Dirk Knemeyer

Information Design: the meta discipline for business

Originally published at Thread Intelligence

The most valuable currency for any business is information. Financial. Research. Engineering. Marketing. Operations. Human Resources. Production. Each of these areas – in fact every area of business – relies on information. The better the information, the more successful each element of a company – individually and collectively – will be. Good decisions replace bad. Successful planning and execution replace hasty, unfocused tactics.

Information Design integrates numerous disciplines to create effective information. Just as business needs a careful and successful balance of its component parts to achieve success, Information Design realizes the complex web of factors that goes into creating successful information. Whereas other disciplines have a more narrow and internal focus, trying to figure out how to use their limited cache of tools, Information Design leverages integration to provide more effective information.

Companies that partner with an Information Design firm get a high-level business consultant and proven solutions provider, all in one. As a consultant, your Information Design firm analyzes your business – or specific segments of it – to provide guidance that leads you toward the most important goal: the best possible bottom line over the long haul. As a solutions provider, your Information Design firm executes information solutions as a component of achieving this critical goal. At the end of the day, the goal in each case is to provide the highest possible business success for the client.

How do so many specialties fit into one important discipline?

Truly effective information is both difficult to produce and absolutely vital to success. This combination of complexity and importance requires a robust discipline. Each of the specialties regularly used in successful Information Design is both critical to its success and – independently – important and established.

While hardly an exhaustive list, Information Design can be roughly categorized into two primary groups: Information Sciences and Design Arts. The use of the individual words “information” and “design” in this context are happy accidents.

Information Sciences:
Anthropology
Chemistry
Communication
Environmental
Mathematics
Sociology
Physics
Psychology
Sociology

Design Arts:
Advertising
Architecture
Experience
Graphic
Industrial
Interaction
Interface
System
Usability

While it is true that Information Design is the discipline for better business, it is actually much broader – and more important. Information Design is the key to a happier and healthier world, one that is universally more efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

The perfect balance

While Information Design is committed to maintaining the clarity of information, it is the overall balance between clarity and usability that really makes it shine. For information to be as effective as possible, it often requires the thoughtful application of a more aesthetic approach. Indeed, this is why many people have come to – erroneously – think of Information Design as a synonym for graphic design, one of the many disciplines that breathes accessibility and even beauty into well-designed information.

With the rise of digital technologies, the discipline of information architecture has become very “hot.” Like Information Design, information architecture organizes information and makes it efficient. However, it is the attention to aesthetics that separates Information Design. To truly be effective, in this world with such a surplus of information, it is vital that information touches the heart as well as the mind. It must be easy to approach and use, not just from an organizational and technical standpoint, but in terms of usability and appeal, as well. By recognizing this and applying any relevant discipline, powerful and effective information is successfully designed.

Important to have, difficult to find

Although it would be nice to suggest that major corporations employ an Information Designer in order to enjoy the myriad benefits that the field has to offer, the reality is not that simple. While the basic principles are easy to understand, truly successful implementation is far more elusive. And it just makes sense: because so many disparate fields are necessary to design the best possible information, very few people are capable of independently delivering Information Design solutions.

For obvious reasons, this is very unfortunate.

Strength in numbers

Information Design firms – such as Thread – are becoming so critical to business. By building our entire company to provide the best possible information for our clients, we are able to integrate specialists in many of the most critical disciplines. Bringing these experts together gives us the added advantage of applying the correct tools for each unique situation and client need. This sort of versatility is the very essence of Information Design.

Another aspect of Information Design that makes it uniquely suited for an independent firm, as opposed to a component of a larger company, is the vast breadth of expertise that it requires. While we staff a variety of different experts, it is not realistic for any one company to employ all of the requisite specialists. However, through global collaboration with other firms around the world – as well as experts in academia – leading Information Design firms are truly able to deliver a competitive advantage.

Don’t budget more money; budget your money better

One benefit that Information Design brings to clients is that it supercedes other critical business needs. Companies spend large budget allotments on outside service from web companies, advertising agencies, public relations firms, information technology providers, business consultants and marketing communications providers. All of these services – and others – are part of the larger Information Design solution. So, rather than slicing budget money into a lot of different pieces for a variety of service providers, companies that apply Information Design are enjoying the value proposition of investing with a single firm that addresses all of these business needs and does so from a more global, integrated and effective perspective.

Clients enjoy the insistent focus on efficiency that Information Design brings. It is committed to doing as much as possible for as little as possible. Thus, while more niche “tool” providers like those above try to stretch their specific tools as deeply and broadly as they can, Information Design focuses on doing less for a greater overall impact. Indeed, a strong business strategy supported by expertly designed information typically leaves unused budget. Clients invariably find that these savings in their marketing or technology budgets provide an invaluable benefit when added to planned budgets in research and development, or operational improvements or new production efficiencies. And this is the very essence of Information Design: providing excellent information to accomplish direct goals while helping to meet other – essentially unrelated – goals.

The best is yet to come

While Information Design has informally been around for a long time, it is generally considered to be a very new discipline. And with the power of digital technologies allowing further integration and the ability to take advantage of this complicated multi-disciplinary approach, the best is most definitely yet to come. As the amount of information grows – and grow it will – the quality of the design of each bit of information becomes even more vital.

This article may not be enough to convince you; if not, definitely explore for yourself. There are dozens of Information Design firms around the world that are accustomed to illustrating their value through practical application. Bring a particularly complicated project or problem to an Information Design partner and prepare to be impressed.

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