Let’s start with a conversation about basketball before we dive into data visualization. In 1993, at age 30 and after leading the Chicago Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships, Michael Jordan (typically referred to as the best player of all time) announced his retirement from basketball to pursue a career in professional baseball. That second career lasted less than two full seasons in the minor leagues, where one of the greatest athletes of all time struggled to even be called “average.” He eventually returned to basketball and led the Bulls to three more championships. As amazing as he was, Jordan couldn’t transfer his ability into another “medium.” His years of honing his skills as a basketball player didn’t translate to baseball. His expertise in one sport did not automatically qualify him for success in another. This same principle holds true for data visualization. Too often, marketers, CEOs, data analysts and more assume that a data visualization is just a graphic with some charts on it and treat the design process as the same. This leads to poorly created visualizations, lengthy revision cycles and generally a dissatisfaction with the final product. Visual Communication through Data Visualization & Infographics Stand Apart from Graphic Design A painting, a piece of prose, a dance, a powerful concerto, or a line of poetry: Each of these is a separate and distinct medium of expression. Each invokes different reactions and emotions. Each works differently, and demands its own degree of expertise. It’s why Michael Jordan couldn’t hit a curve ball. Data visualization isn’t just an extension of graphic arts. It’s a medium that demands specific expertise. You may have that person in-house, in the form of an information designer, but many companies need to look externally for this resource. But, even with the right designer, your job is only just beginning. Good Visual Communication Design and Data Viz Start with Knowing Your Data Story Data visualizations are a unique communication medium in that they tell a complex data story visually. It’s crucial, then, that your visual communication projects start with a story. You have some information you want to share with your audience and you want it to inspire some action from them. Knowing the final objective of the visualization is so important that an experienced information designer or visualization agency won’t even begin designing until this step is accomplished. Finding that story can be difficult, especially when the impact of a data set isn’t clear. That’s where you can leverage additional resources to understand what your information actually means to people. Try these resources to help you interpret the story your data tells its target audience: Another Department in Your Company – other departments will bring their own perspective to the data and show you how it impacts the people they work with most often (prospects, existing clients, past clients, vendors, etc…) A Long-Standing Client – letting your trusted and long-standing clients look at your data and help you interpret what impact it has on them is a great way to get the general client perspective. An Experienced Data Visualization Agency – Data visualization agencies look at data every day and help companies tell the stories behind it. Use one as a resource to understand what your data can say. After you’ve decided on the story you want to tell, take a moment to be sure that your data actually backs it up. If your data doesn’t correlate, you can either find a different story or collect other data. Either solution, in the long run, is better than trying to force a visualization to represent the data in a way it doesn’t fit. Define the Audience for Your Visual Content Storytelling 101 (and thus, Marketing 101) is “know your audience.” Because data visualizations tend to tell a complex story, the more you know about the target audience, the more powerful the data visualization will be. By knowing your audience, you know how: Data should be gathered – Collecting the data that matters to the final audience the first time around saves time and money by avoiding costly re-gathering. Data should be set up for presentation – Knowing the expertise and experience of your audience allows you to know how complex the presentation can be (and how much background needs to be explained). The data visualization should be distributed – Getting your visualization in front of the right people means putting it where they’re already hanging out. Knowing your audience means that you know how to reach them. A final piece of visual content like a data visualization or infographic is often a static image – and that has led people to believe it’s just another “graphic design project”. Remember that visualization is its own communication medium, requiring a different level of expertise and different work before any lines are drawn. Get started right, and have the right members on your team, and you won’t be driving the lane when you should be swinging for the fences. If you feel you’re not getting full value from your organization’s available information, Boost Labs can help you unlock the business potential of your information through visual content marketing strategies and practical information design.
The total volume of information in the world is growing exponentially (actually, it’s doubling each year). On top of that, information is more important to marketing and business intelligence than it’s ever been. Because displaying that information in an easy-to-digest data visualization or infographic is so important, it’s crucial to have the right skillset on your visualization team. All designers handle the challenge of presenting information. Their objective is always to engage and enlighten, and often to persuade. However, not all designers are capable of presenting complicated data stories and insights in a way that is: Engaging Explanatory Easily absorbed Accurately portrayed Enter the information designer. How is an information designer different from a graphic designer? Let’s start with an analogy: Baseball pitchers and information designers have a lot in common. There are 9 men on the field for a professional baseball team at any given time, and they all have at least one thing in common: They can throw a ball fast and accurately. However, that doesn’t mean they can all pitch. There’s more to pitching than just throwing the ball hard and straight – it’s a specific talent and skillset that must be found and cultivated. The same is true of information designers. Most professional designers are skilled at using layout, color and other graphical elements to make the presentation of information attractive and readable. But, typical graphic designers tend to be concerned with generating an emotional response only in the viewer. The information designer, on the other hand, tackles different communications challenges. While an information designer’s final product must be attractive and eye-catching, their true job is to connect intellectually with emotion. That means that an information designer will place a higher priority on accuracy and ease of data consumption within an aesthetically pleasing visual context. However, engaging graphics are still a key part of their responsibility. Information designers don’t abandon the idea of having a visually compelling end-product – they simply make sure that their presentation decisions reinforce the data instead of obscuring it. What makes an information designer special? First and foremost, a good information designer needs to be a good graphic designer. The skillset required to create great data visualizations and infographics includes the same graphic design understanding and training of a traditional designer. As a general rule, an information designer is fully capable of handling the role of a traditional graphic designer. The opposite, however, cannot be said. A good information designer has additional skills that lend themselves toward understanding and presenting data. For some, these come from a background in mathematics, statistics, or research. For others, it may be business school or management training. Whatever the reason, data speaks to these people and they are able to coherently “speak data” to others. Put plainly, an information designer will be better equipped to understand the story within your data and then tell it with a data visualization. That means they can: Create the project more efficiently Notice discrepancies or other issues with the data set Offer insight into better ways to reach your objectives Work directly with analysts to find additional data points Sharing the tremendous amount of data you have is a challenge. Build your data visualization team with an information designer at its core, and you have an advantage that leads directly to an amazing final product. If you feel you’re not getting full value from your organization’s available information, Boost Labs can help you unlock the business potential of your information through visual content marketing strategies and practical information design.
