The sphere of Information Visualisation is in excellent shape heading into 2009.
Many blogs cover the subject. High profile companies specialise in it. Even a renaissance in UK newspapers and coffee table books seem to point at a new boom time for anyone organising visual information.
But this all seems a little insular.
To expand the audience of this specialist arena, practitioners need to focus their work on the mass audience. The values of the industry need to shift from the closed-shop craft and complexity to putting the needs of the user/audience first.
Three examples that typify this approach are as follows :
The first is from TV- from the BBC US election broadcast - and has Jeremy Vine speaking to a nice sequence/density of information. There have been some other sound Video Visualisations (see this post from a recent talk) , but I like this because instead of treating the graphical segment like the 'funnies' they are obviously taking this seriously.
One could say that this is a known territory - maps, data, elections. I still think it is excellent that they are putting this much content in this short a segment. They are providing high resolution data graphics for TV, and not just for entertainment.
I would like to see them do more of these 'explainers' of big subjects - I didn't see one about the financial crisis for instance. The storyboarding process would allow designers and journalists to collaborate properly as every second needs planning.
I really believe that the short explainer video is extremely important to many media companies and that this short-form fact-imparting is an area they should look to grow in. I am still suspicious about the mass market's want to get involved with various data-vis stuff and so this can provide stories and facts to those excluded by some of our more technical experimentation.
(if you are a news site with no web graphics team, get your daily staples from AP/PA/Reuters, get someone who can write code/visualise data, and get someone who can do video. You will be able to do visual reporting that differentiates you from the crowd.)
They are my favourite example of Interactive Data Vis this year. They tick many boxes.
Clearly labeled. What can I do?
Obvious functions. How can I do it?
Useful data. House prices, distance to work - human scale information rather than the avalanches of academic data-sets that often get thrown at us.
Fun metaphor. Its a map of London - we (Londoners) all understand it at least.
It is surprising how much stuff we see that doesn't really hit any of those bases.
I especially like the fact that it is Stamen who have done this. They are smart people and have some fascinating and cerebral work in their portfolio. I like the fact that by doing this sort of work so well they send a message to students and newcomers to the field that it is important to do the basics as well.
Phase one of this boom in online graphics was the Flash explainer typified by Elmundo/ElPais - lots of narrative data told in very slick animation. They were sound graphics and there is still a place for them - but I like them when they are simpler and then I wonder why I need to 'click-here' to keep it going. Turns out that 'the freedom' to look at your own pace might just be a massive hassle - just give them video instead?.
Phase two is this data reporting. I think it is less to do with the data about specific stories - house prices, elections etc - although they are nice when done simply.
I am more interested in the application of the world's free data to the presentation of News - my ex-colleague Dan Hill talked about Adaptive Design in this way - and another ex-colleague Matt Jones is exploring the effects of the world of data on the user-experience on his (and Matt B's) start-up at Dopplr. Some are doing it already but it is still along way to go before a mass market news product is ready.
So, obviously a online data-vis is a growth area - but I would say keep it simple, useful and permeate it across the whole experience - not just in the 'graphic areas'.
Finally I think this graphic from Publico in Spain is fantastic (2008 Spain Budget).
It signposts the subject really well - the begging hand.
It tells you how to read it - the flowing streams.
It presents and easy to read overall story and then a deeper level of readability for those who are interested.
This recent one on nuclear proliferation is typical of their purist approach and was the initial stimulus for this post, but in considering the best print graphic, I felt that the Publico one symbolised some important ideas for the industry.
The main reason is the originalty of the approach for such a standard story. Budgets and elections are staples of new design teams and what Publico did with this breathed new life into the subject for the mass market.
It is this catering to the mass market which is a rare and difficult trick to pull off. Many papers have aped the NYT's high resoution approach (and bubble charts) and just end up with impenetrable tableaux of data - a long way from readable and useful information.
It is the average designer's fault that they play to their peers and not those consuming their product and it is no different here - with graphic displays becoming too complex as these design teams search for respect everywhere but their audience.
Those who create and mediate visual information have a fantastic opportunity in 2009.
I'd like to see more short video explainers, useful online applications, and accessible graphic design.
It is up to the design community to re-calibrate their value system - to celebrate accessibility rather than complexity and look to serve their users rather than impress them.