BA (Hons) Graphic Design
The more you see, the more you know.
Buckinghamshire New University
Faculty of Design
BA (Hons) Graphic Design
Tutor: Dr. Ray Batchelor
Information overload? 06
Case: Twitter 07
What options are there to manage information? 10
The shifting Role of Design. 12
Case: Apple Iphone vs. all mobile phones 14
Design can save the world! 15
Case: Twitter part. II 16
Case: HBO imagine 18
Up to Data! 19
Case: Bicycle Built for 2000 21
Why not deal with data? 22
Case: Wefeelfine 23
Case: Trash 25
Case: Tablets / E-Reader 26
The Importance of Knowledge. 27
Case: Visualisation of Darwin‘s evolution theory 29
Can it work? 31
Conclusion: Where science meets art. 32
Account of Sources 33
This dissertation concentrates on how design can prepare information in a comprehensible
manner. It will suggest that design needs to be applied more intelligently, accessibly and
sustainably in order to meet the requirements of an ever faster moving world. The necessary
effectiveness to master today’s information overload can only be achieved if design assumes
an advisory role and engages, from the outset until the completion, in the development of
Today we find ourselves in an advanced age. An age of information sometimes beyond our
understanding. Everything around us is becoming increasingly complex. This paper will discuss
how design makes information accessible and understandable. In order to understand the
approach of this analysis, it is vital to forestall that design is made from people for people.
Therefore this dissertation will not differentiate between its different disciplines and argue
that most designers pursue similar aims. This is why even though the following dissertation
treats the subject of information in the modern age; it does not focus on classic information
design. The purpose is to analyse design in general terms by introducing methods that help
manage the current information overload. This is important because these methods will
change the current requirements for designers. Whether and how professionals approach the
upcoming challenges caused by the digital age of information, is mainly determined by their
personal attitude and therefore the interpretation of design should not be limited. While
one designer might want to focus on understanding the background of the product before
choosing his method of presentation, another one might prioritise the ‘look’ of a pitch.
Information overload itself is no new issue. Already during the renaissance, progressive
intellectuals such as Leonardo da Vinci (15.04.1452 - 02.05.1519) identified the future risk
of overwhelming flows of information, which would complicate the selection of relevant
information dramatically. This astonishing capability to recognise correlations and
interconnections between single components (illustrated for example in da Vinci‘s studies
about painting, science, engineering and many other fields)1 will be further examined,
emphasising the need for designers to develop a broad understanding of the product
they are working on. This essay will focus, amongst other key points, on the term ‘design
thinking’: The ability of the designer to develop an in depth understanding of the subject he
is presenting in order to focus on its most important aspects. The key word here is ‘intelligent
design’ concentrated on problem solving rather than appearance.
1 M. Kemp, Leonardo Da Vinci, Leonardo‘s Way Trough Life, V&A Publications, London, 2006, p. 88
Many important inventions evolved in the digital age of information, for example the
‘omnipotent’ Internet. We relive a so-called democratisation of Information. Only the media,
the way of carrying Information, transforms. Just as Martin Luther (10.11.1483 - 18.02.1546),
‘democratised’ the bible in the year 15342 and made its content accessible to the common
people, designers seek to continuously explore new channels to spread information, aimed to
attract a broader audience. Therefore it is truly astonishing how the prejudice that acquiring
knowledge is a hard and boring practice, reserved only for a certain elite of academics and
scientists, remains widely spread in society even today.3 Given this sceptical attitude, further
development of the current trend to publish freely accessible information, seems wanted. At
the same time, access requests to specific information are growing.4 This clearly shows the
desire for transparency and, above all, the ‘run for knowledge’ which has never before reached
demands as high as today. In this context, design and journalism become comparable in
importance and influence. Design facilitates understanding visually rather than in writing but
filtering and simplification of information, in both areas, generates new meaning or reflects
the ‘mood’ of a topic. This illustrates how design at times can be used as a tool to grant
easy information access and above all to present this information more emotive, appealingly
and pleasant. The following sections will show, that design can help people to recognise and
At this point it seems important to mention today’s dependence on computers and machines.
Their efficiency and the fact that technology becomes easier to use have created great
benefits for the users. One could even argue that a return to traditional tools of information
spreading has become impossible. While the wish to optimise efficiency, as part of a natural
evolutionary process, led to the usage of technologies, the next logical step has to be to
generate even simpler ways to work these technologies. It is absolutely vital to recognise this
issue, when discussing the matter of information overload.
These observations show which future requirements the designer is confronted with: Design
has to become more integrated and understanding about the product. The ‘over individual
intelligence’ 5, which defines peoples interactions as a relationship able to create higher levels
of intelligence, more than the sum of its single parts, becomes the major target audience.
Concluding, it will be argued that efficient cooperation of science and design is essential.
Design should be involved in the development not start after the emergence of a product.
2 H.G.Haile, Luther: A Biography, ‘Important events’, Sheldon Press, 1980, p.12
3 L. Fischer, Deutscher Bundestag,
‘Petition: Wissenschaft und Forschung - Kostenloser Erwerb wissenschaftlicher Publikationen’, 20 Nov 2009,
https://epetitionen.bundestag.de/index.php?action=petition;sa=details;petition=7922 accessed 08 Jan 2010
4 C. Arthur, http://www.freeourdata.org.uk/index.php accessed 11 Jan 2010
5 D. Lüders, Professor, Media School Hamburg, interviewed on 17 Jan 2010, (translated by the author)
Fig. 1 - Infographic: Rob Vargas,05 Jan 2010.
