12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This fine book, half textbook and half just fun to read, will sit on my bookshelf next to Edwin Tufte's classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983), Tom Kelley's The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm (2001), and Henry Petroski's The Evolution of Everyday Things: How Everyday Artifacts -from Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers -Came to Be as They Are (1994). That's how good this book is, even for the non-designer like me.
The layout of the book is itself a model of what Katz preaches, from the eminently logical placement of the page tabs (they're in color, a different one for each chapter, and they move down the page as the book progresses from start to finish) to the presentation of alternative solutions (which include his students' solutions to problems posed to them), to graphic design problems, to the minimization of extraneous text on each page.
Katz has a robust sense of humor which he deploys to make points that might otherwise be lost to view. Thus he quotes Miss Piggy on one page (p. 79): "Never eat more than you can lift." The quotation is both funny and illuminating because he is talking about information overload there. (The two other highlighted passages on the page are a quotation from Bruno Martin - "Data-rich is often information-poor."--and Katz's own question of the reader: ""Would you rather have your audience read all of less or none of more?"
This stimulating and rich book is a credit to its publisher, Wiley. They must have assumed there was a market for it. I don't see how there couldn't be, it is so useful. Its attractiveness is just a side benefit of Katz's lively mind.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Three pages in I wanted to stop and write this review but forced myself to read the rest of the book before writing. My opinion was unchanged. "Designing Information" is a delightful, delectable, informative, visually rich, entertaining exploration of the business of making information more accessible. It's a remarkably broad tour of types of elements relevant to good design. I especially loved the sections on forms, signage, maps, and iconography -- things I find frustrating in my daily life. Information is not only useful for those who deal with visual design issues: those involved in instructional design will appreciate the discussion of noninformation and uninformation. (Those who work with compliance, policy, and HR training will recognize all too well the challenge of dealing with uninformation: probably true, probably not important, possibly interesting.) The book is bursting with examples, many supplemented with suggestions for more examples and additional readings. This may be the most visually exciting book I've ever seen, interesting for poring over and fun to just flip through. Also suggested: Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things and Connie Malamed's Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics that People Understand. Katz's "Designing Information" is a HIGHLY recommended treat for anyone who works with information, instruction, graphics, or art.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2012
Many great designers don't write well. Joel Katz does. The result is an enormously valuable book for both designers and educators and even more significantly, the rest of the population that daily engages in graphically designing their web-sites their memos, their proposals etc. etc. Katz's writing style is matter-of-fact at the same time that he offers sophisticated examples and insights. He is adept at finding the root of a design problem --showing how something looks is not the same as showing how it works, for example--and therefore offers the reader a wealth of ahaa moments. I teach writing, but these days that often involves teaching students how to present their writing in graphically engaging and informative ways. This book is proving a valuable resource for me.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2013
I should have expected nothing else from a book on information design where already the backcover is completely overloaded. Still, I wonder. How can the author on one hand say in the very beginning (!) that information is what's "definitely true" and "vitally important" and on the other hand cram this book with so much "uninformation" which is not important and distracting? Perhaps it's because I'm a Swiss designer and not used to American design but I really had a hard time reading. Tons of big colourful images and big red marginal notes set closely to the main text (which is set in a very light font and becomes the least important of all) were distracting me. In some cases I had to cover up the page in order to read the main text.
The content of the book is for the most part superficial. Full of platitudes it doesn't measure up to the the subtitle of the book. It would bear thorough abbreviation without loosing essence. Like on the pages 36-37: The point could have been made in a single sentence and there's no need for illustration as everyone is familiar with spam mail. But there are 4 big pictures and 14 marginal notes! Or page 45, where the same example is explained twice - once in the caption and once in the main text. This happens over and over in the whole book and makes me ask which part of the text I'm actually meant to read. Also, there is a completely random highlighting of text. Why is the sentence "Every silver lining has a cloud" so important, that it needs to be set in bold and why is it necessary to do this every time the sentence shows up? Haven't I already noticed it the first time?
For me this book is a classic example of how you shouldn't do it. Yes, perhaps it was designed to be printed on a larger format, but still this is definitely not good and beautiful design to me. And if the author really had to adapt the original design to this small format why didn't he leave out pictures that show basically the same thing as others on the page or get so small you can hardly recognize anything? This book is unfinished and needs a thorough revision.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Joel Katz is a much-decorated information designer and teacher who lives and works in Philadelphia -hence many of the examples in this book come from that city. "Designing Information" is his contribution to texts on the subject, intended for information designers and students. Katz likes to communicate in pictures, naturally, so this is a heavily illustrated course on the do's and don't's of information design where the "task of information designers today is to refine and reduce an overabundance of data into meaningful and usable information." Text is always on the right page with illustrative examples on the facing left page. Interesting quotes and recommendations for further reading are found in a narrow far right column.
