Invisible Information in Invisible Information Technology

Donald Norman (1998) advocated the concept of invisible technology, however, as the design of information technology has developed and technology has become invisible, information has also lost is visibility.  Action is needed to make information visible in information technology.

Invisible Technology

In discussing the principles of good design, Donald Norman (1998) referred to invisible technology.  The principle of invisible technology is that well designed technology is intuitive to use enabling the user to focus their attention on performing the task at hand.  In contrast, when technology is visible, the technology is difficult to use and requires the user to focus attention on using the technology rather than focusing attention on the task for which the technology is being used.

The typical example given for this is writing with a pen.  Pens are generally simple to use and allow the user to focus attention on what he or she is writing as opposed to focusing attention on the act of using the pen.  When something goes wrong, such as the pen does not work, attention is directed back to the technology, the pen, and diverted from the task of writing.

Invisible Information

Developments in information technology have resulted in simple and intuitive interface designs.  Touch screens, gesture control and voice control enable a wide variety of information technology devices to be used with minimal experience.  Photos can be shared with the touch of a button, emails can be sent using simple voice commands and data files can be moved and shared with simple gestures.

Such intuitive designs of mobile phones and tablet computers support the concept of invisible technology.  The simplicity of, for example, using an iPad should make the technology invisible and the task visible.  However, what seems to have happened is that as the information technology has become invisible, the information being manipulated has also become invisible.  As attention is focused on the actions using information technology to perform processes such as sending emails, sharing files and photographs, attention has been diverted from the information content of the emails, files and photographs.

This has led to a casual attitude towards information.  Like the pen in the task of writing, information has been side-lined in the task of sending an email until something goes wrong, such as a transmission error occurs, the information is not received or the information is wrong or the information is sent to the wrong person.  In such cases attention is again focused on the processes to determine what went wrong and how it can be corrected.  The information is again invisible.

Making Information Visible

Information was heralded as the lifeblood flowing through organizations, but information is increasingly becoming invisible.  Information is becoming a taken for granted resource, such as electricity losing its visibility within the technology that uses it.

In the same way that sustainability initiatives seek to raise awareness of energy usage by making the use of energy visible through energy monitors, information needs to be made more visible to encourage users to think about how they are using and sharing information.  Greater visibility of information is needed in order to improve the quality and security of information, encouraging users of information technology to consider how they are using and managing information.

Developments in the design of information technology have made the technology increasingly invisible but we need to focus on the information being manipulated to make information visible in technology in order to effectively manage information.  For example, information can be moved from one folder to another with a simple action on many devices, but the information may be moved to a folder with different access rights and security controls.  Attention needs to be focused on the information being moved and the potential consequences of the action.


Further Reading:  Information technology is discussed in Chapter 3.


Please use the following to reference this blog post in your own work:

Cox, S. A., (2015), ‘Invisible Information in Invisible Information Technology’, 5 December 2015,, [Date accessed: dd:mm:yy]

© 2014 Sharon A Cox