Illustrates the U.S Data Consumption in one Day,
To understand the need for design in this context, it is necessary to bear in mind that people
have always been seeking information. The wish to gain information is based on evolutionary
survival thinking because the person who knows more than others seems superior.6 Today
we are surrounded by all sorts of Information (Fig. 1) and it is obviously more than we can
handle.7 This is not necessarily a bad thing but leads to a realisation that it is impossible to
gain and value all the information surrounding us. Nevertheless, the run for information
keeps increasing. What changes at the moment is the fact that information starts to find
us, even if we don’t search for it. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, has stated once:
If something has happened in the world that’s important, I’ll hear about it.8
This means that even though we find ourselves in a world which is moving faster, this world
is at the same time becoming smaller and smaller as we get connected in many aspects of our
lives. The vast opportunities offered by the Internet is a major reason for this development
and this hyperlinked environment dictates the dynamics of our world. The distribution of
content steadily increases its speed because communication technology allows people to
globally share information that was once targeted at local or very specific end users.9 In the
future we might find ourselves in a situation where nothing is hidden or inaccessible anymore.
6 L. Hell, ‘Neue Medien’, Psychologie Heute, Jan 2010, p.12
7 Peter Kruse, Scientist, Psychologist, http://blog.whatsnext.de/2010/01/peter-kruse-ueber-nezwerke/
accessed 19 Jan 2010
8 F. Hornig, Journalist, ‘Maybe Media Will Be a Hobby Rather than a Job’ (Interview with Chris Anderson),
Spiegel, 28 Jul 2009, http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,638172,00.html aceessed 16 Jan 2010
9 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 11
Fig. 2 - Twitter Icon, 2009
With Twitter (Fig. 2) we can inform ourselves about other peoples lives and activities. People
all over the world are potentially able to share what is on their minds with nonspecific
‘followers’. In other words: Everyone can freely get informed about everybody. This tool
facilitates speculations about what moves people around the world. Twitter offers many
opportunities to interact with content and personal opinions. What Twitter generated, is an
easy to use application that helps manage information, by allowing people to share what
seems relevant to them (important to mention that people feel they are acting within a
framework of trusted contacts). The features of Twitter offer the tools needed to generate
knowledge; they enable to listen, to share and above all to discuss information. Especially
with regard to the fact that detailed understanding becomes more and more important, this
can be achieved without the information gaps10 of traditional media (such as television for
example where the user is dependent on certain times to acquire information).
Mostly Twitter appeals because of the possibility to stumble upon something unexpected,
while looking for something entirely unrelated. This effect is called ‘Serendipity’ and is driven
by the many different interests of people, which increase simultaneously while using such
10 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 14
Fig.3 - Tom Weidig, 30 Oct 2009, Simplfication of the
relationship between confusion and information.
Everything that can be digital, will be (...) Network is everywhere.11
To understand the complexity (Fig.3) that devices like twitter try to crossfade, it is helpful
to realise that technology and communication have always been linked, and exponential
growth in one area leads to increased production of the other.12 In fact, there has never been
more content available, nor this many ways to access it.13
Because of the growing convergence of relationships between people, machines and person,
the next major problem for designers will be the organisation of Information.14 Content
has to be presented clearly and excitingly for the user to easily get involved. Increased
communication and more socialisation is possible through the web and this proves to be the
most efficient way to spread information. This brings us to the issue of growing complexity
that is surrounding us.
All kinds of things have happened that simply were not possible before - the author you
look up to, the musician, or even your favourite politician. And what they are doing is
sharing all kinds of things.15
11 M. Lima, Artist, 01 Oct 2009,
http://creativity-online.com/work/cat-2009-information-visualization-manuel-lima/17495 accessed 7 Jan 2010
12 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 14
13 CaT, ‘The Wizard of Data’, A. Koblin, 2009,
http://creativity-online.com/work/cat-2009-the-wizard-of-data-art-aaron-koblin/16690 accessed 23 Jan 2010
14 CaT, ‘The Wizard of Data’, A. Koblin, 2009,
http://creativity-online.com/work/cat-2009-the-wizard-of-data-art-aaron-koblin/16690 accessed 23 Jan 2010
15 BBH Labs, P. McDonald ‘I’ve always been interested in microscopes: an Interview with Aaron Koblin’, 12 May
accessed 24 Jan 2010
There are countless ways for the media to channel information and, nowadays, people are
competing for attention resulting in social media activities like Twitter for instance where
consumers are becoming creators. Furthermore the amount of participation and interaction
generates content, as people begin to listen to each other’s voices rather than only to
While the hours spent at work are generally rising, people still find time to do things
they enjoy, and to engage with family and friends.16
This means that we are all ‘multitasking’ more than ever before. If we look at the phenomenon
of ‘zapping’ through classic media channels like television or radio we find that within
seconds people are able to rate what seems relevant to them and what does not. If one
accepts the chaos surrounding us and concentrates on farsightedness, the image of walking
on the beach and looking for small pieces of glass comes to mind. It is likely that one will
find more of them by just walking until something shiny catches the eye, rather than by
consciously searching. This shining (Fig. 4,5,6,7) can be the reason of design. This shows that
not necessarily the information overload is the major problem, but the absence of proper
Fig. 4,5,6,7 - DTN Lab, 05 May 2008, Visualization
of the stories from The Guardian newspaper.
