Eye Mag’s Blind Spot

With their Winter 2010 issue, Eye Magazine finally joins the conversation on the role of information design in the 21st century. Rather than investigate areas largely neglected by the design press (ie, the paradigm shifts underway in the field, new applications for information design in a changing world, and the shortage of skilled professionals), Eye instead presents a business-as-usual graphic design survey.

Opening the issue are highly subjective “great moments” in information design, critiqued by various designers and writers of the moment. The usual suspects of the info design canon are absent (no map of Napoleon’s march here), in favor of less obvious though often intriguing works, such as a completely hand-drawn series of guide books by Alfred Wainwright.

The feature articles provide only brief glimpses into information design, favoring more entry-level interests. While broader understanding of subjects such as Otto Neurath and Isotype are important, Eye seems to be unaware of the broader picture, including how visual sensemaking is moving the field beyond traditional notions of visualizing data and information. Also missing is any coherent view of the role now played by information design in organizational and social change making.

The most valuable contribution to the magazine (far in the back of the print issue) is Max Gadney’s article, “Understand, Visualize, Survive.” He lays plain the challenges long known in the design industry, with a resounding call to action to design educators to develop students into thinkers instead of mere stylists. Gadney’s tone is loud and clear in the admonition “There is no room for ego when understanding is the priority.” If only Eye magazine took hold of the issues raised by Gadney and invited wider discussion and exploration, this issue could very well have been a leap forward in information design journalism.

John Walters states in his editorial that “The contents of this issue imply that information design is not so much a specialist genre, more an essential fact of design life.” Eye merely grasped the low-hanging fruit and joined the bandwagon of others now discovering and touting information design, while serving up juicy visuals and mostly lightweight content to satisfy the trend. What Eye failed to address head-on is that information design itself must change and is already changing to better engage a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. It is unfortunate that such a widely read communication design industry magazine would miss such an important opportunity. Perhaps mass appeal and steady sales trump meaningful, if provocative, journalism.

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