Why are Digital Story-Tellers Still Thinking in Terms of Paper?

Newsweek best countries

I was discussing infographics with Joe Chernov at Eloqua for an upcoming post he was working on and wanted to bring that conversation here. What makes a good infographic?

A good infographic starts with a good "why" question. Even if you're trying to prove a theory, it's important to keep an open mind to the data you find. And please do keep in mind where you're going with the answer.

Looking into an issue credibly means using data sets and information from reliable sources and expressing the resulting point of view in a compelling visual story that carries the meaning to its intended audience.

The aim should be to make the complex easy to access and digest, and answer a question — not just throw a bunch of random numbers on a graphic. Especially not that if you're sharing information that you hope will net you a business decision.

Because in that case, what you have is the cousin of a bad PowerPoint deck. No point in sight.

There is also another kid of opportunity digital storytellers are missing when they're still thinking in terms of paper.

An example of an early print project executed using infographics was Understanding — a book published by TED Conferences Inc. and curated by Richard Saul Worman in 1999 with the support of several organizations.

The goal was to make public information easily accessible, available, and understandable through presentation, design, and good structuring. Worman asked several information design professionals to contribute to the project.

Which was about answering the simple, basic questions in the minds of the American people with clarity. Because, as in the curator's forward own words, understanding information is power. A book can move people to action. See what happened with Be Outraged! The message it carried spread with the form and tone used to communicate it.

While Understanding, which I own courtesy of project sponsor Steelcase Inc., is visually compelling, it also had its flaws — lack of indexing and overlap of data sets in several sections made it hard to use. Pity that the site is no longer live. Maybe the digital format included some of these features.

This is the kind of project that warrants a more 3-D experience. Using links and shortcuts, explanation boxes that expand on roll over and overall better accessibility for those who don't live and breathe data and information.

Many of these features are not yet employed by current infographics. We are still designing for the paper medium, even online where we could architect deeper experiences, allowing people to change variables, look deeper into data sets and see sources/combine elements, etc.

I even wonder if this is where multimedia skill-level games meet business in terms of production and user adoption.

People have a much higher threshold for complexity when playing a game — dealing with changing context and situations, tracking competition, etc. — and if we manage to write the correct rules into them, we could come up with some pretty compelling results of evolving data in the stream.

In return, we would get to observe the paths charted by those interacting with the information and data. Improving the overall experience and usability would come next. And with that a potential opening for co-creation.

Good infographics are faithful if creative representations of serious inquiry. Great infographics show us what is possible.

Have you seen any great infographics lately?

UPDATE [9.16.2011]: Here's a good example of an interactive, JavaScript enabled infographic depicting the State of the Internet in 2011.


[screen shot of interactive infographic of the world's best countries at Newsweek]

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