Jake Setlak, a vice president and planning director at Energy BBDO, a Chicago-based advertising agency, has a few questions for creative professionals. “Can you explain to clients and management, in meaningful terms, the difference between one technology platform and another? Recommend one tactic versus another? Lead a digital design project?”
Setlak is a member of the advisory board of Northwestern University School of Professional Studies’ new Master of Science in Information Design program. The program was created to help web, design, copywriting, marketing and other professionals develop into digital media generalists who understand all aspects of a comprehensive digital strategy and can apply creative solutions to complex communication challenges.
What is Information Design?
The field of information design has grown rapidly in recent years in response to the proliferation of data and vast new data sources. Institutions and businesses of all types are acutely in need of professionals who can translate this information into compelling visual forms and narratives, particularly within digital media — think of web design, phone apps, online course design, infographics or even the interface at a gas station pump.
“Information design has been around in some form for thousands of years, but the advent of ‘big data’ has expanded the field,” says Eric Patrick, an associate professor in Northwestern’s radio, TV and film department who will be teaching courses in the new program. “This degree formalizes what professionals across industries need to know about effectively using and presenting this data.”
Hiring Trends Point to Bright Future for Digital Generalists
According to both Patrick and Setlak, hiring trends now favor digital media generalists who can act as integrators across the design and development team rather than those with more narrow digital or creative skill sets with gaps in their expertise.
“We will always need specialists like writers, designers and web developers,” says Setlak. “But today, there’s a growing need for information design experts who can lead collaborative multidisciplinary teams of specialists and understand every person’s role. In advertising especially, it’s no longer just about developing a pleasing image or a catchy phrase. How do we act upon information consumers are giving, and how can that activity be measured?”
Northwestern’s extensive research backs him up. It shows expected strong job growth in the disciplines touched by information design, due in large part to the increasingly important role that digital media play in customer relationship management. According to industry opinion leaders, nearly every type of organization has an acute need for professionals with a “big picture” understanding of information design.
The strong theoretical framework of Northwestern's program and its focus on fundamental concepts makes the degree applicable to many diverse fields and types of organizations — business, the arts, government, healthcare and education, to name a few — and prepares students to approach evolving technologies with a critical eye in order to excel long after they graduate.
Article by Linda Behzad