Infographic v information design
Both information design and infographic design are concerned with presenting information to an audience in a clear, useful, relevant way. However, as the name suggests, infographic design relies on a graphic element to achieve this. So while it’s not inappropriate to refer to infographics as information design, information design can’t necessarily be described as infographic design.
By way of example take the phone book, train timetables, electricity bills, instructions for assembling furniture, dosages for medicine, wayfinding (sign posts). These are all good examples of information design.
But where the back of your medicine packet shows graphically the number of pills for an adult to be twice that of a child, or the instruction manual shows you a diagram to indicate which shaped screw goes in which slot, or the signpost or map feature icons: these can all also be described as infographics.
By contrast the phone book, a train timetable, your electricity bill: they don’t rely on graphic elements. They are the products of pure information design. It doesn’t often occur to people that bills and timetables have been designed. That is because successful information design is invisible. Informed by in-depth user-centred research, the subtle combination of font, colour, size, layout, order, environment lead you to the information you’re trying to find with no obstacles getting in your way. It’s direct, neutral, universal.
A good blog on life observed by an information designer is here: The Simpleton, Rob Waller’s design notes.
While infographics overlap with information design in the realm of explanations and instructions they also extend in another direction, directly away from pure, objective information design towards visual journalism, often referred to as just infographics. Infographics in this guise is all about taking information and casting it in the best way to tell a story. It’s subjective: you’re choosing which information to show, making an editorial judgment. The aim is to add to your audience’s understanding of a story by using visuals.
Besides having to have a graphic element involved, infographic design tends to be the more subjective cousin of the more objective information design. But like most things in life, there’s a spectrum between the two.
It’s also a rapidly evolving industry, and so it’s not unusual to find newcomers and old-timers to have different interpretations and usage of the terminology. With my background in graphic then editorial then interactive design, the above is mine.