It’s often said by information designers and architects: ‘This would have been a great project if it weren’t for the politics!’

This is not an acceptable excuse. The politics is always there, a natural part of any project. If you don’t take the political aspect of the work into account in a sophisticated way, and they overwhelm you,  you have not managed the project professionally.

But how much effort is involved in professionally managing the politics? Over a number of years, as part of our continuing research into design methods, we routinely track the amount of effort that goes into each stage of a successful information design project.

Obviously, there is a lot of variability across projects but the diagram below gives a rough guide.

id_process_without_politics

If you believe successful information design is all about writing text in plain English and getting the graphics right, you might find it surprising that only 4% of project effort goes into developing a first prototype. But wait a minute…the percentages above add up to only 50% of the effort. What takes up the other 50%?

That’s where the politics comes in. 50% of the effort in any successful information design project goes into managing the stakeholders, that is, all those who are interested in the outcome: keeping them informed of progress in ways that are suitable for them, firefighting when things go wrong, and getting agreement from all concerned.

Above all,  the greatest risk of failure in an information design project comes from mismanaging the politics. Yet it is as if a conspiracy of silence prevails over the subject. You will not find in textbooks on information design any teaching on the political skills needed, nor is it part of the curriculum on most courses. This has to change.

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