The book is organized into six parts, the last of which contains credits and more examples. The first part, "Aspects of Information Design", imparts basic concepts regarding the purpose, pitfalls, and problems of information design. The second addresses "Qualitative Issues" such as using and misusing lines, shape, color, labeling, and conveying time. "Quantitative Issues" discusses usability versus completeness, dimensional comparison, substitution to indicate relative size or distance, and the perils of geography. Section Four is entitled "Structure, Organization, Type." It's about creating coherent forms that people can fill out and includes pictograms and fonts. Section Five, "Finding Your Way", is about maps, particularly public transportation maps.
The discussions of maps and representations of geography offer some interesting insights. The section on structure would be useful to anyone designing for public consumption, including web design. I found the content of other sections to be more scattershot, less cohesive. The suggestions for background reading are varied, interesting and not limited to design texts. I've read some of the books that Katz suggests; they're relevant, imaginative choices that won't bore anyone. I like the information in the right column a lot.
On the other hand, Katz tends to reduce the amount of information being presented in his diagrams, in order to simplify, more than, say, Edward R. Tufte. He has taken this approach with text too, with inconsistent results. It is not always clear what Katz is suggesting by his text or captions, and I was left puzzling over the examples. I found this in parts 1-3, not 4-6. This book is not as large as Tufte's books. It's 9.5 x 8 inches. Some examples are too small to make out the details, which is frustrating and hardly improves clarity of the ideas. Problems are sometimes presented without solutions or suggestions. And Katz's tendency to betray his political convictions in this choice of graphics and comment will irk some readers. Ironically, Katz does not always communicate well.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2012
This book desperately needs a second author. I knew it was going to be a rough read when the first real text of the book says information is divided into three principal parts and then the body of the text below it has four bullet points and five words written in bold. Errr ... ummm .. what are the three types of information? The page opposite the text has a diagram which has two dashed lines which divide the world of information into true, perhaps true and not true. Why didn't he just say that and then break the information down. This pattern of failing to write they key points plays out over and over in the book. There are three pages showing web page navigation around page 71... why? What is the point? What were we supposed to learn? On page 85 there is a discussion of the problems of using diameter vs area to express sizes. Right on! People botch that all the time. It would have been lovely for him to say how to do that correctly rather than just giving the formula for area. Over and over the writing tells interesting stories but misses the so what or why or how. Sure you can figure out what the author was aiming for but this style makes the book hard to read.
That said the book is *beautiful* and is full of great quotes and a fantastic set of references. So, consider getting the book to see beautifully rendered graphics (and how they were ruined when actually implemented) but do not expect an easy read or concrete instructions on how to do this well. You can glean lots of useful information here. If only somebody could have read the book and told the author to clearly state the points/facts he wants us to discover.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2012
Joel Katz is a great designer, and like many great designers he has worked in a variety of fields ranging from illustration to signage systems to photography to transportation maps. He is a great information designer. Information design is one of the design subdivisions that unites, rather than separates, the impulses of the field, a forced marriage of aesthetics and psychology dedicated to communicating complex information in ways that appear simple. It is a tough field to define and a tougher one to practice. As you read Designing Information you begin to understand that many people know with they like but few people like to know the truth. Reading this book may not invert that ratio, but it will supply those who want to communicate the truth a valuable set of principles and examples to apply to their task.
We are living in a time when data journalism and info graphics are in high demand. The exponential growth of digital data sets is driving popular interest in data visualization. Interactive devices on our desks and in our hand keep us pointing and clicking and tapping and swiping at symbols we hope contain the information we are looking for. Our embrace of mobile devices has filled our pockets with vast quantities of incoming data. Our every move is spawning a cornucopia of quantification, enormous numbers of little differences that want to be communicated.
Joel Katz has created a marvelous book on a difficult and important subject. He's done this by writing, selecting and designing over one hundred two-page spreads. There are two kinds of designers: ones who struggle to find a form to fit their content and ones who shape and chop their content to fit the form they want to make. It takes a master to make complex content fit into a simple format. It is why Katz's book is both simple and profoundly useful. Page after page presents a systematic collection of information design principles, problems, methods, samples, quotations and critiques. By illustrating each spread with a judicious and rich collection of examples from the field, combined with student work, he gives the reader the best of the practical and the imaginative. Each of the real-world examples illustrates principles and the way things really work. Anyone who has worked in this field will nod knowingly as Katz points out how, to use his own words, "every sliver lining has a cloud". In the real world, carefully crafted results are often changed at the last minute to fit the constraints of the client's taste, politics or budget. The student examples drawn from his teaching experience provide a counterpoint, giving a freer reign to the ideas he wants us to learn.
The book is also filled with instructive and memorable quotes from a range of design thinkers. Looking at the book, reading and re-reading its content, and reflecting on the results, I am reminded of a passage from "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" by William Carlos Williams
It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.
