Information Design

Roger Costello

Want to create information that can be widely utilized, easily found, and endures? Then follow these rules.

  1. Pure information. Do not mingle presentation or processing instructions with your information. That means if you are creating (X)HTML documents put all presentation instructions in an external CSS document, and all Javascript instructions in an external document. If you are creating an XML document do not use an executable markup vocabulary (where the tags specify processing instructions). Adhering to this rule will promote the longevity of your information. It will enable your information to be repurposed. It will enable your information to be styled/presented in many different ways. It will enable your information to be processed in many different ways.
  2. Humans first, machines second. As quickly as possible, make your data available for human consumption. That means: Create browsable Web pages, Create RSS feeds, Create audio and video files. Link your data to other people's data. Use traditional web site engineering, i.e., store your data in a database, use software to query the database and generate web pages, RSS feeds, audio/video files. Focus on making your data visible and accessible to humans.
  3. Pave the cowpath. Observe how users use and integrate your data. Once a pattern is identified, create a service which does the integration (so the users no longer have to do it). Progressively develop web services based on observed data usage patterns. To recap, make your information available to the users as quickly as possible (humans first, machines second), observe usage patterns, then create value-added web services (pave the cow path).
  4. Accessible information. Keep your information short, simple, and focussed. Provide the information in different formats such as text, audio, video. Conform to the Web Accessibility Guidelines (e.g., if inserting an image into an (X)HTML document, use the "alt" attribute to describe the image so that people using screen-readers can understand the information provided by the image without seeing it).