16 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 14
What options are there to manage information?
The answer is simple: Proper arrangement. Arrangement happens at many different levels.
Usually this means to simplify elements, in other words reducing them to their very
essentials.17 The ‘look and feel’ has to be cleverly and clearly communicated to achieve a
feeling of comfort among the end-consumer. This is only possible if the designer defines clear
goals and masters complexity. Attention to flexibility and variation are just as important
as simplicity in order to take the different characteristics of information processing into
account. An example for that would be the ‘Slide Screen’ with remarkable features such as a
draggable center bar (Fig. 8) and color coding (Fig. 9).
Larva Labs presents a home screen that creates a meaningful hierarchy out of your
information. Built for Android-based handsets, our home screen is designed for heavy
phone users and people struggling with information overload.18
Fig. 8,9 - Larva Labs, 22 Jan 2010, Screenshots of
‘draggable center bar’ and ‘color coding’.
17 Patrick Breitenbach, Head of Communication & Content, Karlshochschule International University,
Karlsruhe interviewed on 23 Oct 2009, (translated by the author)
18 Larva Labs, 2009, http://www.slidescreenhome.com/ accessed 22 Jan 2010
A main problem of today’s information design is that it attempts to show everything, information
and features, at once. Patrick Breitenbach phrase it: ‘The traditional media impression’.19
An example for proper preparation of information would be the website Google:
Fig. 10 - Google Inc.
Screenshot of http://www.google.co.uk, 17 Feb 2010
Google is a network that despite its very complex structures, appears minimalistic to the user
and offers simple utilisation. This shows clearly that the key to satisfying the users needs is
invisibility and uncomplicated utilisation. The simpler the design the more comfortable and
less overwhelmed we feel. Even though this is nothing new - it remains a vital guideline in a
world of information overload that threatens to disturb and irritate the user.
19 Patrick Breitenbach, Head of Communication & Content, Karlshochschule International University,
Karlsruhe interviewed on 23 Oct 2009 (translated by the author)
The shifting Role of Design.
Leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive
advantage; they would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the process.20
Innovation seems to be today’s buzzword for a reason, as it is the key to problem solving
for issues such as information overload. Historically, design has not been part of the process
of invention and fabrication, but was added later in order to add ‘style’ to the product,
regardless of its actual quality. Its mission was to sell the idea to the consumer as an
attractive investment. Today the role of design is shifting. Besides the traditional industrial
manufacturing work, knowledge work and service delivery gains importance.21
Today we realise that how we define the problem is the most important element for
achieving design breakthroughs. Designers have always been very good in this field,
even if they down-play its importance.22
Design becomes involved in the innovation process of the product. Communication is now
dynamic, global, disruptive and no longer exclusively ruled by marketers for instance. Public
demand and consumer behaviour is today’s most decisive judge of the success of a product.
This is where so-called ‘design thinking’,23 meaning the interpretation of design as a problem
solving method, or even a personal attitude becomes relevant. Its aim is to make life easier - a
new business strategy, indeed. While other strategies try to keep the consumer frustrated, in
order to sell more, design thinking tackles the issue with a different perspective. The attitude
of a designer becomes the crucial aspect: Should he or she aim at the consumer to become
a fan of a product or solely dependent on it? To manage information overload, skills such as
empathy and an ability to imagine the world from multiple perspectives are important.24
An insightful perception able to reveal needs of people. Another term in this context would
be ‘integrative thinking’, the creation of novel solutions to drastically improve existing
alternatives, like the Ipad for instance, which will be explained in more detail. Designers
today are expected to explore unconventional, innovative and experimental ways of problem
solving. An understanding of interactions between all elements (such as people’s behaviour
and needs plus the technical possibilities available) is necessary. Even though the designer
shall not and cannot replace the scientist, he may be called an artist because design thinking
can lead to innovation beyond aesthetics,25 while finding its final expression in aesthetic
Design thinking— imbues the full spectrum of innovation activities with a human-
centred design ethos.26
20 T. Brown, CEO of Ideo, Harvard Business Review, Jun 2008, p. 2
21 T. Brown, Harvard Business Review, June 2008. p. 2
22 D. Rhea, CEO of Cheskin, ‘Backlash: Designers versus Design Thinking’, article dated 10 Jan 2010
http://www.cheskin.com/blog/blog/archives/001117.html accessed 19 Jan 2010
23 L. Wroblewski, Product Designer, 10 May 2006, http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?415 accessed 20 Jan 2010
24 T. Brown, Harvard Business Review, Jun 2008. p. 3
25 T. Brown, Harvard Business Review, Jun 2008. p. 7
26 T. Brown, Harvard Business Review, Jun 2008. p. 1
Finally design steps into the advanced position where it belongs, focusing on experience and
help simplifying peoples lives enormously. The applications of products are no longer the
deciding differentiator to awake peoples interest but, design is. In addition Darrel Rhea, CEO
of Cheskin, explains:
What is changing now is that clients want to understand how a designer will approach
a problem – how they will think about the problem.27
This can be illustrated by an example of Darrel Rhea, who described the client’s CEO and the
executive committee to be mostly concerned with finding someone able to identify which
problems to solve and to address in order to gain a unique competitive advantage.28 This
mind-changing attitude has to be appreciated and in the future the designers role might
shift to the role of an independent consultant, involved in product development right from
the beginning, combining elements and creating art in a new way.
Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like… People think it’s
this veneer - that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s
not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it
To show, as Steve Jobs put it, ‘how it works’ we move on to an analysis of the current ‘Apple
27 D. Rhea, CEO of Cheskin, ‘Backlash: Designers versus Design Thinking’, article dated 10 Jan 2010
http://www.cheskin.com/blog/blog/archives/001117.html accessed 19 Jan 2010
28 D. Rhea, CEO Cheskin, interviewed on 17 Feb 2010
29 R. Walker, ‘The Guts of a New Machine’, Interview with Steve Jobs, article dated 30 Nov 2003,
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/30/magazine/30IPOD.html accessed 17 Jan 2010
Fig. 11 - Notion of the overwhelming
‘freedom of choice’.
Case: Apple Iphone vs. all mobile phones
‘Apple Inc. overtook Nokia’.30 This message is exemplary of how important design thinking has
become. Consider the size and sophistication of the Nokia company compared to the power
and success of the Iphone, a product that exists for two years only.
Apple’s operating profit for its IPhone handset unit stood at $1.6 billion in the third
quarter, compared with Nokia’s $1.1 billion.31
How can this be explained? Its designers undoubtedly took into consideration that sometimes
‘less is more’. The innovative design behind the Iphone is above all one thing: Simple. While
other mobil phone producers enlarge their offer with different phones (Fig.11) to meet
the expectations and needs of different personalities, Apple created just one exemplar. It
seems to contain all the necessities and the option for every user to individually arrange
the setup. Decisive is the fact that the search for the ‘perfect mobile phone’ ends there.
The overwhelming amount of phones becomes unmanageable - the consumer’s freedom of
choice32 changes into information overload. Instead of addressing a clearly defined target
audience, apple created an Iphone which targets non specific users. This is possible through
applications called ‘apps’. In addition, Apple offers help about how these can be combined.33
The origins of this idea can be traced back to design thinking - thinking about what design
has to achieve or to combine. The ‘smartphone’ Iphone is simple to use and looks ‘clean’.
People do not have to understand the specific usage of the device. Quite the opposite, the
device understands the people.
30 Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent, ‘Apple tops phone chart as Nokia, Samsung step up’,
article dated 10 Nov 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5A950820091110 accessed 10 Jan 2010
31 Tarmo Virki, ‘Apple tops phone chart as Nokia, Samsung step up’, article dated 10 Nov 2009,
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5A950820091110 accessed 10 Jan 2010
32 B. Schwartz, ‘The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less’, Harper Collins Inc, New York, 2004, spine of the book
33 Apple Inc., ‘Apps’, 2010, http://www.apple.com/de/iphone/apps-for-iphone/ accessed 08 Jan 2010
Design can save the world!
The statement might seem provocative or even controversial, but it is surely worth
considering: Designers are todays superheroes and they can save the world. David Merkorski,
Executive Creative Director of Frog Design, explained in his podcast why we find ourselves in
a unique time for design. Abstract: Design thinking designs emotions and therefore people’s
behaviour, rather than only the product. So design is no longer only ‘a decorating approach’ 34
but actually shapes culture.
Today we are faced with an overwhelming need for clarity and the information designer is
its master.35 To return to the ‘superhero’ reference: Designers are fighting against ‘monsters’
like information overload, using the ‘power’ to eliminate anything unnecessary, so that the
essential part, the value of a product, becomes visible. Design thinking understands problems
better than anyone, because it reveals the relationship between people and products.
To illustrate this point, the example Sync/Lost (Fig. 12) might be useful:
Fig. 12 - The Screenshot of Sync/Lost shows
how the device links music together.
The image shows the connections (influences) between different kinds of music. This design
offers an overview which makes the discovery of new types of music possible. The user is
able to see how each type of music relates to another. In addition, if someone enjoys listening
to a specific kind of music for instance Hip Hop, the device ‘Sync/Lost’ helps to create a
connection to others such as Rock n Roll. Given how versatile music can be, design saves a
person from losing its orientation. ‘Sync/Lost’ holds countless ways to discover music. Every
single music category has its own origins and roots that can be emphasised through design.
Design therefore can reveal the history behind something like music.
34 C. Sallquist, Design Mind, Podcast with D. Merkoski, ‘We Are The Superheroes Of Today’, 20 Oct 2009
http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/we-are-the-superheroes-of-today.html, accessed 04 Jan 2010
35 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 9
First of all we need to understand how important and beautiful storytelling is and why people
can be fascinated by it so easily. It is because, stories carry emotions. They stimulate our soul
and mind. Storytelling and design have much in common. The best films and books have
complex story lines with emotional tensions, but never the less a clear message. For example
‘The little Prince’ written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Reynal & Hitchcock, 06.05.1943, New York).
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Stories tell us about a way of life and contribute to a better understanding of the world.
Considering the background of the previous sections, this is comparable to the mission
designers seeks to fulfil. The aim of a designer is for his or her work to be spread and to
create design that people like to share. Bearing this in mind, we return to the ‘Twitter case’
and explain its massive success.
Case: Twitter part. II
In a nutshell: Twitter is successful36 because of the continuously growing number of users
with different stories to tell (50 million tweets per day). People try to inspire even unknown
people by sharing information.
