Explanation first, then overview, zoom, and the rest of it

In reply to my previous post about the functions of interactivity Eugene Tjoa advocates more attention to explanation in interactive infographics. I totally agree with him. Information visualization has a very fruitful influence on the design of infographics but most infovis techniques are developed for specialists, not for a general audience. Furthermore, there are no general accepted conventions (yet) about the interaction design of visualizations. And although recent research suggests that visual difficulties can stimulate engagement and active processing of information, I think it’s a good idea to at least initially give users of interactives some clues about what they are looking at and how they can play with it.

At the New York Times they call these clues the ‘annotation layer’ and they take them very seriously. At last year’s edition of the Eyeo Festival, Amanda Cox of The Times graphics department stated that “the annotation layer is the most important thing we do.” Without it, she explained, it’s like saying to your audience: “Here’s an interface, now go ahead and browse for the rest of your life.” If you missed her presentation, be sure to watch the video.

The BBC also often adds a layer of annotation to its interactives. Literally. A good example is their interactive map of deathly accidents on British roads between 1999 and 2008. On opening the page, the actual map is partly hidden behind an overlay with a text that explains what data is visualized and how it can be manipulated. After this ‘window’ is closed, smaller overlays indicate the three ‘manipulation modalities’: you can enter your postcode, zoom in on the map or specify a year.

But when it comes to explanation, even the BBC can’t compete with The LRA Crisis Tracker. The smooth design of this interactive map and timeline in a way conflicts with its sinister content. The website offers a live overview of the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa. Visitors can track the number of abductions, mutilations and killings in real time.

Maybe it’s because of the gravity of the data that so much attention is paid to clarifying them. On your first visit you are automatically presented an overlay with a movie that explains what the site and the data are about. After closing the video player or on subsequent visits, the map and the timeline present themselves with a small animation that highlights the different interactive options and gives you a feeling for the amount of data. It’s like the designers adapted the famous visualization mantra to: Explanation first, then overview, zoom, filter, and details-on-demand. Unfortunately the animation doesn’t run as smoothly anymore as it probably did when the site was launched. Sad but true, the likely cause is the increase of woeful incidents.

Datavis in motion: pitfalls and possibilities

This blog has been hibernating for far too long. I have promised myself many times to revive it, but there always were other and more urgent things to do: preparing workshops, teaching classes, reading theses, and, last but not least, changing jobs. But today a very nice e-mail from a Norwegian student told me that there are actually some people out there who look forward to new posts and that really is the best incentive you can wish for. So no more excuses, time to get interactive again!

Plenty to write about for sure. Interactive infographics are in the spotlight more then ever, data visualization really is in motion. That is exactly the name of a seminar I have organized together with Eugène Tjoa and Statistics Netherlands. On February 3th we will discuss the pitfalls and possibilities of interactive data visualizations. Among the speakers are Jerry Vermanen, who created a platform for Dutch data journalists, Thomas Clever, one of the founders of design bureau CLEVER°FRANKE, and freelance information visualizer Jan Willem Tulp.

No datavis conference without a datavis challenge. We provided three sets of data (about changes in the dwelling stock, consumer confidence and agriculture) and asked participants to use one or more of these sets to create an interactive visualization for a general public. We explicitly also invited designers with little experience.

The submission deadline closed last week so you can no longer participate. But you can take a look at the submissions. It’s fascinating to see how different designers, with different tools and techniques have created complete different interactives based on the same data. The jury has already made up its mind but feel free to share your thoughts. Which design do you like best? And, most important to me, what do you think about the use of interactivity?

Looking forward to the Infographics Creation Tool

Visual.ly is a nice website that collects examples of data visualizations. But it’s also a company that is building a tool that promises you to easily create sophisticated (interactive) infographics. In the Eager Eyes of Robert Kosara this tool holds no less then The Future of Data-Based Infographics. Read his crystal clear post and you can only agree:

The key difference between visualization and infographics is that the former is easy to automate and generic, while the latter are specific and usually hand-drawn. Now imagine a better way to create infographics based on data: a way that lets designers work with numbers more easily to create graphics that are visually exciting while still true to the data; a way that encourages and embodies best practices in visualization for designers. That’s Visual.ly.

The image below shows a mock-up of the tool. Note the Action palette at the bottom right. I, for one, am really looking forward to a working demo!

Cool stuff from the lab

It may sound like some obscure location where the US military conducts experiments but the DoD Lab actually is a very interesting Dutch website about open data, visualization, and journalism. It offers a extensive list of links to Dutch and international data sources and showcases some nice examples of Dutch infographics you won’t find on other English blogs. But international work is featured as well, like this interactive by The New York Times that puts the spotlight on some products that really come out of the Lab of that other DoD: the Department of Defense.

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, ABCNews.com, 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.

Journalisten moeten meer experimenteren met InfoVis

Information Visualization is een populair onderwerp, ook in Nederland. Journalisten zouden meer moeten experimenteren met nieuwe technieken om informatie in beeld te brengen. Daarbij geldt het aloude adagium: vorm volgt functie. Continue reading Journalisten moeten meer experimenteren met InfoVis

Information overload bestaat niet

Het is een ritueel. Je komt thuis van vakantie, zet de ramen open, neemt weer bezit van je eigen huis. En dan komt het moment waarop je gaat zitten om de stapel kranten door te bladeren. Wat is er gebeurd tijdens mijn afwezigheid? Wat heb ik gemist?

Zo ging het althans in de tijd voor internet. Sindsdien is het ritueel uitgebreid. Zo ergens tussen het inspecteren van de inhoud van de ijskast en het uitpakken van de koffers komt nu het moment waarop je de computer aanzet en wordt geconfronteerd met de schaduwkanten van de digitale revolutie. Die stapel kranten krijg je nog wel weg. En uiteindelijk zal het ook wel lukken het elektronische postvak op te schonen. Maar wat te doen met die meer dan duizend ongelezen berichten in je RSS-reader? In een klap is het onbezorgde vakantiegevoel vervlogen en voel je je bedolven onder een overweldigende vracht aan informatie.
Continue reading Information overload bestaat niet