Information Design is defined as “the detailed planning of information that is to be provided to a particular audience to meet a specific objective.” As information workers, we are tasked with finding relevant information. What we sometimes overlook is the presentation of this information in a way that the user is able to easily digest. We need to carefully consider our audience and the material we are presenting. Last semester I took a class on Information Design and, as a result, I now see information design problems in almost everything I do.
What is Heaven?
My current information design problem is helping my five-year-old son understand heaven. The concept of heaven is difficult for most people to grasp, yet alone a five year old. My own concept of heaven is not clearly defined. I simply think of it as a pleasant place people go after they die. The vagueness of my concept does not vibe with the concrete mind of a five year old boy. One day we were talking about dinosaurs and he asked me if the dinosaurs went to heaven. I told him I thought they did. A slightly worried look came across his face and he said “I hope they don’t get daddy”. I realized we needed to talk more.
An Information Design Problem
My biggest challenge is knowing how to convey information about something I do not know about. How do I present as fact what is a personal and religious belief. I do not know what it looks like or how things work. But, my son has questions and wants answers. Do I tell him I do not know, perhaps sending him into a state of worry about the whereabout of his father. One day I realized I painted a picture of heaven that was far too nice. He asked me when he could die. This is the last question you want to hear from your child. I told him I wanted him here with me and that there were lots of fun things for him to still do here on earth. He said “well there are fun things to do in heaven and you can come too.” What now?
Faith in Information
This has me thinking about how we create and process information about concepts of places we have never seen. When I tell my son, Owen, about heaven, he seems to believe what I tell him. There are two factors at play; the first is that he trusts me. I am the most reliable source of information in his world. The second factor is his desire, and possibly need, to believe me. This seems typical for how we all process information. We look to the reliability of the source first. If we trust the source, we trust the information. If we want to believe the information, we accept it. If we do not want to believe it, we will challenge it and look for contradictory evidence to prove or disprove what we have been told.
One day, Owen asked me a question that forced my hand as the personal designer of his information. We were talking about Christmas. He looked at me and asked me quite directly if Santa was real. I wanted to tell him yes, to allow him to continue to believe in the magic of Santa Claus. But he had placed his faith in me. If I was to be a reliable source of information to him, I needed to tell him the truth. If I told him Santa was real, he would believe me, the same way he believes the fantastical tales about Heaven. What would happen when he finds out the truth about Santa, as children always do? I cannot stand the chance of him calling into question his belief about Heaven and his comfort knowing that his father is somewhere safe and wonderful.
Contact Jennifer Liddy at email@example.com or on Twitter @jennliddy.