Twitter wasn’t well designed at the beginning, as the comparison below demonstrates (Fig. 13):
Fig. 13 - Twitter, First steps., 30 Sep 2006
36 Twitter Inc.,‘Measuring Tweets’, article dated 22 Feb 2010, http://blog.twitter.com/2010/02/measuring-tweets.
accessed 23 Feb 2010
Fig. 14 - Twitter, Screenshot, 20.02.2010
But the underlying thought based on design thinking was: ‘What features are most needed
to enable people to interact with each other?’ The Twitter phenomenon shows perfectly, that
not the information itself is what counts but the way people transfer their feelings, opinions
and personalities with it. Interestingly, Twitter only uses 140 signs (Fig. 14), which is enough
to transmit information. This can be traced back to the fact that nowadays people do not
have the time to read long messages. It is a brilliant way to motivate people to be creative
in fewer words. This leads to effective reduction of information overload,indeed. Even Ernest
Hemingway (21.07.1899 - 02.07.1961) once wrote a story using only six words to describe his
life. He called it his best work.37
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
37 C. White, Wired Magazine, ‘Very Short Stories’, Nov 2006, p. 28
Case: HBO Imagine
A truly stunning case, that shows how design can help turn details into an overall coherent
structure, would be the example of HBO - imagine.
Fig. 15,16,17,18 - Screenshots
of HBO Imagine in action.
HBO is well known for its high quality TV formats and content, its characters and scripts are
intelligent and complex. The design of dynamic web features created a new experience for
TV, still recognised as a linear media though, where the switching of channels remains far
from innovation or design. In the case of HBO Imagine (Fig. 15,16,17,18), higher involvement
of the viewer is generated and design finds its purpose by playing with the individuality
of the viewer and his or her emotions. As we can see, design took the chance to use the
vast opportunities of new media to enable viewers to discover the plot by linking pieces of
information together and switching perspectives.
Design and design thinking can improve a story and help understand information and
coherences. This way of presentation and of involving someone in a journey, again reflects the
art of storytelling combined with an active help to fight information overload that facilitates
concentration and a deeper understanding of content and activities. HBO themselves
advertise with the claim: ‘The more you see, the more you know.’
Being up to Data!
...the amount of Information our society generates is difficult to quantify, but one
estimation holds that we now create more data each year than was produced in all
human history. And this tendency is on the increase.38
This inevitably leads to the major challenge of this century, namely data processing.
Data becomes more important than ever before because collecting and presenting data
has historically been limited to physical and scientific objects such as the following
examples (Fig. 19,20):
Fig. 19,20- Infographics, Gallery of Data Visualization,
Random pictures, 10 Sep 2009
As, in the past data has been presented too analytical and often without context, consequently
people do not appreciate the importance of data relating to their lives. They perceive data as
something dry or even boring not realising that date creates information and that information
creates knowledge. Knowledge that can actually have a great impact on our every-day-lives.
With so much new material being generated each day there is unprecedented needs and
opportunities for designers to create meaningful contexts.39
38 Seed Media Group, http://seedmediagroup.com/visualization/ accessed 19.12.2009
39 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 14
Todays visualisation makes plain data more accessible and demonstrative. Here are some
examples (Fig. 21,22), to illustrate the importance of such processing:
Fig. 21 - Infographic: Robert Richards, 2009, Fig. 22 - Infographic: Paul Butt, 2009,
How different age groups are using the internet. Mobile Phone Evolution.
As we can see, data is transformed into clearly understandable information once put into a
meaningful context. Furthermore, data processing attempts to address a wider audience,
not only experts. This can be seen as a decisive step forward because information needs to
be transparent. Design thinking and visualisation of information can achieve this, by putting
data into new contexts and revealing the story which was ‘hidden’ within the data. The
crucial point here is: People do not want to think, they want to understand!
Designers provide that context by turning statics into stories, providing meaning for the
end user. This expertise is increasingly important to the ways in which we live, work and
40 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 16
Case: Bicycle Built for 2000
The following case (Fig. 23) shows a way of how to use bits of data to create a coherent
project. An actor called Aaron Koblin split the song ‘Daisy Bell’ into pieces and submitted it
via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk web service. Aaron prompted 2,088 people working at amazon
to listen to his short sound clip, and to record their interpretation of what they heard. People
from 71 countries participated and the result shows how seemingly meaningless data pieces
reveal their beauty when put together. Therefore, the aim is to reveal a message or content
through a lovely story, using new and experimental methods. The whole becomes greater
than the sum of its parts.
Fig. 23 - A. Koblin, ‘Bicycle Built For 2,000’,
Screenshot, Different pieces of voices combined
together, revealing a song called ‘Daisy Bell’.
Why not deal with data?
There are different perspectives on how to deal with data and they offer a great opportunity
for designers to face the challenge of information overload.41 Applications and other tools to
visualise data emerged and we find ourselves in an exiting time for dealing with data and
Data availability expands every day, and with it, important aspects of our lives become more
transparent, for example politics, economy and even privacy, to mention just a few areas.
