The Design of Understanding


While last Friday’s ‘Design of Understanding’ managed to pose more questions than it answered, I have no doubt that the people who have the wherewithal to find the answers – multidisciplinary in their talents, interdisciplinary in their approach – were in the room. All credit to Max Gadney for luring them there with such a good theme.

Several speakers began with the statement “I’m not a designer”, or if they were “I haven’t done any design myself for X years”. But they have all been collaborating with designers, as well as many others. ‘Designing’ understanding is a complex matter, drawing on a range of skills wider than any one degree could ever teach you. And as a result of the diverse cross-section of people that the day threw together I think the connections forged in between the talks can only lead to good things.

In articulating that he could “sense we’re on the edge of something exciting and new” Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins, summed up the spirit of the day. And I am bold enough to hope that even the traditional news infographic arena won’t be able to ignore the potential of this surge of fresh air for much longer.

Several people who I admire were speaking – Michael Blastland, Jon Hill, Rob Waller, BERG – and it was a bonus to find a few more to start admiring from here on in. Between them they covered a huge amount of ground which other people have reviewed better than I can, like here, here and here.

But two themes that I – as a data-confident infographic designer currently working in news – have been thinking about recently were picked up on by various speakers: handling data and what motivates people to create graphics. I’ll blog about them separately soon.

Notable by its absence was any mention or appearance of non-numbers visualisations. OK, maybe there was the odd map. And a cartoon. But the lion’s share of the day was given over to data. Which is a shame given how you can aid the understanding of so many things by design without any data to be seen. Here’s hoping the Winter/Spring 2012 collections will have moved on a little from data vis?

The event was hosted by the St Bride Library, and hopefully was the first of many.

Nice one Max.