Information Design @ Colonie Center Mall

“Modern life is saturated with complex information and data. For information to have impact, it must be easy to find, simple to use, and instantly understandable. In short, information needs to be designed!”

008-Colonie-Center

After much contemplation, and a bit of responsibility coordination I settled on doing an in depth assessment of information design at Colonie Center Mall located about 10 minutes West of Albany, NY. Opening in 1966, it was the first enclosed shopping mall in New York’s Capital Region, yet it has successfully maintained its image and relevance over the past decades through multiple expansions and updates.

expansion charging

 

One of the things I enjoy most about this mall is its upscale and classy feel or look. From comfortable sitting areas next to warm, peaceful fires to exciting playgrounds for energetic kiddos, one can easily tell that a lot of consideration and care went into the design and layout of the mall so that folks get the best possible experience.

sittingplay

 

As is the case with every mall I’ve ever been in, there is some very useful wayfinding information presented on the mall directory. At this location, a mall patron can locate any store in the mall by searching for mall name or the category/classification of the store. Additionally, they can locate emergency services, restrooms, restaurants and eateries and various other important locations. As you can see below, the directory is also color coded so that you can quickly and easily locate any store.

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Besides the directory, the following images help show how wayfinding is being used to help shoppers with orientation and choosing their desired path. The various stores throughout the mall employ different methods to efficiently direct shoppers to their desired destinations. As you can imagine, in a store packed with clothes racks and somewhat ordinary displays, the neon escalator sign shown below really catches passerby’s attention making it quite the effective display.

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In an environment that accommodates thousands of visitors a day, it is not surprise that general preventive maintenance might be required.

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In such cases, it is important for safety (and insurance J) reasons that clear signage is provided so that patrons know to avoid escalators or other equipment that might be out of service. In the pictures above, I don’t think there is any question that these escalators should be avoided!

Finally, I came across some signage that not only provided information, but offered visitors the opportunity to interact with them and discover more information if so desired. Examples like these really nail home the importance of interactivity in successful information design. In the technology age we currently live in, it often is not good enough to just present information, in many cases designers should go the extra mile to elevate the user experience and create a more effective and memorable design. In the pictures below, I want to draw your attention to the small bar codes that can be scanned by your smartphone or tablet device for a deeper dive into the information than the sign provides. In my opinion, there is something about these bar codes that demands more attention from me than I normally would offer; even if the message isn’t all that relevant to me.

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In conclusion, although I share the same sentiments as most men about malls and shopping in general, I think Colonie Center Mall does an excellent job using information design to display information that is both important to the mall and to its patrons. This assignment has truly opened my mind up to the importance of information design. Information by itself is complex and confusing and leaves much to be desired, but if the right tools are used, it can be easily transformed into extremely interesting and helpful displays. What I’ve learned is the sad but true fact is that information design successes will most likely go unnoticed because they work, while failures will probably be heavily noticed and actively complained about!

Works Cited:

Baer, K., & Vacarra, J. (2008). Information design workbook: Graphic approaches, solutions, and inspiration + 30 case studies. Beverly, MA: Rockport.

Jacobson, R. E. (1999). Information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

 What is information design | What is information design. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.infodesign.org.uk/What-is-information-design/what-is-information-design

 

 

The Interactive Website

internet-libre

The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.  – Bill Gates


Let’s face it. The Internet is no longer small part of our life; it is quickly becoming the centerpiece of how people entertain themselves, share life with friends and family, and conduct business. This simple but true fact is revolutionizing how information designers must conceptualize and design their websites. Interactivity is the answer! It just makes sense to bring into play the countless tools available to us that make our sites work hard for us. That is not to say that all interactive tools are appropriate in every situation, but there are several fundamental tools that, when leveraged, will make your site more sophisticated and help give an edge on your competition.

tools


One basic interactiveclick-to-chat tool that goes great lengths at providing a warm and fuzzy feeling for site visitors is live chat. This helpful tool enables people to chat with a representative on-demand. By simply clicking a button on your website, waiting for a text chat box to pop up on-screen, and then typing their message, customers can begin a text chat with your representative. There are many solutions available that can be easily integrated to your website like LivePerson, Comm100, BoldChat and WebsiteAlive to name a few.

One of the most popular forms of website interactivity are customer review forums, which enable consumers to offer undiluted reviews of goods, services or general experiences. While they are often found on e-commerce or retail websites the types of sites that have begun to utilize them grow continually. Providing customers the opportthumbsunity to post both positive and negative reviews may cause uneasiness for many webmasters, but overtime these uncensored reviews help create a foundation of trust with your customer base.

 

 

Another wonderful example of website interactivity is Starbucks “Find my Perfect Coffee quiz”. In this quiz, a customer can easily discover what kind of Starbucks coffee best suits their taste with this simple interactive quiz. Not only is the quiz effective, it makes browsing their site fun!

