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 HenrĂ­quez, 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.

1 comment:

  1. Confirming what others have written in your post, are the comments from a reader about the first doubletruck infographic I ever produced, "Inside the Chesapeake Bay," circa 1986. The graphic ran in a special section of The Virginian-Pilot about a day in the life of the bay.

    A reader called in to the paper a few days later to tell how he and his wife had poured over the graphic for three days (that's right, three days) at their breakfast table. "Each day," he said, "we learned something new about the bay."

    That same week while driving to the office in Norfolk from our home in Virginia Beach, I looked over while stopped in traffic to see a guy in the car next to me reading the special section. He had the center spread – my graphic – open across his steering wheel studying its contents.

    It confirmed for me the value of creating large, informative, "static" displays. If the content is compelling and you use layering and design the images and the text properly, you can include incredible amounts of detail and provide depth and context, on a level that interactive graphics cannot.

    I say let's keep both data graphics, with all their appeal and instructive capabilities, and print graphics alive for ourselves and others.

    -Bill Pitzer

    BTW: That first doubletruck was drawn with McDraw II, printed on letter-size paper, cut and pasted together to build the doubletruck, and all the color was hand-cut. (Those are days that, I DO NOT pine for). :-)

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