Williams also described a poem as a machine in which every word and syllable is intended to communicate. We are surrounded by communication filled with uninformation, noninformation, misinformation and disinformation, and all we really want is the poetry of information. Reading what Katz has written reminds me that we suffer each day for the lack of it.
Designing Information will help you become a better designer whether you qualify that with services, products, graphics, user experience, interaction, urban planning, transportation or any of a dozen other epithets. Studying Designing Information will help you see the methods and craft that make information design succeed.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Joel Katz's Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design is a remarkable, step-by-step analysis of the good, the bad, and the mediocre in information design. The book traces color usage, graphics, webpage and street sign layout, ads, drug labels and patient insert sheets, statistical graphs, maps - virtually every type of design one could imagine where conveying information is critical ... and liable to misuse or abuse.
As someone who presents frequently at conferences and workshops, I find myself constantly looking for better ways to present information. I'm a long-time fan of Presentation Zen and studiously avoid death-by-powerpoint. Still, though, presenting detailed information is always a challenge. With this in mind, I picked up Designing Information.
First, understand that every word - picture captions, sidebars, etc. - in this book is informative; Katz is not repeating information for the sake of calling something out to draw your attention to it. Rather, he abides by the "less is more" theory, meaning he packs a lot into this book as no word is wasted despite all the white space on each page.
Second, Katz shows numerous "before/after" examples of designs that are very helpful regardless of the subject matter (for instance, I'm not a sign designer, but even I could see how ... and more importantly, why ... the redesigned signs worked better). An incredible example of this is early in the book on page 28 - his example of why 2-dimensional diagrams look better on pages and presentations than the 3-dimensional diagrams. Frankly, even knowing what the 3-dimensional diagram on that page conveys, I'm still stunned at how complex it is versus the same information in the same space in a simpler, easier to digest 2-dimensional manner.
Third, the book is full of interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking quotes from various folks that often skewer - painfully so - many of the platitudes we hear so often (such as "ask your customer what they want" to which, as Katz points out, Henry Ford said, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse").
Fourth, when it comes to conveying information, Katz is not asking us to make our current designs slightly better; instead, he suggests we review what we want to convey - within the context of of how the design viewer will see it - and then use information design factors (color, shapes, fonts, etc.) to focus on that. Thus he asks, "Would you rather have your audience read all of less or none of more?" For those of us who've sat through slide after slide of 8-point type text and graphs, I think we all know the answer. And trying to read a highway road sign full of detailed information while you're going 60mph is an exercise in futility.
Fifth, each page has a "see also" and/or a "read" set of suggestions for more detailed information or explanation for the logic behind his suggestions.
Sixth, he has small sections on form design and label design (including prescription drug labeling) that should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in forms, reports, labels, etc.
All in all, Katz's Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design is a worthy, and excellent, book. It belongs in well-thumbed use in any office or design studio.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Data is not information, and information is not knowledge. I was looking for more knowledge about human factors and common-sense information design as advertised in its sub-title. Instead, this book contributed to my library of data about design. It is a well-designed hard-cover book, including hundreds of illustrations, printed on heavy, nice-to-touch paper. Its content looks more like a set of slides used to accompany a presentation. Without the presenter, the text felt difficult to digest or draw practical design lessons.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"Designing Information: Human Factors and Common Sense in Information Design" by Joel Katz should be mandatory reading for graphic designers, policy makers, cartographers, and researchers who, regardless of discipline, attempt to convey key information and findings through visual information. The world is awash with badly designed graphic in every media (think about the cottage industry spawned by the "Signspotting" books and Website), and sometimes visual information is important for more than convenience and direction as it can also become a matter of safety.
Mr. Katz dives head-on into his topic, segmenting this book into a series of topics and lessons, each demonstrating problems, offering solutions and additional resources, and plentiful examples, both current and historical, of unwieldy and confusing graphics, maps, schedules, charts, and typography. I would almost say his book is the visual companion to the venerable, essential book on writing, "The Elements of Style," as it belongs on any serious information designer's shelf along with Edward Tufte's books. (And I have to say it is refreshing and useful to see Mr. Katz disagree with some of Tufte's suggestions as it makes me take a fresh look at Tufte's books.)
It takes time to read this book, and the more one delves into the precepts and examples, the more impact these lessons have. Meaningful information requires effort, though, and practice, and unleashing oneself from the tyranny of convenience that binds us to poorly executed software for rendering data into their visual manifestations is that much easier if one consults this book. It's title is not hyperbolic in the least, and while some of the resources, examples, and experts cited will change over time, the notions here are timeless.
Despite how much I like and use this book, it has one serious flaw that keeps me from giving it a perfect 5 star rating: the book is too small, and as a result, many of the complex graphics here are hard to read. The overall concept is clear, but the detail and nuance suffer. It's too bad Mr. Katz's publisher or someone involved in producing the book did not realize that it needed to be in an 11" X 9" format (check out the size of Dr. Tufte's books, for example) and offering an alternate edition in such a format would be a great service.