See for yourselves: http://www.starbucks.com/coffee/finder

So, whats the bottom line? Websites that share only static content and don’t allow visitor/customer interaction are quickly becoming a thing of the past. If we as the future’s information designers desire to build websites or other interfaces that are going to be effective we must be willing and able to deploy new interactive tools like, but certainly not limited to, the ones I discussed above. Websites cannot effectively reach their intended audience unless they are designed in a way that not only attracts them, but also engages them.

Tools of Visual Thinking

“Imagine yourself playing a game of chess while blindfolded. It’s possible to hold the positions of all the pieces in your mind’s eye for a time – and most chess masters can do it for an entire game – but it’s much easier to have the pieces displayed on the board in front of you. The shape and color of each piece and its position relative to the board and to the other pieces contains a rich set of information that can help you make better decisions about the game”  – Dave Gray


As so illustratively captured in the previous quote, visual-thinking tools help facilitate learning by distinctively combining images and text for understanding, creating, explaining, communicating and problem solving. When it comes to the field of information design, there are numerous helpful “tools of the trade” that enable us to efficiently and elegantly depict a system graphically so that the functions and objectives of the system are clear. Visual thinking can help the information designer in four key areas:

  1. Accurate problem definition – ensure that you’ve identified the appropriate problem to solve rather than wasting time solving symptoms
  2. Developing future scenarios – empowers us to share insights with others in memorable and inspiring ways.
  3. Brainstorming and idea evaluation – combining ideas in meaningful ways so they can be evaluated faster and create stronger, more valuable solutions.
  4. Taking productive action – they help us reach clarity faster and make better informed decisions to get things done!

In my current career field, employed as a network engineer, I have had the pleasure to become closely acquainted with one such program, Microsoft Visio.

”Visio is an intelligent diagvisio_grossramming program. Yes, it empowers you to communicate in a visual manner. But Visio also provides many features that make your diagrams more meaningful, flexible, and responsive to your needs. More than something to photocopy, you can capture information in ways that are valuable for you and your business.”

Microsoft Visio has completely transformed the way our organization communicates amongst functional teams. Regardless the teams involved, a sound Visio drawing is the proverbial “glue” that brings everyone together on the same page by showing individual component interaction on a past, current or future capacity. The information age charges forward creating increasingly complex systems that demand a refined attention to detail that simply cannot be obtained through written or spoken word singlehandedly.

Visio-PresentationMS Visio helps answer that call by affording information designers the opportunity to create a variety of unique diagrams including data flow diagrams, logical network diagrams, system demonstrations or simple flow charts that unquestionably help bring clarity to any task at hand – from the absurdly complex to straightforward and simple, Visio can help provide enlightenment in any situation.


 

Works Cited

Frey, C. (n.d.). How to Unlock Your Creativity with Visual Thinking | Lateral Action. Retrieved from http://lateralaction.com/articles/visual-thinking-creativity/

Gray, D., Brown, S., & Macanufo, J. (2010). Gamestorming: A playbook for innovators, rulebreakers, and changemakers. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

What Visio can do for you – Get to know Visio. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/visio-help/get-to-know-visio-RZ001126777.aspx?section=2

Prcoess, Process, Process…

list “Designers routinely face design projects that are more and more complex. In particular, information design projects require careful thought, collaboration, planning, and a process that goes beyond the intuitive, gut-level, and sometimes solitary approach that many designers have been trained to use.” (Baer & Vacarra, 2008, p. 31)


While information design is certainly a fluid discipline that requires a customized approach to each project employing its tools, there are some particular steps that prove to be extremely helpful in the realization of a successful design that is both aesthetically pleasing and satisfies functional business requirements. To make certain I clearly identify these helpful steps I will summarize them and then discuss in more depth some of the principles that support them.

  1. Use the all-encompassing who, what, where, how, and when queries to determine project scope, target audience and the style/type of content that should be used.
    • Understanding HOW an organization operates, a designer is able to make more educated decisions which lead to smarter and more complete solutions.
    • Knowing WHO the final decision-maker is and involving them from the inception of the project is crucial to identifying project scope and avoids wasted time and resources designing something that has no chance of being approved. Make a list of everyone’s roles, responsibilities and contact information.
    • Understand WHAT the perceived roadblocks or challenges that prevent, or have prevented the realization of a successful project are.Use the all-encompassing who, what, where, how, and when queries to determine project scope, target audience and the style/type of content that should be used.
    • Having a firm grasp on WHEN the client expects the project to be completed and identifying the drivers for the timeline give the designer a big advantage.
  2. With the help of a creative brief or “shared understanding document”, organize the information that has been collected through the project analysis phase in a way that encourages unique thinking and collaborative brainstorming.
    • A sound creative brief document “outlines the pertinent information about the project so that the entire team has a clear sense of the project’s background and goals” (Baer & Vacarra, 2008, p. 50)
    • Content that is found in the creative brief includes data from four general categories:
      • Client information (i.e. company name, tenure, accomplishments, footprint, etc.)
      • Project information (i.e. scope, overview, hierarchy, etc.)
      • Goals & Requirements
      • Project Logistics (deliverables, project team, dates/timeline, budget, etc.)
  3. Create imaginary users (a.k.a personas) and scenarios to present your data to so the design team can learn how the target audience might perceive or use the information represented
    • Enables the design team to consider the attributes, desires, needs, habits and capabilities of a typical user so that project requirements and goals can be refined to ensure nothing is missed in the design process.
    • Not any old user will do, some serious considerations must be made to ensure that they are an accurate representation of the target audience. Fairly safe to assume that imaginary user “Mechanic Joe” will have different interests and skillsets than imaginary user “Homemaker Susie”. In order to be helpful to the design, personas and scenarios should be created based on the data that was collected in step 1.
    • mechanic Susie_Homemaker
  4. Develop a model or prototype of what you envision the final product of the information design project will look like. This prototype could take many different forms but the bottom line is it should facilitate testing the project against rehearsal audiences.
    • The sitemap is an overall picture or flowchart that outlines all the components of the project and is most often created well in advance of any visual design deliverable. “It’s a high-level, organized laundry list of everything that should be included in the project” (Baer & Vacarra, 2008, p. 66).
    • In addition, the wireframe, schematic or blueprint, adds a bit more detail to the structural overview that a sitemap provides. “The wireframes begin to give shape to the structure and provide detail for all the rooms and features within the structure” (Baer & Vacarra, 2008, p. 70)
    • Neither of the aforementioned techniques considers low-level design elements like typography, shape or color. They are tools intended to be used in the planning stage of the information design project and help answer questions regarding how the content collected in previous steps should be arranged.

