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Overcoming Barriers to Good Information Design

Information Design is the practice of creating clear, understandable communications by giving care to the structure, context, and presentation of data and information. We all strive for the best information design, but a variety of pressures can put designers in a position where what they create is overwhelming and confusing to consumers. This article examines the barriers to good information design that we regularly hear and offers a few tips to overcome them.

“We don’t have time”

Most of us are constantly budgeting time – just trying to eke out a few minutes to get the next item checked off our list. Deadlines loom, and the design phase may be only one deliverable in a broader set of goals and objectives. We don’t have time to think critically through what our users want or need; we simply need to get something done. All this downward time pressure on a designer will take its toll on the final design and carry negative consequences for the ultimate users.

How to address it: Incorporate a stronger planning phase

Because we are often trying to get things done quickly, we tend to shortcut our own design process. For example, most designers want to plan up front – really thinking carefully about user’s needs – yet most also say they don’t have the time. However, planning has been proven to create a more effective overall design process. When you take time to plan, you can actually shorten the overall project timeline because you have fewer “back-and-forths” to fix the problems created by poor planning. So set aside more time upfront to just sit and think about the project. Don’t jump into design until you’ve thoroughly thought about your audience and what they will do with your information.

“We’re just following regulations”

When regulations are imposed on an industry, the corresponding communications can suffer for a few reasons. First, regulators often dictate some of the structure and presentation of the communication. This prescribed structure does not always account for consumer understanding. Second, these parameters can be limiting for designers, making it difficult to be creative and see beyond the prerequisites.

How to address it: Find ways to improve on regulated processes/communications

Most regulations do not dictate all aspects of the process or corresponding communications. For example, you may be required to give consumers a disclosure that meets certain high-level legal requirements. But even within those constraints, you can design the information in better – or worse – ways for consumers. So, choose the better. Find consumer-centric ways to write, structure, and design information in plain language to better meet consumer needs.

“We already know what works”

Often subject matter experts or industry professionals are so familiar with a topic, practice, or industry they make assumptions about what is common knowledge. They can unwittingly assume that those around them have the same understanding. Using acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon to communicate becomes second nature. It’s easy to forget to take a step back and realize that the common consumer does not have the background necessary to quickly comprehend a message that uses jargon.

How to address it: Reject the “curse of knowledge”

The “curse of knowledge” is a cognitive bias where we incorrectly assume that everyone knows as much as we do on a given topic. The easiest way to overcome it is simply to be aware of it. You always know more than your customers, so don’t assume they will understand your words, jargon, complex charts, or models. Always imagine how others – outside of your profession and organization – would understand the information you present.

“We don’t have the time/money/budget/[fill in the blank] to test”

When timelines and budgets are tight, it’s easy to cut testing. Unfortunately, this results in a narrow view of your design – you only see the potential and not the downsides. Inevitably, users will uncover all of the flaws and weaknesses that went unaddressed when the information was developed. By the time they do, the misunderstandings will be far more costly to manage and correct than if done in the design phase.

How to address it: Find ways to test with users

Information is not consumed the same way by everyone. The unique circumstances and background of a user’s life, from their literacy levels to their prior experiences, shape how they interpret information. User testing is a vital tool because it uncovers key points of view that can ensure the success of your communications. Fortunately, testing does not need to be expensive or time consuming. Rapid, iterative tests with just a handful of users can give you most of the information you need.

Kingsley-Kleimann can help

As information design and user testing experts, Kingsley-Kleimann has the process, team, experience, and resources to help you overcome these barriers in your next communication project. Learn more about our process and the research methodologies at

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