profession June 30, 2019

Information design: How designers are improving data

Information design is a field that makes use of visual tools to translate complex data.
You probably heard about data visualization before, but today is the day you get to know why it matters.
According to the Oxford dictionary, data visualization is the representation of information in the form of a chart, diagram, picture, etc.
Basically, it’s a visual explanation of data that, otherwise, would be more complicated to interpret and to infer.
So even if you don’t realize it, you’re continually interpreting and designing data visualization systems. The most common ones are histograms, pie charts, and line charts, but there are more.

5 Categories of Data Visualization systems in information design

  1. Temporal
  2. Hierarchical
  3. Network
  4. Multidimensional
  5. Geospatial

Temporal
In this category, there are two fundamental conditions: they are linear, and one dimensional.
These data visualization graphs are represented by single or overlapping lines that have a start and a finishing point.

Hierarchical
Hierarchical visualizations order smaller groups inside more extensive ones.
They work best when there’s a single origin point, and they also tend to be harder to interpret.

Network
This category is used to show how a group connects with other groups, within a network. It explains their relationships without a textual description.

Multidimensional
As the name indicates, multidimensional data implies at least 2 variables to create a 3D visual representation.
They also tend to be more appealing and easier to break down, even if they comprehend a lot of data.

Geospatial
Spatial visualizations demonstrate real-life locations with different data inputs.
They are represented by points on top of geographic maps and are commonly used for showcasing acquisitions.

Information design is harder than it looks

Before you start thinking that information design is no big deal and that you have it figured out, think about those times when it seemed to confuse you more than it helps.
Even though charts, tables, and diagrams are somewhat common, not everyone knows how to design them properly. There are captions, metrics, and different units to consider. Poor usage of one (or all) of these parameters will lead the reader to confusion and frustration.
Additionally, since these visual representations are mostly used in fields such as finance and research, we tend to think that information design is always the same; boring, corporate, and impersonal. Something that we don’t like.
However, there are designers willing to prove us wrong and to show that data visualization is both interesting and visually appealing.

Giorgia Lupi

She’s an Italian information designer, founder of Accurat, and the most recent Pentagram’s partner.
Giorgia, unlike other designers, doesn’t believe that data is untouchable, infallible, and unbreakable.
Lupi made a career, and a name for herself, by defending her humanistic approach to information design.
She believes that behind the numbers, there are stories and ideas to be share, and our humanity to uncover.
As a result, by presenting information in a more compassionate and artistic way, we get curious and are compelled to interpret the message without preconceived ideas.
To her, information design isn’t about data, it’s about humans.

Stefanie Posavec

Like her friend, Stefanie also believes in transforming data into beautiful visual representations.
She works as a designer, artist, and author. Additionally, she also uses public speaking appearances and workshops to teach what she knows about data visualization.

3 Beautiful examples of information design

I couldn’t just talk to you about information design without sharing examples of projects.
Although there is a wide range of amazing work in this field, I choose three projects that speak to me the most.

Data Portraits at TED by Giorgia Lupi

In 2017, TED approached Accurat to develop a live experience for Target, a conference partner.
The goal was to create a unique experience that would spark spontaneous connections between participants, using their personal data.
Based on a set of questions, Lupi developed a system where each color, position, and element would represent participants’ answers.
As a result, each attendee got one pin that they could wear on the conference to showcase their personalities and start conversations.

OFFF chart illustrations by Stefanie Posavec

Stefanie was commissioned to create editorial illustrations for Barcelona’s OFFF Festival book.
She had to transform topics such as the creative process, relationships, and breakfast into charts.

Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec

In 2016, Stefanie and Giorgia published Dear Data.
In the book, they show how they got to know each other during a year, using only data visualization.
They mailed hand-drawn postcards to one another, sharing their weekly emotions, hobbies, and routines.
Thanks to this project, the designers became close friends, and, later on, they decided to showcase it in museums and to publish it.

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