Friday, December 28, 2007

Information Design vs. Interaction Design

This morning I read a really fascinating paper by Bret Victor. Bret is a person I'd never heard of before but wish I'd heard about earlier - he's done some really amazing work in the world of information design and I've really enjoyed the time I spent running around his website. His grasp of information architecture is uncannily good.

Bret's paper focuses on the limitations of interaction design and introduced me to a term I'd previously thought was synonymous with it: information design. Bret's thesis seems to be that most software is for conveying information - not manipulating it - and thus interactions are mostly harmful. If we can limit the number of interactions a user requires and increase the amount of information they receive, we do a better job and make better software.

I'd say this culminates in a better user experience. It's all very interesting to me because I've always just assumed that interaction design and information design were all about user experience and that the end goal was always making software that solved problems in ways people enjoyed. Apparently this isn't the mindset everyone has, but at least Adobe has gotten many of us on board.

The paper is long but very good. After presenting the current situation and problem with our current interaction models, Bret goes on to describe the method he used in creating one of his applications and how we as technologists can start doing a better job focusing on information design. He includes a call to action for information designers who haven't discovered the web yet to get in here and make things better. I agree. You can start with my blog, please.


xeroply said...

Nice blog.

I haven't had a chance to read that paper (though it looks interesting) but my initial reaction is one of some skepticism.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying your summary, but it sounds like the original author is suggesting that applications should all be oriented around consuming information. A lot of them are, but I think some of the most standout ones are those that empower users to move beyond mere consumption and become expressive and creative agents (I'm thinking specifically about iTunes vs. iMovie or Garage Band).

Do you think that for the latter kind of apps, information design becomes more subservient to interaction design?

RJ said...

Definitely - the author makes the point that in data manipulation applications, interaction design is key. His point is just that the overwhelming majority of our applications are for information sharing rather than data manipulation, and our designs should reflect this.