The ‘London Data Store’ 42 for example, offers hundreds of datasets free for using, including
topics such as fire incidents, ambulance rates, crime rates and many more.43 Boris Johnson,
Mayor of London, proclaims:
I firmly believe that access to information should not just be the preserve of institutions
and a limited elite.44
According to Hal Varien, Chief Economist of Google, the upcoming responsibility of designers
is to fashion their projects in a ‘sexy’ manner. Data visualisation is used as a major tool to
attract consumers. As Jim Carroll, Chairman of BBH London, phrased it:
As a novice myself, I could not help wondering why we are all so immediately and
instinctively attracted to the best of data visualisation.45
Data and information become meaningful only when scale, dynamics, patterns and
relationships become recognisable - seeing equals understanding. Furthermore, Carroll
considers the way in which ‘paucity of visual representation techniques had impacted the way
we tackled problems in the past.’ 46 Meaning that most data related problems were presented
in rather monochrome ways with only few colours. This was insufficient to disentangle
different elements to characterise the complex systemic pressures of organised information.
41 N. Yau, FlowingData, ‘40 Essential Tools and Resources to Visualize Data’, article dated 20 Oct 2008,
http://www.flowingdata.com/2008/10/20/40-essential-tools-and-resources-to-visualize-data/ accessed 13.12.2009
42 London DataStore, http://www.data.london.gov.uk/ accessed 28.01.2009
43 London DataStore, http://data.london.gov.uk/datastore/data-packages-launch accessed 28.01.2009
44 C. Arthur, ‘Boris Johnson to launch London ‘Datastore’ with hundreds of sets of data’, article dated 06 Jan 2010,
45 J. Caroll, Chairman, BBH London, article dated 27.08.2009,
http://bbh-labs.com/from-art-to-apps-data-visualisation-finds-a-purpose accessed 12.11.2009
46 J. Caroll, Chairman, BBH London, ‘From Art to Apps: Data Visualisation finds a purpose’, article dated 27.08.2009,
http://bbh-labs.com/from-art-to-apps-data-visualisation-finds-a-purpose accessed 12.11.2009
Fig. 24 - Jonathan Harris,
An exploration of human emotion.
Jonathan Harris is an artist and anthropologist who designs systems to explore and explain.
‘Wefeelfine’ is an exploration of human emotion on a global scale.
It captures words and pictures associated with emotions from millions of blogs, along
with the age, gender and location of the author, plus the weather at the time, and
presents it all as interactive art.47
Every few minutes, the system searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for expressions
such as ‘I feel’ or ‘I am feeling’. The relating sentence is then recorded to identify the specific
‘feeling’ expressed (e.g. sadness, happiness, etc.). Once saved, the sentence is scanned as to
whether it includes one of over 5,000 pre-identified ‘feelings’. This is done via a list of valid
feelings, along with the count of their occurrences, and a colour assigned to each feeling.
47 J. Harris, May 2006, http://www.wefeelfine.org/ accessed 21 Dec 2009
Here are some Examples:
Fig. 25,26,27,28 - Jonathan Harris, Wefeelfine, 2006,
The Screenshots are showing different methods to
display human emotions.
A story is told through plain information, by assigning each information to a specific colour
(Fig. 25,26,27,28). The different colours are representing a mood, which is constantly changing.
This shows impressively the dynamics of human behaviours and emotions.
Fig. 29 - ‘Tigertweet.me’, 2010, Logo
Another example for the fight against information overload would be the website ‘tigertweet.me’.
We believe that in this age of information overload, keeping control of the signal to noise
ratio is vital in enjoying, and getting the most out of the 24/7 stream of information.48
This means that not only information can be well visualised, but also its removal. Anyway, let‘s
concentrate on products that help organise Information, like the upcoming Ipad for instance.
48 J. Bowskill, ‘Tigertweet.me’, 2010, http://www.tigertweet.me/about/ accessed 5 Feb 2010
Fig. 30 - Apple Inc., Ipad, 2010,
Case: Tablets / E-Reader
If we assume, based on historical evidence, that humankind has a continuously increasing
desire to gain knowledge through collection of information, the only barrier seems to be the
absence of proper instruments to facilitate the search and the selection process.
Knowledge gets converted into a product because people increasingly start to share
information, using mobile items to surf the web for instance. People want to stay in touch with
each other in order not to miss important information. As a result, 2010 will surely become
the year of the portable knowledge in the form of ‘Tablets’, or ‘E-Readers’, which do not aim
at replacing print media, but certainly to increase possibilities of carrying Information. Even
though Sony, Amazon and Microsoft developed this method in the past, expectations are
higher towards the Apple Ipad. Just as the invention of the mp3 player preceded the Ipod, its
design attracted millions of people and considered potential needs of new users. The success
of the Ipod can be explained by its ability to turn music into a unique experience surrounded
by a story. Wearing the white earplugs for example, tells a story of being part of a special
movement. Design becomes the reason to tell something, without speaking. The Iphone as
well forms part of this category of design success. ‘Smartphones’ existed long before the
Iphone. Users accepted their advantages but again the crucial aspect is design thinking. The
possibility to use ‘Apps’ turns the smartphone into a great experience, rather than just a way
to communicate. The storytelling here can be called a ‘self-runner’.
The many existing E-Readers are the proof for the desire for more interaction between
people and information. We can predict that in the future, this will find its expression in
the Ipad. The Ipad is going to be the device that helps people to manage their own personal
information overload. At this point we can assume that the design thinking involved will be
a major reason for its success.
One thing to bear in mind: The future of media does not lay in the collection or distributing
of information, but in its presentation.
Fig. 31 -The picture displays how connections
can look like.