When considering the process steps that, when coalesced, provide the intriguing prospect for information to be staged in a memorable and meaningful way I find it necessary to draw special attention to the crucial importance of, particularly, steps 1 and 2. Taking the time to meticulously collect content and then organize that content so that it creates a clear picture of the project’s objectives is both priceless and required for project success.

Thus far in the current and previous blog posts, I have clearly employed the process steps that deal with the collection and organization of topic relevant content. As the life-cycle of my blog advances I plan to consider how best I can use these process steps to create a more evocative and memorable blog that will further my understanding in information design as well as introduce possible followers to the topic.

 

Works Cited

Baer, K., & Vacarra, J. (2008). Information design workbook: Graphic approaches, solutions, and inspiration + 30 case studies. Beverly, MA: Rockport.

A ===> B – Passini’s Wayfinding Theory

For our second blog assignment, the theory of information design that I picked to discuss is Passini’s wayfinding (or sign-posting) theory. I especially appreciated the ideals of this theory because it concentrates on the effective display and communication of information so that users can efficiently reach their chosen destination in complex environments. One of the dangers of information design is that we can become overly preoccupied with the production of information rather than helping our audience realize their destination, whether it physical or logical. In other words, in order for information to be beneficial, it should also be functional.

Passini’s theory exhibits several pros and cons that I share in the table below:

PROS

CONS

great problem solving techniques through step by step instructional approach variation in different culture’s use of symbols or visual cues can introduce confusion
wayfinding makes educated guesses for what decisions users will make to reach a destination variation in user’s cognitive reasoning skills can negatively influence outcome of decision
provides users an opportunity to visualize different outcomes with multiple options information can easily be missed or ignored if designed or displayed appropriately
strongly supports the idea that decisions are linked together to obtain a full picture/outcome

I think that Passini’s ideals can be somewhat displayed with this amusing baby care chart I came across. While I doubt someone would attempt to wake a sleeping baby with an air horn (at least I certainly hope not), this chart shows clearly the DO(s) and DO NOT(s) for reaching the destination of a happy and healthy baby!

baby-care-chart-funny

On a more serious note, Passini’s theory can be displayed in a blog environment for any number of reasons; like providing instructions for the ever frustrating task of tying a tie or possibly selecting the best path for a family hike in the Adirondacks. Regardless the task at hand, sign-posting theory ensures that the information pertinent to a specific situation is more than just a pretty picture; it provides a clear path to a desired destination.

Works Cited:

Jacobson, R. E. (1999). Information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

What is Information Design?

Often times when delving into the true definition of some subject I like to divide the complete phrase and look at the definition of its components. Simply put, the answer to the question “What is Information Design” can somewhat easily be learned by studying the definitions of the two words that make it up:

As defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary:

  •  Information: knowledge obtained about someone or something: facts or details about a subject
  • Design: to conceive or execute a plan; to draw, lay out, or prepare

 So…Tom Fredericks paraphrase yields: To conceive, draw, or prepare facts or details about a specific subject.

In his book Information Design, Robert Jacobson defines information design as “the art and science of preparing information so that it can be used by human beings with efficiency and effectiveness” (Jacobson, 1999, p. 15) Furthermore, he adds that one of its primary objectives is to help make human interactions with equipment as easy and natural as possible.

Information design goes beyond aesthetics and endeavors to articulate information to a target audience, leading them to a more efficient, effective and complete understanding of the information. In my opinion a primary goal of information design is to avoid being one-dimensional in an effort to reach your audience who might very well think and process information differently than you. Information design captures the true sentiment found in the old adage “A picture is worth more than one-thousand words”.