Putting together a chart or a graphic that tries to share an insight is one of the most interesting parts of my work. Perhaps even more interesting though, is working out what people have actually taken away in their heads.
Most all of us have played Chinese whispers, and we totally get that the things we say aren’t always the things people hear. Sometimes though this isn’t just what we say and how it’s changed. Sometimes it’s what we seem to have implied, even if we didn’t mean to imply anything at all. Watching this whole other set of communication in how graphics communicate information can really stretch your mind.
A really cool way of seeing the impact of something like this is looking at the map of the London underground versus the actual map of London (thanx Infosthetics). Another way to see an impact is to look at diagram like the one below. If you saw it as a conceptual diagram then you might not think anything of the relative sizing of groups, but if you saw it as a true Venn diagram where shapes and overlaps represented meaningful relationships, sizes and overlaps your interpretation would be very different.
I try to be aware of what the graphic I build might be saying to someone beyond the thing I am trying to communicate, but generally all doing this does is teach me is that people can be very creative in applying meaning. There is a movement at hand to to ensure news infographics are based in fact and have some integrity. But how would we even know?
It’s a fun challenge isn’t it 🙂
PS. “Data isn’t like your kids. You don’t have to pretend to love them equally” – Amanda Cox (New York Times Graphic Editor)
Check out this article from an interview with Ken Rudin, VP of Analytics & Platform Technologies at Zynga (the makers of Farmville)
Do you ever wonder if doing really great work is enough? I regularly argue that it isn’t.
All of the interactive reporting tools and analytical graphics I build would mean very little to me if I hadn’t changed people’s understanding of their world. And I only really know this from some of the different questions people ask and the things they say (and don’t say anymore).
Maybe this is what people mean when they say I set very high standards. Maybe it just means that I’m destined to rarely ever be truly happy since getting an output to make noticeable impact on people is a very high bar.
Or maybe I just have delusions of grandeur…
PS. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
…actually it’s INCREDIBLY easy to criticise. Something that has probably not escaped Good and Greg Hubacek this week. Together they released an infographic joining together High School completion rates, College Degree completion rates, and median income levels across county’s across the US. I have included a small picture of it here. According to most commenter’s, making the picture bigger probably won’t help it be more meaningful or easier to understand.
Building tools that try to simply communicate elements (which is essentially what I and many others do), isn’t easy. Having a bunch of people essentially providing fairly negative commentary on your work publicly would not be nice either. For all any of us know, there may have been limits imposed on the team that gave them fewer options (I know what that is like), there may have been ideas they were stuck with using (one of their responses to comments mentions how they didn’t include interactivity). In any case, being a little colour blind, I’m not really able to know how difficult this is to pick this up. Certainly I struggled, but that does happen to me (eg. sometimes when I’m shopping and get asked for the purple shirt – “no, not the blue one”).
Rather than just add to the comments about this one. I decided I would try and do something with it. Nothing may come of it. It might be that it just sits there as a monument to a few wasted hours I won’t get back.
– But at least I will have done something and not just been part of the noise.
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little” – Edmund Burke
The Rally to restore Sanity and or Fear was held recently with bunches of great signs on display. This one caught my eye for many reasons. Its simple. Its asks the reader for more of themselves. It doesn’t tell them how to think, only to think.
I can be a little difficult to work with because I don’t give easy answers (instead I add a tougher question or two). I tend to build in more details for people to look at so they can come to a conclusion (not remove them in place of a pithy comment). And I ask serious questions about integrity of the information at hand (and have even suggested that no data would have been better than some).
We do have a focus now in the world on the headline, the topline, the elevator pitch, the ‘skinny’, etc. Sometimes people give excellent summaries that cut to the very heart of a problem and its optimal solution – and sometimes they don’t.
Can you tell which is which?
Is it who it comes from? Is it how they say it? Is it that other people are saying it with them?
But maybe I am being too harsh and overly concerned with unnecessary details…
Headlines Rule – Its all people read anyway 🙂
PS. “This is the problem of attention-span. To understand something—an essay, an argument, a proof of innocence—requires a certain amount of attention. But on many issues, the average, or even rational, amount of attention given to understand many of these correlations, and their defamatory implications, is almost always less than the amount of time required. The result is a systemic misunderstanding–at least if the story is reported in a context, or in a manner, that does not neutralize such misunderstanding. The listing and correlating of data hardly qualifies as such a context. Understanding how and why some stories will be understood, or not understood, provides the key to grasping what is wrong with the tyranny of transparency.” – Larry Lessig via O’Reilly Radar
A TED talk by a “data journalist” David McCandless (same video at Youtube) highlighted that the display of information is more and more critical in influencing the world we live in – love his graphic of Facebook status updates about break ups. And what better way to display information than in an infographic, and gee these are appearing everywhere on almost every topic – even South Park. While some argue that this proliferation is perhaps not always done out of the desire for increased objective understanding of data, there is certainly a need for anyone displaying data (which includes me when I am working) to find a compelling way to display that data so that is tells a story.
To make all of this work though we first need to have the data, the understanding and the desire…
The Data – I read a few Gov 2.0 type blogs which talk about government departments and agencies making their information available to anyone and then people being able to use it (however they want). Some agencies are taking this a step further and allowing anyone to create an application which can use the open data sets which anyone can then use to make use of the data. What is basically happening here is the analysis tool development for the data is being crowd sourced.
The Understanding – This is what I now think has started to become the next version of the use of the wisdom of the crowd by taking it from more simplistic tasks – such as come up with a new slogan or product name (iSnack 2.0) or send in your photo (NothingLikeAustralia.com) – to much more complex elements that often require teams to work together – such as BrownCoats: Redemption, or the amazingly geeky Star Wars Uncut project – or do work of very high complexity with high production values – such as this short film which got its maker a US$30mil Hollywood contact.
The Desire – Something from a recent article on a conversation between Dan Pink and Clay Shirky reminded me of how this sounds when someone says it:
Pink: Think about open source software in general—whether it’s Linux or Apache. Suppose I’d gone to an economist or management consultant 25 years ago and said, “I’ve got a cool new business model for making software. Here’s how it works: A bunch of intrinsically motivated people around the world get together to do technically sophisticated stuff for no pay. And then after working really hard, they give away their product for free. Trust me: It’s going to be huge.”
There are so many data sets that are available. Would it hurt for any of us to think about how we might make the best use of the crowd (or the best people in the crowd) once in a while to help us display the data for our industry?
PS. “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” – Mark Twain