I’m giving a workshop in a couple of weeks on “Thinking Visually and Interactively” for the Association of Management Consulting Firms. I’ve also been approached to teach an online course on the Foundations of Information Design. It’s an honor to be in a position to share my thoughts on these subjects, which are my passion.

Teaching is such a special and unique way of thinking about and communicating a subject. Especially when the audience is assumed to be mostly novices. It forces me to remember what it was like to approach this work before I started doing what I’m doing. It takes me back almost 20 years. And that is a fun and interesting place to visit. 

Twenty years ago, the technology was very different. Broadband didn’t exist. (I probably had a 14,400 baud dial-up modem on my computer!) The web hadn’t come close to the mainstream yet. But information design was, of course, alive and well. Magazines, newspapers, television – all the visual media of the time were presenting information in ways meant to help their audiences understand a topic. So in the most important ways, nothing has changed. Oh, and 20 years ago I was a journalist.

When I started doing web design and development, I thought I had abandoned journalism to a large degree. But the longer I worked, the more I realized that I was leaning heavily on that knowledge and experience.

And now, with teaching, even more so. Journalism is almost the same thing as teaching. You have a set of complex information. It needs to be organized and a story needs to be told. This is about giving hierarchy to the information and explaining it in a way that the least informed recipient of that information can understand it, while the more informed can find nuances and details that will satisfy.

Journalism and teaching are both, first and foremost, about creating a “curriculum” based on the information at hand, designing a presentation layer for that information (in words, lesson plans, visuals, etc.) and presenting that information to increase knowledge. The outcomes are a bit different but not by much.

And, by the way, the description above also captures one definition of information design. So really, Journalism = Teaching = Information Design. I could probably keep writing and eventually get to the point where I talk myself into all three of those being equal to sea kelp and solar panels too, but in all seriousness, there’s something to this…

What do you think? What are the differences between these practices that I’m missing?