Review: The Practical Guide to Information Design

Used with permission from Anagha Chandratrey.– Prasanna Bidkar

The Practical Guide to Information design, by Ronnie Lipton, presents the concept of information design and the role it plays in your day-to-day life. The author skillfully identifies different examples and convinces you that information design exists in everything you read from signposts to books and numerous other documents. Ronnie Lipton is the director of Transform and Function, a consultancy firm for writing, editing, design, and multicultural communication. She has also taught at the George Washington University and the University of Maryland. She has four other books to her credit related to communication of information in cross-cultural environments and using graphics and visual cues. In this book, she brings her experience from academia as well as the industry to create a good mix of theory, case studies, and exercises.

In The Practical Guide to Information Design, Lipton evaluates different elements that contribute to information design. Here, true to the book’s title, she steers away from occupying you with information design theory by briefly explaining the goals of information design. After a brief introduction to information design, she really gets you started with the exercises designed to evaluate an information container. The book has three main sections:  Audience, Word Design, and Picture Design. The first two chapters in the Audience section talk about how people perceive information, and the usability issues that the designer must address. Here, Lipton reviews the Gestalt principles and explores the concept of golden mean and use of the Fibonacci sequence in relation to the layout of a page. In the second chapter, Lipton elaborates how to interview your audience, what to look for in your audience and so on. The author also discusses the five Es of usability and reinforces all these concepts with different case studies.

The second section of the book, Word Design, covers the content part of information design. Lipton takes an in-depth look at the type and layout, writing style, and use of color. The “How to work with type and layout” chapter starts aptly with a quote from Miles Tinker, “reading without comprehension is not reading” (91). Lipton here concentrates on how to make text legible with effective use of type, style, and the placement of text. The author continues her use of illustrations and examples to reinforce the theory, with some tips on writing style and use of color in the next two chapters.

Lipton dedicates the last section of her book to picture design. The main idea of this section is to add illustration and pictures to support what is in the text. In this section, she covers use of pictures and suggests strategies to use diagrams and captions and labels to help the user find the information. The last two chapters in this book discuss ways in which you can design forms that are more intuitive and use of display elements that can help the user find their way through the documents.

Although most of the principles and guidelines discussed in this book are also discussed by other authors, what sets this book apart from other books on information design is the ample use of illustrations and examples from different genres and domains. You will want to read this book to know how you can apply the theories related to different elements to real projects, and how all the elements of information design come together when you are working on a project. Apart from this, the approach that the author adopts at evaluating an information container helps establish a method to analyze any information product ranging from a signboard to a web page.

About the book reviewed:

The Practical Guide to Information Design

Ronnie Lipton. 2007. Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.

[ISBN: 978-0-471-66295-2. 263 pages, including index. $42.70 USD (Hardcover).]

Available for purchase on Flipkart.

About the reviewer:

Prasanna Bidkar works at Siemens PLM in Pune as a technical writer.