relationships within the data. As the visual ‘formers’ of information we are also visual editors and storytellers. Questions such as what is the purpose of the design? and what does the reader need? play an important role in the early stages of concept development. It’s essential to be demanding and critical of an idea: put it through its paces! This is where thorough research and testing play an important role—ascertain the idea’s simplicity as well as complexity.
In any project, it will be beneficial to examine key case studies of (graphic and information) design. Such analysis will have positive impact on learning about concept strategies, and can also play a role in your experiments at a later stage. Examining semiotic relationships between sign and the signifiers can help in validating one’s own objectives and set parameters for visual experimentation.
When you examine the work of other designers, aspire to understand the approach of the designer and not the visual, format and production methods alone. It’s important not only to analyse visual characteristics, but its connections to the message. Consider the connections to content and context. It’s these connections that will allow the research and design process to intersperse. When researching other designers with the aim of creating a contextual framework, be wary that imitation of style unintentionally filters through into the design; it will be a visual language that is likely to be ill suited to different content and concepts.
Research on design needs to go hand in hand with research on content. It’s useful to be familiar with a range of observation methods that will allow for the identification and analysis of visual and contextual variables. Idea generation in design is the gathering and understanding of information, and makes the best possible use of it. Become familiar with seeking expert resources and advice, particularly if the subject is unfamiliar to you. Make sure you don’t examine content through only one filter—a range of perspectives is necessary and useful. Referring to the principles of organising information such as L.A.T.C.H is also helpful.
Additionally visual experimentation can also be a useful method to aid the creation of an idea. This is not to be confused with jumping ahead, and offering incomplete design proposals as a final artefact. Becoming familiar with terms that describe the methods of design is a useful first step. The technical glossary on this site should be of relevance.
Originally published in InformForm #2, 2012