You will need to scroll quite a bit in this post. (when the page has finally loaded)
Sorry about that - but at least it illustrated nicely what I mean by a Tower Graphic.
I've just had a chat with the excellent Tom Pearson. He is a software engineer at BBC News and when he mentioned what he called 'Tumblr Graphics', I was reminded of these massive things I've been seeing online.
You will have seen them in many blogs, everywhere in fact. Phil Gyford rightly lampooned the majority of them here.
Tom mentioned that they are 'Tumblr' in style - i like that phrase - they certainly acknowledge the scroll of a screen. (which to me must be better than the next, next, next, of many 'paginated' graphics.) I thought I'd call them 'tower' as that may speak to the megalomaniacal glee with which many seem to have been executed.
Typically taking up several screen-depths, they are rarely structured, with the exception of a unifying subject and background colour and typically stylish 'style-guide'.
But-it cannot be all bad can it? If the purpose of structure is to direct to content, the user already knows that to scroll will enable that, so why shouldn't the designer concentrate on the information- elements on this expansive canvas, rather than mangling them through some clever trope?
Every time I try to hate these, I imagine people who are just interested in the facts finding them easy to use. (albeit hard to search and re-size etc etc).
This immediate gratification is something quite satisfying. Tom mentioned it is echoed in the production of flash movies which bake in all their content - the baking-in helping their sendability and virality. Often these tower graphics comment on popular ideas, again, making them sendable social currency. Other baked in stuff, going against the open, searchable text principles are the explosion of informative videos like here
Anyone in telly may say that this is not so new - but I think that for those at the cutting edge of say, design (like dan), to be using good old fashioned video says something about a want for universal understanding (go on , read dans post, it features some cracking work)
These tower graphics and videos are going against themassive complexity of other modern data-vis too. They are rejecting the pull of making expert interfaces for experts and awards panels, leaving the average user blank. I like that there are some new simple forms - like these old, archetypal USA Today graphics. (but will I ever love them? probably not - but I 'quite like' baked beans - I don't need to love them)
I am not sure of their intention - I am deeply suspicious of many designer's motives in using the motifs of information design to add backbone to their flimsy scribbles. But some of these are quite good. Lots of shite TV doesn't make Mad Men unwatchable.
*Wait a minute* I hear myself say, we did one for 9/11 - showing who was on which floor. I think it is still conceptually sound but I would say that.
More interesting is that the NYT, and BBC andElpais are now using large single page graphics online - using the whole page - rather than paginating. Nice and simple - seems good. But there may be a flip side:
I think the use of these, first published in the paper and/or videos (maybe ripped from any TV video news graphics) will push back on the need for those 'web-skills' - of useful visualising and interaction design skills, that have been a little squandered in ornate visualisations. (With many media outlets looking to save costs, the online design people had better start thinking of their ROI. News sites have never used these full page graphics much before and this is new.)
From El Pais:
So - much as there is a lot to dislike, they shine a light on the place I am most interested in these days - how you get most people to understand something. Not your design pals, not awards juries but normal people.
These are brutish and unsophisticated and I am sure that the public deserves better, but they have they have the balls to gatecrash the haughty party of modern information visualisation - and that is good.
I'm starting a new job soon - more in another post - and I think I'll start blogging more - there is an increasing amount happening in information design.