Live from STC Summit: Information Typing for Design

Information Typing for Design: A practical paradigm for information development, by Tina M Kister

Your eye travels in short, abrupt movements called cicades. Peripheral vision is quite blurry, central vision perceives high detail. It’s about the size of your thumbnail if you hold your hand at arm’s length. Vision is taking a bunch of small snapshots and stitching them together into a unified whole.

Discarding what’s irrelevant, filling in missing information, and recognizing what you’re seeing, and making associations with what you know.and then assessing/judging what you’re seeing to have a behavioral response.

You can’t have content without design. When content happens, design is. Content can’t exist as text in a meaningful way without design, and vice versa.

We need to separate the act of writing from the act of design, but our users see them together – always.

What is content? Any shareable unit of verifiable intelligence that conveys one or more cohesive ideas and has been prepared for presentation, deliver, and use.

Remove the idea of text vs non-text, and instead think of:

  • Ideas (conceptual)
  • Language (auditory)
  • Design (visual)

Our bodies are hardwired to categorize visual stimuli. One thing we are most sensitive to is difference. Our brain has learned to simplify visual stimuli by sorting it into buckets.

Cognitive load

Cognitive load comes from time, energy, and effort.

This is impacted by the number of steps, the level of ambiguity, the length of steps, and more.

  • Attentional load: limited ability to focus through distractions.
  • Preattentive load: how we process information before we’re consciously aware of it
  • Perceptual load: The amount of stress placed on our limited ability to process visual stimuli given a perceptual task.

High load stimuli is slower, and less accurate. The fewer distractions, the lower the load, the faster someone can process. If there are only 2 categories of information it’s easier to process than if there are 5.

How does categorization work?

Categories are important because of what we do with them. We extrapolate information based on how we categorize things. It’s like our brains are a huge library, and visualizations are the system that helps us access information/

This is stereotyping – it’s a form of cognitive bias. This is how we survive and thrive in the world – it creates if/then scenarios. If I see this, then I can perceive/understand what I can’t see. 

Homo heuristics: efficient and effective inferences.

We see attributes, assign the attributes to categories, make associations, derive meaning from those associations, which allows us to understand complex ideas.

Information typing

DITA uses stylistic information typing. We’re combining what we say with how we say it. Design is not about making things beauitful. It’s about making them usable – that’s what makes them beautiful.

The goals of design are:

  • Find
  • Read
  • Understand
  • Use
  • Remember

The information typing methodology

There are four basic steps:

  1. Understand the building blocks (For example, paragraphs, characters, lists, tables, graphics, etc)

There are 3 basic building blocks: semantic (ideas), rhetorical (order), and stylistic (form). And there are four types of content elements: main, supporting, feature, and meta. Lastly, there are 10 basic elements: Runner, header, kicker, body, aside, image, table, list, caption, and metadata. There are all “ingredients” of your recipe.

2. Establish a naming convention. It needs to be both robust and flexible.

This joins together the concepts with the building blocks. Name things based on the role, not the color or other things that might change.

3. Design. This is where we have the ability to translate content into something more usable.

Design basics are elements, attributes, effects, and principles.

When you do this, know your audience. Break the mass of humanity down into segments. When you know who you’re talking to, you can talk to them in a way that resonates.

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