RE: What happened to information architecture and design

Subject: RE: What happened to information architecture and design
From: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com>
To: Robert Lauriston <robert -at- lauriston -dot- com>, "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 7 Apr 2016 17:56:42 +0000

Here's the thing about all these options.

"Snow Fall" won a Pulitzer for the author for feature writing. He probably had NO skills to do all the interactive stuff on the web site. That was done by web developers, graphic designers, etc.

D3 and data visualization skills are not normally accessible to the average tech writer. If you're a developer type, you could probably pick up D3 no sweat. With a little math background, you might be able to make it sing.

So this kind of multimedia journalism (documentary-style) and data science/data visualization are gold standards for communication.

I have nothing in my canon of projects that lends itself to either treatment.

I'm just a tech writer, so the best I can do, really, is use some crude visualization tools, like Word art or Visio, and put more thought into the actual information design. I'll never work on a "Snow Fall," at least as I see it now. And that's not what I'm looking for, personally.

Believe me, I LOVE that I got the chance to see these things, so thanks again a million times to Tim and you for posting them.

But you see the issue?

So my challenge is not to master a medium. It's to translate my ideas for information design into something comprehensible by others using the existing tools I have, even crude ones. When I worked on such a project a few years ago -- it ended up being a poster that was done with the help of an in-house graphic artist -- I think I did the mock-ups in PowerPoint. I just had to draw concentric circles and then connect them, draw a few arrows, a few pieces of text, stuff like that. Like the stuff you might see in Robert Horn's books and papers. Nothing fancy.

It's the *idea* that compresses the concept into something instantly comprehensible to the reader/viewer. That's what, for example, infographics are *supposed to* do. But often they don't. Probably 99% of the time they're just, "Hey, look at me! I'm an artist!"

And again, I don't mean to focus on infographics.

I was reading one of Horn's papers recently and he made a pretty cool comment. He was talking about maps and how maps help you visualize where you are -- in fact, that was the basis for the origin of the term "information mapping."

If you're driving on a highway in Montana, for example, with open stretches of road and flat countryside as far as the eye can see, you might have no idea where you are -- never mind north, south, etc., you just might not know what's ahead and what's behind. If you didn't have an idea of a map of the U.S. or the world in your mind, you might think you were driving toward the edge of the Earth.

But if you now raise up and get an elevated view of the terrain, sort of zoom out of the locale you're in, or if you stop and pull out a road map, all of a sudden you can pinpoint where you are relative to anyplace else in the U.S. or even on Earth. (Forget GPS for now, this is old school.)

Good information design and information architecture should be like that. An awesome piece of communication should be like a map for that particular concept. It should give you an immediate bird's-eye view of what's going on relative to the subject matter. If I'm writing a service manual for a medical device and this is a piece that illustrates (in basic shapes) the schedules for the various cleaning cycles and how they do/don't overlap with each other, and if you have some orbital curves by time that intersect and show you the different cycles and looks inspired by a map of the solar system, that might really hit you a certain way. But of course you can't assume everyone takes in information the same way or is inspired by the same type of image.

Anyway... I love the gold standards, but my goals are more modest.

Thanks for continuing the conversation, if anyone wants to take up the torch.

Steve


On Thursday, March 31, 2016 4:19 PM, Robert Lauriston wrote:

Nate Silver's site has some interesting data-driven graphics, some of them interactive.

http://fivethirtyeight.com

You know about D3?

https://d3js.org/

Also:

https://bost.ocks.org/mike/

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