Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There's beauty in print graphics

Graphic by Archie Tse. The New York Times, November 21st, 2012

Among the many posts and articles about infographics and data visualization published this week, this interview with Andy Kirk, of VisualisingData fame, stood out for me, particularly because of this paragraph:

"I personally think the most elegant work is a static, that conveys motion and emotion. Perhaps I’m biased in this as I don’t have the advanced programming skills to create all the interactives that I’d like to build in my head. But I personally think it’s amazing what can be done (in print) and is being done."

I wish we had more comparative research about the strengths and weaknesses of static versus interactive presentations. I was reminded of this recently not only by Andy's words, but also by Hiram Henríquez, a Florida-based infographics artist who has thought deeply about the emotional attachment audiences may feel to well designed, carefully crafted print displays. Hiram believes that readers don't pay as much attention to interactive graphics as they do to their static counterparts.

According to Hiram, large print graphs, diagrams, and maps, as the one that opens this post —a double page magnificent monster published today by The New York Times— prompt you to stop, read, explore, and enjoy the composition in its entirety. Everything is visible at once. You don't need to click on buttons to reveal a particular piece of information. Moreover, the size of the graphic itself can contribute to its effectiveness, as I wrote a while ago. Hiram conjectures that interactive graphics are more likely to be consumed hastily, as users can focus just on what they are interested in beforehand, and ignore the rest. The trees, instead of the forest, the details and not their broader context. I'm not sure that this is true in every case, but it's an interesting hypothesis.