Posted by: structureofnews | September 2, 2011

Keeping It Simple

Just a quick post to highlight a Forbes Q&A with Wilson Andrews of the Washington Post, who’s done some amazingly good interactive graphics for the paper.  It’s not a long piece, and his work speaks for itself, but it’s worth noting one comment from the Q&A about the need for smart yet simple graphics.

So much of visualization is creating a clear and nearly-instant understanding of the main story that is being told. When designing a viz, I try to start at the simplest possible design and only add things like movement and interaction if they increase clarity and understanding. Static illustrations are sometimes easier to grasp, so there is much merit in utilizing that type of simple visual element.

There’s a great – and understandable – desire to add more bells and whistles to every interactive, and to try out the latest capabilities whenever a new piece of software rolls out.   And by and large that’s a good impulse.  But as Wilson points out, the critical issue is whether you can tell a story well in visual form, and that often requires simplicity rather than complexity.

That said, this is a fast-evolving field. What seems intuitive today – drag and drop, mouseovers, etc – didn’t exist only 20-some years ago.  Readers/users are evolving as well, and as they get more comfortable with new ways of seeing, and doing things, so too should our expectations of them.

Film editing used to be much slower – just look at any 1950s movie.  But along came MTV (and before that, “Breathless“) and now jump cuts don’t faze anyone any more.   So “simple” is relative – as they audience evolves, so will the definition of simplicity.  And different audiences will have different levels of sophistication and understanding of what that means.  But wherever the standard is, it’s a good one to strive for.



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