The Importance of Knowledge.
The demand for universally accessible knowledge is increasing in step with the pace
of the world.49
To satisfy the demand design needs to become more intelligent. This is a call for designers
not only to prepare knowledge, but also to assume more knowledge themselves, to learn! If
design shifts in its role, also designers are required to delve into their activities in a different
manner than before.
At this point it seems important to define why it is so important to prepare knowledge
properly and also how it is composed: Information is to be seen as the ‘raw material’ of
knowledge; knowledge is the only existing resource on earth that increases proportionally
to its frequency of use. Therefore knowledge evolves only through the connection of people.
Throughout the history of mankind, people sought to connect themselves with each other
and today we have reached the peak of this gradual development.
The fact that communication among each other is increased many times over and as a result
more and more content is about to be generated, which aims to be absorbed. The web, as the
fastest way to spread information, is no longer a garish information medium, but a fascinating
communication device, that needs to be explored and created by people as well.50 Knowledge
reaches us more and more often via hyperlinks, sent for example through ‘tweets’, able to
catch our attention without revealing the entire context at once. If interested, the user can
then decide to easily access background knowledge. It is possible to discover the origins of
information plus many related subjects.
49 Jenn + Ken Visocky O‘Grady, The Information Design Handbook, Rotovision SA, Mies, 2008, p. 8
50 J. Kuhn, ’Schirrmacher ist Zaungast’, article dated 26 Nov 2009,
http://www.sueddeutsche.de/computer/218/495543/text/ accessed 12 Dec 2009
This network of information can be considered the latest expression of humankind’s search
for knowledge. Simultaneously emerges the great problem of information overload. We are
faced with a choice between letting the web become overfilled and messy or to create a well
organised library. Again it will be the task of designers to make a difference.
As social communities such as those of Facebook and Twitter take an important part of our
lives, the web becomes ‘a brain constraining many brains’. The disadvantages of this progress
are the many risks of uncontrolled chaos of information but at the same time it is a great
chance, because the advantage of the large variety of content to browse is decisive.51 The web
is dynamic, complex and also spontaneous. Still it shows a surprising tendency to stability,
due to human intervention.52
The Reason for the density process of networks can be interpreted as an primal urge of
mankind that aims to connect each other, because they recognised it already early, that
sharing thoughts has an significant benefit.53
Furthermore Thomas Fuchs, Psychiatrist, elaborates that the brain itself does not think but
thinking without the brain is impossible. The brain is organic material that needs to stay
alive. People are always thinking as a result of contact with others. That’s why learning can
be defined as: Sharing thoughts with other people. Fuchs continues:
As the breath needs the air, the thinking needs the social and linguistic ambience.
Therefore it requires a special processes, in where people are becoming able to assume
empathy for other people and being able to look through their eyes.
We can identify many ways of thinking. One of them was named by Wolf Lotter, Journalist,
Brandeins, ‘The other intelligence’.
The product ‘thinking’ stands for innovation and that is what knowledge means. And
above all it has to be understood that knowledge needs to be shared, so it can generate
the benefit we all need for reaching wisdom.54
In other words: The creation of immaterial capital only appears through relationships or
conversations between people and can only be transported through such relationships to a
greater or lesser extent. The skill is to produce and to screen information the way Twitter does
for example. Returning to the subject of design, this means: Designers need to take initiative.
Independent thought rather than simple reflection is needed. The future of thinking can not
happen in isolation. Dialogue, discussion and conflict are the beginnings of understanding
and it is the designs job today to display these interconnections of thoughts.
51 R. Kühl, ‘Die Retweet-Generation. Kollektivismus vs. Individualismus‘, article dated 18 Jan 2010,
accessed 29 Jan 2010
52 J. Kuhn, ’Schirrmacher ist Zaungast’, article dated 26 Nov 2009,
http://www.sueddeutsche.de/computer/218/495543/text/ accessed 12 Dec 2009
53 T. Fuchs, Psychiatrist, brand eins, ‘Das Gehirn denkt nicht’, Nov 2009, p. 38
54 W. Lotter, Journalist, brand eins, ‘Introduction’, Nov 2009, p. 9
Case: Visualisation of Darwin‘s evolution theory
A truly interesting piece of information visualisation was created by Ben Fry55, who took
Darwin’s work ‘On the Origin of Species’ 56 and visualised the processes of writing, editing,
and updating added throughout Darwin‘s life. This idea to communicate such scientific
material illustrates the mistakes made as well as the approaches used and therefore reveals
a previously unconsidered beauty of the end product. The visualisation itself happened by
turning plain Information into a rounded story. The experiment is furthermore an example
of successful cooperation between Dr. John van Whye, who transcribed Darwin’s work and
granted access to the designer Ben Fry.
Fig. 32 - Ben Fry, 2009, The screenshot shows the dynamic
representation of the complete Work of Charles Darwin.
55 B. Fry, Artist, ‘On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces ‘, 4 Sep 2009
http://benfry.com/traces/ accessed 04 Jan 2010
56 Dr. J. van Wyhe, Professor, ‘The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online’, 2002 - 2010,
http://darwin-online.org.uk/ accessed 04 Jan 2010
Fig. 33 - Beat Döbeli Honegger, Biblionetz, Screenshot of Beat’s
wiki where he collects all of his knowledge. - Fig. 34 - Google
Inc., Wave, 2009, Screenshot of how a ‘wave’ can look like.
