What is Information?
BusinessDictionary.com says information is:
“Data that is (1) accurate and timely, (2) specific and organized for a purpose, (3) presented within a context that gives it meaning and relevance, and (4) can lead to an increase in understanding and decrease in uncertainty.”
But is that all there is?
The first part of the definition – accuracy and timeliness – seems to be more of a definition of facts, which are almost the quanta of information. Facts are bits of information, like the capital of Uruguay (Montevideo) or the proverbial price of tea in China (varies).
The second piece – specificity and organization – takes information away from the realm of random trivia and gives it a reason for being. Uruguay’s capital makes sense as a piece of information if you’re flying there or doing business in the country. It could be a fact which is specific and organized for something like winning Jeopardy! It’s not organized for the purpose of passing an Anatomy examination, however.
The third aspect – meaningful and relevant context – further removes it from random factoids and pop culture references. If the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow will get you over a necessary bridge, then it is utterly meaningful and relevant data. If it doesn’t, then you’re left with just so much cerebral flotsam and jetsam. As Frode Heglund says, “Information cannot exist without context.”
The fourth bit – understanding increases while uncertainty decreases – further emphasizes the idea of meaningfulness.
Information tells you something you don’t already know, and is, to crib from Facebook, relevant to your interests. It’s accurate and timely, too. It is useful for you.
What is the role of design in how we receive information?
On page 6 of White Space is Not Your Enemy, Rebecca Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen say, “Good graphic design does four things. It captures attention, controls the eye’s movement across the page or screen, conveys information and evokes emotion.”
Essentially, what Golombisky and Hagen are saying is that design is one of the aspects of information conveyance as much as body language is a part of verbal and visual communications.
A great example is in the Twilight series book covers. Love or hate the stories (in the interests of full disclosure, I worked for the publisher, Hachette Book Group, when Breaking Dawn was first released) the covers are a festival of symbolism.
Twilight, the first in the series, sports a cover which easily symbolizes Biblical temptation, just as the title refers to an in-between time of the day – analogous to the in-between stage of life the main character, Bella, is in. Furthermore, since the hands don’t quite match, they might be intended to reference the couple at the center of the story. The second, New Moon, with its bicolor flower and dropped petal (which looks like a fresh drop of blood) shows a conflict just as the title refers to a time with no reflected sunlight, when the stars are at their brightest. For the third book, Eclipse, the sun (or perhaps the moon) is utterly blotted out in the title, and the cover image references a fragile and nearly completely broken bond. It is the darkest of the covers. And in the end, with Breaking Dawn (a book added to the series which may not have been originally planned), the cover shows a white queen leaving a red pawn in its wake in chess, a classic strategic game. The title is a hopeful one, symbolizing a new beginning. Yet the queen is not quite triumphant, and in chess, the piece is safe from capture but is also not shown in a position where it can take the pawn.
The covers also move from human contact or at least a human at center stage to another living (possibly dying) thing and then two images of nonliving possessions. Even if a curious book buyer was unaware of the plots in the series, they can readily see from the covers that the story progresses from temptation to conflict and possibly even violence, and the upshot is a possible potential triumph which does not seem to be realized yet. The title font is mysterious and the ‘l’ in Twilight looks almost like a stake in a vampire’s heart.
Through good design, six title words convey a wealth of meaning. Design can do this.