It’s a bit of an old question, which is important design or the information, why do we really need web design at all. Well Alex Graham highlights the issue in her continuation of her discussion from the Port80 meeting last week. Frankly I agree. We do need design. From my view coming from the fields of user interaction and information architecture design and information are one in the same.
“Hang on”, you say, “one is content and other is just presentation, they are separate.” Yes, I agree in that aspect they are. But the relationship between them is extremely close, to the point that from a different perspective they are same. Design is information, information is design.
Design traditionally is seen as all the pretty pictures, the graphics, the eye candy if you will. Do we really need all this? Well yes, but the design is used more than just to look pretty. In many ways to direct and drive the flow of the information. Good design is subtle, it uses all the techniques of colour, tracking, direction, emotion, flow and contrast to draw and promote the information.
Consider even the use of the basic contrast techniques one is able to promote and enhance information such that you are draw towards the highlighted article. A good example of this is in the base layout of a newspaper front page. If you want people to find information it’s a good idea to wrap it in a good design that promotes the information.
Think about a map without design, how good is the information contained without the rapid visualisation that the map presents. Web page design is similar. The key is the representation of the information via spacial and visual elements to promote the ease of information uptake.
It can be stated that design can be very subjective. Well if the site is developed based on a user centric design methodology this element of subjectivity can be reduced. Even so a good design is something you are not likely notice. Bad design however sticks out a mile and will inhibit the findability of the information.
Information and Data
In the early internet there was organisation of the data into information. We had various methods of displaying the simple text (pre web) in organised visual elements. This made the information readable, easy to use (in a relative sense). Without this basic organisation the information would be presented as massive blocks of unusable data.
Take this to another level the semantic nature of the web is in part a layer of the presentation, the design on the base information to enhance and organise it into meaningful information. The use of lists, data tables, blockquotes and the like, all contribute to the layout, the design. Without these the information would start to become confusing and meaningless. It would degrade from information into data.
Even at a base level the structure of the information and the use of paragraphs, titles, headers and the rest provide an element of organisation, and of design. So if we don’t need design then lets just take it away. Now try reading a basic report without the logic of the document.
You could say that the search engines don’t care about the layout, just the information. True, but they do care about the semantic nature of the information presented. So they in turn promote a well semantically design page of information over one that is just a block of data.
Organisation is King
We can take this one step further, lets consider the categorisation of the information. Again this is organisation and the application of logical derivation on the taxonomy of the elements, the language. You could argue that this is in fact the merging of the data into meaningful information. We are taking it a step further with the application of information architecture and applying the visuals and logic of design to the grouping of raw information into a meaningful information design.
Overall as you have information you must have a control, a layout, the organisation, the displacement of the information on the visual field. Once you start to do this. Design becomes part of the information.
Hence without all the components of design, information becomes just data. Data is meaningless. So do we need design. Well even through I’m bias, design as critical as the information. Maybe they are the same.