It’s the story, stupid

It may well be the most famous interactive infographic: Gapminder World, the interactive and animated graph showing the wealth and health of nations since 1800. Of course it is renowned for its clear and innovative design and the importance of the data is represents. But most of all its fame is based on the inspiring TED presentations of Hans Rosling, the creator of the underlying trendalyzer software and a passionate advocate of a data driven approach to world development.

For me the most important message of these talks is the importance of a story. Animation and interaction are nice, but adding narrative really can make an infographic powerful. Rosling’s recent presentation about a the “front-page-worthy good news” that we’re winning the war against child mortality is the latest illustration of this fact. Bill Clinton would say: it’s the story, stupid!

Dashboard of Digital Live

Before I decided to write a thesis about interactive infographics I wrote a research proposal for a study into the digital habits of online news consumers. The working title read: What are they doing online? The answer to this question is (at least partly) given by TNS. This custom research agency surveyed almost 50,000 consumers across 46 countries about their online behaviour and perspectives. The results of this Global Digital Life research project are beautifully visualized in a interactive dashboard that allows users to compare the internet penetration and digital lifestyles in different countries and between different generations. Some of the key finding: Globally, people who have online access have digital sources as their number one media channel and, on average, they are spending more time on social networks than on email. To be honest I find the interface more interesting than these results, so I’m glad I changed my subject.

Not so interactive slideshow

In their article Narrative Visualization: Telling Stories with Data (pdf) – that I found thanks to this must-see interactive movie about data journalism – Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer define 7 basic genres of narrative visualization (magazine style, annotated chart, partitioned poster, flow chart, comic strip, slideshow, and film/video/animation) and three schemas that are widely used to tell stories with (visual) data:

  • The Martini Glass structure; a linear narrative that only allows user interaction when the story is finished,
  • The Drill-Down Story; a presentation that lets the user dictate what stories are told and when, without a prescribed ordering.
  • The Interactive Slideshow; a regular slideshow that incorporates interaction on its slides.

That last model obviously was what The Guardian had in mind when it decided to create an interactive about the trapped miners in Chili. A good idea, but the implementation is a bit sloppy. It’s for example easy to miss the tiny ‘next’ button at the bottom because the slideshow hardly fits on the screen of a laptop. The slides are heavy loaded with text but miss headings that guide you through the story. And isn’t a ‘back’ button a basic requirement for an interactive slideshow?

Networking the News

Last week I wrote about the Notable Names Database, an interactive network diagram that allows you to explore the connection between all kind of famous people. Of course you can do the same with stories in the news. Slade Magazine did exactly that. News Dots visualizes the connections between recent topics in the news as a giant social network. Subjects are represented by circles that are connected if they appear together in at least two stories. The size of the dot is proportional to the total number of times the subject is mentioned. Clicking a circle reveals the stories that mention them. Be sure to also check some other experiments in the Slade Labs of multimedia journalism (via).

Telling stories with data, the movie

After the nice video portrait of the graphic department of the New York Times in July and the very inspiring TED-talk by David McCandless in August, September brings us the ultimate video about telling stories with data. Geoff McGhee, who worked at The New York Times,, and Le Monde Interactif, spent a year at Stanford University studying data visualization. The result: a must-see interactive documentary about Journalism in the Age of Data.

Banks that went bust

The financial crisis may be well over its peak, in the United States banks keep collapsing every month. The Wall Street Journal mapped all bank failures since January 2008. The timeline automatically starts to play as soon as the application is loaded. And although there’s some discussion about the effectiveness of animation, the boxes that appear at the end of it to explain how to manipulate the data sure add to the maps usability.

Augmented infographics

For over thirty years scholars have been trying to define interactivity – with still no consensus in sight. One definition of the concept focus on the potential ability of users to exert an influence on the content and/or form of the mediated communication (see for example Steuer (1992) and Jensen (1998, pdf)). Following this conceptualization, augmented reality can be considered to be a kind of interactivity, because it allows users to influence what they see in reality by using a (mobile) device. German student Mark Lukas created a prototype to show how the technique could be used to add a third dimension to infographics in a book. Nice. (via)