Thursday, July 28, 2005

Communication Design

The means by which architects, planners, and builders communicate with clients and with the public are changing - and this is an inspiration to all of us Webbers working in the Internet world.

For the first time in history, communication professionals have a powerful, interactive, multimedia communication channel: the Internet. Direct, two-way communication of visual and spatial ideas with targeted audiences, motivates ambassadors' and ordinary citizens is now possible. Moreover, hypertext gives designers the ability to make powerful connections between isolated pieces of information, supporting collaborative design and group decision making.

Information designers (the web people, as one says) have unique communication requirements. Most of our work is described using graphical two- and three-dimensional media. These forms of communication content, link and relationship building are optimized for online communication buzzword alert: 360 degree communication) and are restricted by the standard one-dimensional documentation.

Geometrical or spatial thinking (based on three-dimensional models) is better suited for the next wave of web users - those born with online games, virtual libraries and Google. In a connected society, one in which stakeholders are demanding more participation than ever in planning their own lives, the Internet is giving everyone in a chance to communicate more effectively to an expanded audience.

Integration and synthesis are the core skills of an information designer. Taking disparate bits of information, making trade-offs, synthesizing them into a cohesive realization: hybrid training uniquely prepares them for this kind of problem solving. Information and, in general, internet design can be thought of as the ability to make connections among a producer needs and budget, a site, a palette of materials, code requirements and to shape those connections into a tangible piece of the environment - the internet landscape.

But no design can be realized without the ability to first communicate it to others, because communication is a collaborative art.

Much has been written about the apparent disconnection between how 'web people' are trained and the work they actually do.

In recent years the profession has renounced as archaic the ‘lone creator’ myth of designer portrayed in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. But web managers still think of themselves as visionaries, the one generalist in the entire PR, Media, Communications, marketing and advertising process who is able to conceptualize the whole. Indeed, many Webbers are attracted to the field precisely because of the opportunities it offers for integrative problem solving and the opportunity to create networks - virtually.

Virtual teaming is a buzzword very much in vogue throughout the industry, but it is nothing new in the information and internet design field. Teams of specialists that are assembled to create one project and then disbanded have been the norm for some time. Webbers have long known that such project teams require an intense coordination of efforts.

What is new is that such virtual teams can now be free from the constraints of physical co-location or even organizational affiliation. The Internet becomes both the source of new-found managerial complexity and the means of controlling it. It is certain that the function of coordination is more important than ever, but will that role continue to be the Internet Project Manager, or will a new kind of professional - the Information Manager - be needed? Any ideas?

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