Information design:
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

inform #2 organising information and LATCH

By InformForm

Tsinghua Students organised by gender

There are many forms of information. They exist and are generated, collected and archived in equal quantity. A designer can not ascertain the same level of understanding as an expert in a field of study (for example a neuro scientist or anthropologist). She should become familiar with diagnostic techniques and resources that can aid the process and understanding of content. This includes speaking to experts and exploring a wide range of references, both off and online.

Richard Saul Wurman coined the acronym LATCH: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category and Hierarchy. These are considered by many to be the five finite ways of organising information.

Organising information based on location is useful when comparing information from different sources but can also be understood in a geographic context.

Information organised alphabetically takes advantage of our learned ability to recognise letters in sequence, thus aiding the process of interpretation.

Time is relevant when events or things relate to each other during a particular duration. An obvious example is a calendar. A journey can also be organised according to time.

The term category is the most general and least thematic out of the five. It is a a classificatory division that can apply to a wide range of content.

Lastly hierarchy is a term regularly referred to in design and is also of importance in information organisation. It refers to concepts of big and small, less and more. It is used when values such as weight or size are being referred to.

Example 1:

In December 2011 at Tsinghua University in Beijing a workshop encouraging research through practice asked the students to explore the principles of organising information. It was also a useful ice-breaker, and a chance for everyone to get to know each other.

Using Wurman’s LATCH, the group of 33 students organised themselves according to first name, height and date of birth. They were also asked to come up with two other ways of organising themselves and photograph the results. Clear patterns emerged from this exercise. For example, there were more girls than boys in the class (contradicting China’s population statistics of more males than females). It was also observed that the majority of the students were between 160 and 170cm tall, and that the most common year of birth was 1989.

Even though the below exercise used simple categories of organisation it highlights the strength of simplicity in information design. Using multiple vantage points and complex data sets can dilute the strength of a visual display and thus the reader’s understanding. The chosen method of organisation should relate clearly and succinctly to the idea, the context and audience.

Tsinghua University students organised by height (cm)


Tsinghua University students organised by date of birth:


Example 2:

The result of a one day workshop by Catalogtree with year 2 Graphic Design students from Ravensbourne. In this workshop students were asked to re-organise all 40 members of the group by directly observable references or by invisible qualities. The aim to gain new insights, uncover hidden relations and show unexpected perspectives on the people they know very well.

Working on a scale 1:1 and using coloured adhesive tape, the teams designed overlapping playing fields on which all 40 participants could be placed according to the parameters defined. The result was seven different brightly coloured, life-sized, life-filled maps.


Scale 1:1 from Rave Graphic Design on Vimeo.

Recommended Texts:
Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman (1990)
Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgen (2012)

Originally published in InformForm #1

Posted in Articles
January 10, 2015
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