Information Design and “the World”

One of the most difficult things for me to get my head around in this life is how information — and the knowledge, opinions, values, and purpose underlying it — maps to the world it purports to represent.

Despite my predilections for the bizarre and the surreal in the visual arts, music, and film, I tend to be quite the literalist when it comes to things like documentation, user guides, help files, instructions, DIY videos, infographics, etc. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I have deep fear of ambiguity when it comes to many of the popular forms of business communication.

My fear, if that’s really the best classification for it, includes the confusion I experience when I attempt to setup and/or use a product with the assistance of some information artifact that has been designed specifically for the purpose of helping setup and/or use a product.

My fear (and yes, uncertainty and doubt are in there too, so let’s call it F.U.D. going forward) of ambiguity also includes the confusion and frustration that people experience when they attempt to use an artifact I have created to help them setup and/or use a particular product.

In fact, I can say confidence that the deep-seated F.U.D. that permeates my thinking about technical and professional communication is even more pervasive when I’m the author of the communicative artifact. I want so badly for the information I produce — from its framing, content, sequencing, layout, mix of modes (text, graphics, audio, animation, video, etc), and word choice/language use — to be so free of ambiguity that anyone who uses it to setup and/or use a product will travel a clear and literal path to their usage goals.

This is, of course, a fantasy. A myth. A shear impossibility. Unless, of course, the user and the technical communicator speak the exact same dialect of the domain language, and have more or less the exact same value systems with respect to getting things done in that domain, and that documentation is framed in a way to reflect the domain-specific values and shared discourse that those two individuals share.

But even in extremely rare scenarios such as these, it’s unlikely that ambiguity can be kept at bay.

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About burtaycock

Father of 2 great boys, interaction designer, doodler, student of life.
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