Friday, December 19, 2008

communicating complex (or simple) information

We have an overwhelming amount of information all around us. We can see it and we can understand it, however one of the greatest challenges for a designer is to make sense of this information.

Don't take the word "information" too literally. Bear in mind that everything around us contains an element of information for us to interpret. For example, a ball has affordance in that it sends a visual clue as to how it should be used. We know to bounce, throw or kick a ball; and we know not to eat it!

Some information is often difficult to communicate to others. This hypothesis is something I have began to expand on in my area of research for my Master of Design degree. How can designers be good "Visualization Artists?"

It has proved useful to me in the past to be able to articulate my ideas/thoughts/research to others through giving examples. For this example, I'd like to write about one of most fascinating visualizations of complex information from one of my favourite cities, London. 

The London Underground has 11 lines and 268 stations. Approximately 4.25 million people use the underground everyday. 

The sheer complexity of the infrastructure of lines and stations was simplified beautifully by Harry Beck, an engineering draughtsman, in 1933. The London Underground map a perfect example of great "visualization" as it demonstrates how complicated information (the line and station infrastructure) can be communicated in a graphic language (a map) that is both easy to understand and remember. 

Over the festive season I plan on taking a little break from my studies, but I will be keeping my mind active by reading a few books on the topic of visualization:

Kress, G (2006) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Language. Routledge, London.
McCloud, S (1993) Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Kitchen Sink Press, New York, NY.
Carroll, J (2002) Usability Engineering. Scenario-Based Development of Human-Computer Interaction. Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco, CA.
Kim, S (2004) VizAbility: Learn to Communicate Visually. Course Technology, Boston, MA.


Qin said...

maybe u can add on the bible of information design: Information Anxiety 2 by Richard S. Wurman, and check out Edward R. Tufte, both are like god to information designers ;-)

Gio said...

Thanks Qin, I'll definitely look into them!