But, as there are few nice examples of good collaboration, there are many examples of
obviously missing collaboration with design or design thinking skills, which would help a lot
to be more successful. Devices like Google’s ‘Wave’ (Fig. 33), or ‘Wikis’ (Fig. 34) for instance.
‘Wikis’ for example, a brilliant idea in essence, clearly lacked accessible design. Even Beat
Döbeli, computer scientist, admitted that the unattractive look of ‘Wikis’ hinders their
success. In addition he affirmed the assumption, that skilled design could increase their
acceptance and confirmed that most of the ‘no designers’ do not see design in areas such as
usability of software as necessary.57
One important realisation in this context is that design itself does not push developments
forward, but it helps ‘to set visual anchor points in the flood of information and to transforms
respective media to suit the viewing patterns of a variety of users.’ 58. In other words: To
combine understanding and aesthetics, in order to create higher impact and involvement.
Another example is Google’s ‘Wave’ (a device for more efficient and dynamic e-mailing). Even
if it is undoubtedly trend-setting, it shows how information can overwhelm users.
Some people who usually embrace new technologies called wave unproductive, complex
This brings us right back to the key argument of this paper: Collaboration between different
elements, knowledge and design in this case, to clarify information.
57 Prof. Dr. Beat Döbeli Honegger,Dipl. Informatik-Ing. ETH, interviewd on 19 Jan 2010 (translated by the au-
58 Dietrich Lüders, Professor, Media School Hamburg, interviewed on 10 Jan 2010, (translated by the author)
59 S. Perez, ‘Google Wave Coming to Google Apps this Year ‘ReadWriteWeb, 9 Feb 2010,
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/google_wave_coming_to_google_apps_this_year.php accessed 11
Fig. 35 - The picture shall symbolise a
pleasant symbiotic relationship between two
Can it work?
As this paper has outlined, interdisciplinary cooperation is needed urgently. The question is:
Why has it not been done in the past? An important factor, which remained unmentioned so
far, are prejudices that hinder teamwork between different kinds of professions and people.
It might seem challenging or even exhausting for technicians for example to work with
designers. During the early days of the web for instance, designers were used to screens as
their target media and therefore had no clear understanding of web layout. Communication
between these professions is undoubtedly difficult. It is important to establish a will among
informatics for example to engage with designers and to include them into the development
process by explaining their concepts. The first ones to open their minds will be the most
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there
is any reaction, both are transformed.60
60 C. Jung, Swiss psychologist (1875 - 1961), http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/27108.html accessed 18 feb 2010
Conclusion: Where science meets art
Considering how design was treated in the past, we see that it often ‘ran to catch up’ with
developments rather than accompanying them from the start. As a result, many Websites
for instance seemed fairly poor in their design and often confusing. The same can be said
for sms devices, blogs and even twitter in its early days. Design should be allocated its
permanent place in the engineering process, right from the beginning. This is its natural place
in production and a classical win-win-situation for all actors involved: Design is inspired by
technique, and technique finds its expression in design. The apple case studies mentioned
earlier are a suitable example for the success of this model. The following selection of quotes
is supposed to support the thesis of this dissertation:
It generally requires shared knowledge and / or capabilities, most likely to be
multidisciplinary and often sourced externally. Individually, we are capable of being
creative and inventive but it is through collaboration that we innovate.61
Innovation is an emergent phenomenon that happens when a person or organisation
fosters interaction between different kinds of people and disparate forms of knowledge.62
Worth mentioning is also the approach of Thomas Alva Edison (11.02.1847 –18.10.1931) who was
no specialised scientist but had the ability to internalise the essence of innovation, by creating
not only the light bulb, but also patented a system for the distribution of electricity. In his
laboratory he surrounded himself with other gifted thinkers, with different backgrounds,
like William J. Hammer, an electrical engineer, or Frank J. Sprague, a mathematician.63 He
broke the notion of the ‘lonely genius’ and valued input from others.
This is where science and art come together. The architects of this era created technology
that allows us to imagine what communication can be used for. Now it is up to designers to
bring those achievements into proper shape. By working together right from the beginning
and dealing with vast information flows together, this can be helped enormously. To reflect
that statement, Google serves as a good example. Google is omnipresent and has an
important impact on our society. What is missing is the love in their products and empathy
in their encounters with the target audience. The reason for that, as Beat Doebli, informatics
professor, put it, might be that people like him don‘t make an effort to describe or explain
their concepts to designers. That is why the result of their interfaces, usually seems to be
cramped and donnish.
Finally, to answer the question of how design can help to manage information overload it
has to be understood that not only scientists create knowledge. It is designers who are able
to identify important aspects of information. Let’s revoke the ‘great man theory’ 64 and start
61 G. Kearny, CEO Fast Think!ng, ‘The curse of knowledge ‘, article dated 18 Dec 2009,
http://www.fastthinking.com.au/the-magazine/spring-2009/the-curse-of-knowledge.aspx, accessed 05 Jan 2010
62 M. Gell-Mann, http://www.thackara.com/steal_these/domus_escape_entropy.html accessed 12 Feb 2010
63 T. Brown, CEO of Ideo, Harvard Business Review, Jun 2008, p. 7
64 ChangingMinds, Great Man Theorie,
http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/theories/great_man_theory.htm accessed 24 Feb 2010
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