Tuesday, 27 March 2012

You are all explorers now

I observe many infographics which serve no real purpose other than to convey a simple statistic that could quite easily be expressed in just a few simple words. These visuals are the bullet points in our field, spoon-feeding the reader with snippets of information that they are forced to accept at face value. While it is true that they serve a purpose as far as attracting attention, they do nothing to encourage exploration or allow the reader to contemplate deeply about the subject. I don’t have a problem with this practice as such, however it is important to carefully consider the needs of the audience and I see these types of visuals being used far more frequently than I think is useful. It would be easy to point fingers at the designer at this point, citing a lack of effort or understanding of the subject. The culprit though can probably be traced back to poor data selection from the outset. No matter how talented an individual is in bringing data to life, if that data is merely just a few predetermined percentages extracted from a paragraph of text there is little that can be done. On many occasions those asked to visualise this data would not be permitted to introduce new information of their own, possibly through fear that the visual will tell a different story from what the client intended. Designers are asked to mold this data in a similar fashion to an artist molds clay, except you wouldn’t provide an artist with poor quality clay from the Early Learning Center and expect a masterpiece.

Having worked within the journalism field for a few moths now I know of these frustrations first hand. I feel incredibly lucky though that I am given a reasonable amount of freedom to research around the stories we cover and introduce new data which I feel is worth exploring. Until now I have always created charts for articles that were being written, however my latest piece is from a dataset I stumbled across and though would be worth exploring regardless of its relevance to any particular current event. It examines 24 countries in Europe and their commitment to renewable energy. This is not designed to answer a predefined question or tell a story in a particular way. This lack of initial guidance therefore requires a certain amount of effort on the readers part, however the freedom this approach offers much appeal to myself and highlights the real potential of information design.

Click here for larger version — iPad users click here

Once again I have used per capita figures because I believe that this is the fairest way to compare countries of various sizes. More specifically I have used population figures of those of working age to show what percentage of the total workforce is employed in renewables. Likewise I have shown the amount of turnover from these sectors as a percentage of each countries GDP. I’m not going to offer any further explanation, I hope you will take a little time to scrutinise over it yourselves and make your own discoveries. As ever I would really appreciate any feedback on this as I hope to push this type of work in the future.

The article that was written to accompany this graphic can be seen >here

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