The old saying that “a picture is worth 1000 words” is a bit overused these days… but that’s probably because it succinctly gets the point across: A concept is easier to understand when it’s visualized. That concept goes one step further with the advent of motion graphics. Relative newcomers to the world of visual content marketing, motion graphics inspire a lot of questions. In order to help see where they fit into your overall marketing plan, we’ve compiled five of the most commonly asked questions about motion graphics (and, of course, answered them): Motion Graphic FAQ #1: What is a motion graphic? Simply put, a motion graphic is an infographic with animated elements. Like infographics, they are often focused on presenting complex data in an interesting and easily-absorbed fashion. By giving traditional infographics dynamic movement and interaction, they become much more compelling and engaging. For an example, check out this motion graphic we made for the AANAPISI. What about Interaction? When you add interactive elements to an infographic it’s more commonly referred to as an interactive visualization than a motion graphic. Motion Graphic FAQ #2: How are motion graphics delivered? While the delivery method you choose typically depends on how you want to communicate with your audience, motion graphics are most typically delivered as a video. To distribute the video, people frequently use video distribution sites like YouTube or Vimeo, HTML5 video plugins or even embedded flash video. Motion Graphic FAQ #3: When is it appropriate to use a motion graphic vs. a static graphic? Motion graphics are most valuable as an overview of a specific subject or concept. For someone learning about a topic for the first time, a motion graphic can provide an overview that is engaging and explanatory. Because of this, many motion graphics are used at the beginning of a live presentation to draw in the audience and present an introduction or summary of the data to come. However, outside of a live presentation or first time overview, viewers may become restless if they want to jump into specifics and have to sit through the video to get to them. Additionally, the cleverness and style of a motion graphic can become stale when people view it multiple times. If your goal is to make a statement and get an audience started on a topic, then a motion graphic is an excellent choice. If you’re presenting data that requires deeper and repeated examination, a static information graphic or interactive visualization are better options. Motion Graphic FAQ #4: How do you build one? At the end of the day, making a motion graphic is very much like making an animated movie containing many simplified infographics. Because of that, the steps to create a great motion graphic look very much like the movie-making process: Start with a story – Before you can begin any motion graphic, you need to decide what the story you’re trying to tell is. (And, of course, you must have collected the data the story will come from.) Create a script – Unlike a static infographic, which is typically used to highlight key points of a data story, motion graphics focus on having a conversation about all or (more likely) part of the story. That means you need to know where the conversation will start and end – what you expect people to know coming into, and then leaving your motion graphic. Develop a storyboard – Once your script is outlined, the design stage begins. A storyboard is created based on the script with appropriate visuals designed to back up what’s being said. A word about length: It’s tempting to want to create a motion-graphic with the same length considerations as live video (for example, 2-3 minutes seems easy and doable). However, because of the animated/slide-based nature of motion graphics, a much shorter production is usually better. 2-3 minutes of motion graphic is somewhere around 45 slides of content. Production – After all the planning is done, it’s time to create the final visuals, get the audio cut and stitch it all together into the final product. Remember not to rush through this process. For the final product to tell the right story and reflect the professionalism of your brand, it’s important to go through each of these stages and take the time to do them right. Motion Graphic FAQ #5: What’s the difference between a good and bad motion graphic? As with all messaging, storytelling is key. A good motion graphic tells a compelling narrative, with the visual elements backing up the story and reinforcing the message. A bad motion graphic may include breaks, gaps, skips, confusing non sequiturs, mixed messages, unnecessary data (overloading the screen to make data absorption difficult), too much text on screen, headlines that don’t match with the supporting data and other pitfalls that hinder the story being told. To avoid these issues, ask people you trust to critique your motion graphic during the development stage. If they see a rough clip, and there are parts that are confusing them, edit or rework accordingly. The key is to do this earlier instead of later: Static infographics are relatively easy to rework, but a motion graphic with audio tracks and animation are much harder to change. Do you have any unanswered questions about motion graphics? Contact us and one of our data design specialists can answer your questions and help determine the right approach for your next visualization. All Boost Labs Data Visualization Services