Every time someone asks me the classic college question, I prepare myself for their inevitable follow-up question. The conversation usually goes like this:
“So, what’s your major?”
“Professional Writing and Information Design,” I reply.
“Wow, that’s cool! But—what does Information Design mean?”
And it’s a valid question. Most people understand what Professional Writing is, but Information Design is a unique side of our major that few people know about.
As a senior PWID major, I’ve gotten this question from my family members, nice ladies at church, and even job interviewers. So at this point, my answer feels as familiar as slinging my backpack over my shoulder.
A Beautiful, Usable Product
The short answer? Information Design is understanding the purpose, the context, and the audience to create the best possible experience for our users.
Purpose. Context. Audience. This is called the rhetorical situation, and it helps us design a product that isn’t just beautiful, but also usable.
For example, I recently designed a poster for Cedarville’s literary magazine, the Cedarville Review. Before I began designing, I analyzed the rhetorical situation to make sure that I made a poster both engaging and clear.
The purpose of the poster was to announce a call to submissions and convince students to submit their creative pieces by the deadline. It needed to persuade students through a simple, beautiful design that appealed to creative minds. Also, the poster was going to hang on a wall in several busy places around campus with lots of traffic. In this context, it needed to stand out with an eye-catching design that wasn’t cluttered so students could find all the necessary information quickly. Finally, the audience was artistically-minded students who love to write creatively. These students also had a thousand other things on their plate, and it wouldn’t be easy to persuade them to add one more thing to their agenda.
With all that in mind, I got to work. I created a simple, elegant design that matched the magazine’s brand and captured attention. I visually emphasized the most important information, “Call to Submissions” by placing it front and center, with further information directly below in short, easy-to-read paragraphs. Finally, I drew the eye towards the QR code as a call to action, encouraging readers to scan for more information.
Short, simple, and sweet was my mantra for this project, and that’s often the case when it comes to Information Design. Whether designing a poster, software documentation, or the interior of a book, employing the principles of Information Design creates a straightforward user experience—which can make or break a product’s success.
Information Design and PWID
We get lots of practice putting this into action in our PWID classes. We learn about basic design principles in Visual Rhetoric and how to create a user-friendly publication in User Experience for the Web. We get experience with certain types of design such as process documentation, job aids, and e-learning courses in Documentation Design and Instructional Design I and II. And in every class project, whether designing, editing, or writing, we always circle back to the rhetorical situation: how can this product meet the needs of the purpose, the context, and the audience?
From Classroom to Internship
Adding Information Design to my toolbelt prepared me for my internship with Focus on the Family this past summer. As the Advertising Copywriting intern, I got to work with their Creative Services team, a group of talented graphic designers and copywriters who created content for various departments in the company. I learned so much from working with them.
One thing I learned was just how valuable the principles of Information Design are in the industry of digital content. Even though I was a copywriting intern, not graphic design, I still employed those tools that I had learned in class. I worked closely with the graphic design intern, and my background in Information Design helped me give her specific ideas and feedback when we brainstormed together for projects.
Even when writing, I used the rhetorical situation to produce clear, concise content that met the user’s needs. Yes, this is something I learned from the design side of my major, but it also applies to writing.
Information Design—and Writing?
Maybe you’re trying to figure out if PWID is the right major for you, but you’re not sure about the Information Design part of the major. Even if you want to focus on writing instead of design, I encourage you to consider that design is a valuable skill for a writer. Believe me, when I came into the major, I wanted to pursue writing and editing only. I had never designed anything before, and as someone who even draws stick figures poorly, I was nervous about the design portion of the major. But I soon fell in love with employing the visual side of my brain to solve the problem of usability. It’s a special challenge to make something appealing to the eye while also easy to use.
That’s something both writers and designers have in common: we strive to create a product that is beautiful and usable. And the special thing about PWID? We can do both.
About the author
Jenna Gulick is a senior Professoinal Writing and Information Design Major.