“Making things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

The differences between Data Visualis(z)ation and Information Design are thrown about a lot on the web as well as on books. Perhaps, the terms and functions still aren’t understood by many that use it. I personally find that the explanations below are rather easy for my brain to digest.

The main goal of Data Visualisation is to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical means. It doesn’t mean that data visualisation needs to look boring to be functional or extremely sophisticated to look beautiful. To convey ideas effectively, both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand, providing insights into a rather sparse and complex data set by communicating its key-aspects in a more intuitive way (Friedman, 2008).

Information design is the defining, planning and visualisation of the contents of a message with the intention of achieving particular objectives in relation to the needs of the target users. It is an area concerned with understanding reader and user responses to written and visually presented information (International Institute for Information Design).

To be honest, words are not as easy as to form a mental image with these explanations after much readings. Hence I put them down in a simple information design hoping to share my understanding to the next reader who might find it useful.


The agreement in simple terms:

Data Visualis(z)ation is the Exploration of Data; Information Design is the Presentation of Data. They both share the same value – to present knowledge yet for a different purpose, outcome, medium, element usage and various categories. The key to avid data overflow or over-working on both design, I quote Albert Einstein:

Making things as simple as possible, but not simpler.

It is how effective the knowledge being conveyed to the audiences, the goal ultimately.

And to answer to my earlier query: Where does my research topic “to re-look at the nutritional labels design” fall in? It is definitely in the information design. I can’t wait to share the mind-mapping journey of my research in the next post.

More, later.

Finding My Ground

At the end of year 2012, I have held a one-week infographic exhibition with a group of my students. The theme was Malaysiaku, The Unforgotten Negara. The objective was to celebrate love and sense of appreciation to fellow Malaysians in conjunction with the National Day through contemporary vibrant infographic design.

That was also the first time such exhibition was held to display the journey of Malaysia’s independence, the wonders of the 13 states and federal territories, the amazing infrastructures as well as cultural heritage and social interests in the country. Within 14 weeks, students went through the journey of researching, collating data, conceptualising ideas to executing their individual final piece. It was a bittersweet journey because the exhibition received wide exposure in the media.


Ever since then, my interest in information design has inclined. Through many conversations on how I can best put this interest into reality and benefit my career in a long-run, my partner has encouraged me to consider doing a PhD in this area while staying aligned with my design background. I had a really hard time deciding what exactly I can do with these 2 areas.

After much readings, I was excited about numerous of topics that I can tap into. It is when the sharing sessions with my partner that often placed me in a speechless position to realise that, I do not have a concrete understanding of what I would like to further research in. Points and ideas fell all over the place. For months, those discussions were indeed devastating and left me with many doubts and sleepless nights. Many times, I came back to square one, again and again seeking a clear topic in both information and design.

One day, a suggestion during our casual conversation shed a light – to look into the nutritional label design on food packaging!

“Why do they always look the same in most applications? Do people really read them? The information seems redundant on such nice packaging.”

She immediately posted another question: “Does that consider information design or data visualisation, to be precise?”

If you are a nutritionist – you’ll look at the label to see if the nutritions are healthy for consumption; or as a health consultant – you’ll be asking what should consumers be aware of when buying a product; or as a marketing strategist – you’ll want to know how do consumers make their purchase decision with the labels.

I, would love to play the role as a designer to re-look at the nutritional labels design – the design elements, the terminologies used and the way the data is presented. In short, to give a serious facelift to the current nutritional label design so they can be better informed or even better, with the enhancement it will work as an everyday practice for them.

Seems like a doable topic that I’ll be able to make contribution in this area. Back to an earlier question, is this an information design or data visualisation?

Time to do more, and more readings to be grounded!

“Stop Thinking, Start Doing (Writing)”

Being an educator in design for more than 6 years now, I often encourage my students to jot down the things they see and encounter in any interesting form. This may be just a conventional method but I find it very useful to generate ideas and be more aware of the surroundings. When you do your observation and pen it down, it works extremely well with your memory and analyzation. I won’t deny that most designers are taught to be observant and express themselves freely through visuals. Even words can’t express one’s thoughts as easily as visuals.

To be honest, writing is a big challenge for me. I tend to be too long-winded to over explaining points. Subconsciously I tend to feel that words are just too limited to describe my ideas. Hence usually I fall back into my comfort zone with visuals. It is when I first met my supervisor to discuss my research in PhD, she gave me a task – to pen down the learning journey, so that the progress and thoughts are well documented for easy reference. At the beginning, I was a little taken aback thinking what should I write; what can I write; how should I write…etc.

After weeks of dilemma, I decided to step up and practise this saying in my mind:

“Stop thinking, start doing (writing).”

I started by answering my own question – how do I want to achieve a PhD title, ultimately? Then I questioned deeper –  what relationships I have with my life now; what do I need from them; why they will help me to reach my goal?


Relationship Focus in Life

When the answers were broken down into simple infographic, I felt so relieved to see the inter-relation between my want (study); my commitment (work) and my current passion (yoga). They are contributing to my ultimate goal slowly, with constant practice and be mindful.

I’m extremely excited about the challenges in research that I will have to take on, but most of all, I hope to take you with me on the exciting journey of my PhD study!