Winter 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB2

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Information Design for Effective Communication


James W. King
Communications Specialist
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

S. Kay Rockwell
Evaluation Specialist
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed and confused by the daily avalanche of information? How about your clientele?

Information's the essential resource in our everyday lives. It's the basic ingredient in the so-called communication revolution. Success in communication depends on our interpreting, packaging, and transmitting information.1

Information Design

How can we better design information for our objectives? There are two information patterns Rank suggests we can use-intensifying and downplaying.2 To intensify information, we repeat, associate, and compose facts in ways to influence our clients. At other times, information is downplayed through omission, diverting attention, and/or confusing the facts.


Information is intensified, strengthened, or highlighted in three ways. First, repetition is a simple and effective practice of intensifying information. People are comfortable with the familiar and the known. Repetition influences our memories so we will identify, recognize, and respond to certain details.

Second, information is associated by linking it to something we already use, enjoy, desire, or dislike. Tactics are either straightforward statements or covert techniques such as allusion, background settings, or contextual design. Testimonials, group self-image, heritage, and progress are other methods. Cues and prompts can be used to indicate desired relationships.3

Third, information can be composed by variation in arrangement and quantity. This includes your choice of words, the level of abstraction, the music, the particular visual images, and the selection of certain data.


Information is diminished with omission, diversion, and confusion.4 Often we have too much information; it must be edited. However, omission can be used to conceal or muddle data. We need to design information to help our audiences ask questions, and to fill gaps relating to their own situations and future activities.

Information may be diverted by distracting the focus or attention away from key issues or important data. Humor and entertainment are pleasant means to divert attention. Emotional name calling is a deceitful approach. We must allow, and even encourage, audiences to question information and not be put off by diversionary tactics.

Confusion results from illogical information, contradiction, multiple diversions, inconsistencies, or jargon. Anything that obscures clarity or dulls understanding adds to confusion. Sometimes information is so complex or chaotic that audiences give up, get fatigued, or become overloaded. Information must be designed so clients can understand the meaning and apply it to their own situations.


Information seeking is a natural activity for all Extension audiences. As Extension workers, we must communicate information adequately and effectively. By conscientiously focusing on patterns that intensify or downplay information, we can better design and structure the information we develop.


1. P. F. Drucker, "The Coming of the New Organization," Harvard Business Review, LXVI (No. 1, 1988), 45-53 and J. Ellul, "Preconceived Ideas About Mediated Information," in The Media Revolution in America and Western Europe, E. M. Rogers and F. Balle, eds. (Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1985), pp. 95-107.

2. H. Rank, "Intensify/Downplay," in Language Awareness , P. Eschholz, A. Rosa, and V. Clark (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978).

3. O. E. Klapp, "Meaning Lag in the Information Society, Journal of Communication, XXXII (No. 2, 1982), 55-66.

4. J. Gleick, Chaos: Making of a New Science (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987).