Infographics is a relatively new trend that gets more significance in our lives every day. I have been fascinated about possibility to group the data into more interesting and understandable charts for a while, but haven’t really taken initiative to do research in the field and apply the tools of infographics in daily life, particularly entrepreneurship. Startups tend to be more disruptive and innovative comparing to old companies, thus infographics should be very relevant for entrepreneurs to reimagine new ways to communicate the message to customers.
The popularity of infographics on google trends has been raising intensively from 2009 and now, in 2015 the word infographics is searched 10 times more often than in 2009. Importance of data visualisation is described in an interesting Stanford University research.
Today’s world is cramped with tons of information that can not be digested in many human lives and still growing. Every day people produce so many movies, ideas, thoughts, songs, graphs and various other data that information quickly becomes a spam if it is not well presented. As a result, startups have to find ways to communicate message in a clearer and more digestible way. What is this way?
Inspired by Crafting Stories With Data workshop done on Google Campus, would like to share some thoughts of how startups should not only create stories with spoken and written words, pictures and video, but also with data visualisation, in other words, infographics – presentation of data in a pictorial or graphical format.
The difference between data visualisation and infographics is very debatable. The term visualisation is more used in science and graphics is more used in art. Data and information are synonymous terms for facts, while visualisation and graphics are synonymous terms for Image. Consequently both names should mean the same, but people tend to interpret data visualisation as more quantitive, while infographics is both quantitive and non-quantitive, meaning that data visualisation is part of the larger infographics. Maps are probably the oldest data visualisations, which allowed people to navigate in a much easier way. Charts are a standard method for businesses to present complex data in an easier understandable format.
Infographics could be seen as an intersection between story and visual, data and visual, but preferably it is an intersection of all three: data, visual and story. Visual and data is core to Infographics. Data and story without visual representation clearly do not belong to infographics. Such clarity is not present in the intersection between story and visual, where art and infographics fields are intermixed. Lets not dive into the chaos of definition, but rather focus in the middle, where true benefits of infographics lay for the startups. What if startups would communicate their message in all dimensions at once?
Stories served long before humans discovered paper and been able to read and write. For many years it was the main medium to transfer the message. Now we have many other ways to present the message, but stories are still essential – 63% of presentation attendees remember stories and only 5% remember statistics, according to brother Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick book.
Stories have different shapes, but maintain somewhat common elements and final effect. American novelist Kurt Vonnegut describes stories as ups and downs, from good fortune to ill fortune.
Since humans rely heavily on the visual information, stories with visual context, infographics, has a lot of potential to enhance the information transferred. According to Brain Rules by John Medina, “the visual inputs seemed to trump their other highly trained senses”. Even wine tasting experts were fooled by eyes in the experiment at University of Bordeaux, when white wine was coloured with odourless and tasteless red dye. Research shows that people could remember 2500 pictures with about 63% accuracy one year after they saw picture for 10 seconds. Information presented orally is remembered by 10% of people after 72 hours, while it is 65% if the information is combined with picture.
Amazing example of how story could be told with data in the very simple, but effective way is presented in Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends & Influence People. Steel mill owner, famous American steel magnate C.M. Schwab wanted to raise the amount of steel produced, but couldn’t find the way to motivate workers. One day, just just before the night shift came on, Schwab asked the manager for a piece of chalk, then, turning to the nearest man, asked how many heats his shift made today. The man answered – six, Schwab drew a big figure six on the floor and walked away. When the night shift came in, they saw the six and asked what it meant. The big boss was in here today the dayshift people said. He asked how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor. The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out six and replaced it with a big seven. When the day shift reported for work the next morning, they saw a big seven chalked on the floor. So the night shift thought they were better than the day shift, did they? Well, they would show the night shift a thing or two. The crew pitched in with enthusiasm, and when they quit that night, they left behind them an enormous, swaggering 10. Things were stepping up. Shortly this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production, was turning out more work than any other mill in the plant.
Infographics solves the complexity issue. Startups have lots of data to share, graphs to show, information to present, but how to distinguish from competitors and how to catch an eye of potential customer? One potential answer could be found from Hans Rosling’s presentation of wealth and age relationship for 200 Countries in 200 Years in 4 Minutes – The Joy of Stats – BBC Four. Full interactive story with source code is available at http://bost.ocks.org/mike/nations/
Well made infographics could touch heart and brain. Wealth inequality in America video is presented here:
History of infographics could be captured at The Art of Data Visualization | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios:
Infographics could be interactive or static. Interactive infographics is the newest trend, allowing reader to check data that is relevant to him/her. It is however more difficult to make. New York Times made Facebook IPO presentation interactive – it was possible to compare IPO’s over time.
Infographics could reveal very interesting insights. For instance, in the last 30 years about 80% of four year deficit forecasts have been too optimistic in USA. One very interesting visualisation of the forecasts.
Infographics can help communicating difficult topics. For instance, since 2004, the US has been practicing a new kind of military operation, which uses drones to take out enemy targets, thus removing the risk of losing American military, saving money (it is much cheaper than deploying soldiers) and making it politically much easier to maneuver (i.e. flying a drone within Pakistan vs. sending troops). However, the success rate is low and the cost on civilian lives and the general well-being of the population is very high. The following infographic project helps to bring light on the topic:
Similarly, gun killing in USA statistics visualised here. It is even possible to track individual killing stories, arranged by gun type, race, sex, age group, region and relationship.
Interactive infographics helps to make it personal, which is so important for the startups to reach audience. Richest people are visualised in Bloomberg:
Lets shortly discuss the tools, which could be arranged into four categories: charting, visual, grammar, canvas. While charting are and visual tends to be more blackbox, limited, simple, quick and efficient, canvas and grammar tend to have characteristics of abstract, flexible, difficult, slow, code, expressive.
Charting (collection of fixed charts that require data to be shaped in a particular way)
Excel – well known tool.
Mondrian – free tool.
Many Eyes – by IBM – launched in 2007, closed in 2015. From the beginning it was very innovative tool, what IBM called a new democratization of visualization, allowing anyone to easily upload, visualize and share their data.
Google Charts – free to use tool.
HightCharts – free for non-commercial.
Visual (visual analysis language allowing flexibility to design many variants)
Tabley Public – free visualisation tool, but there are many non-free products.
PowerBI – Microsoft’s free tool.
Raw – Built on D3.js library. Free to use. Even though Raw is a web app, the data you upload will be processed only by the web browser. No server-side operations or storages are performed, no one will see, touch or copy your data! Primarily conceived as a tool for designers and vis geeks, Raw allows to export visualizations in vector (SVG) or raster (PNG) format and embed them in your web page.
Polestar – is a web-based visualization specification interface, inspired by Tableau. Analysts can rapidly generate visualizations as part of the data exploration process. Created by UW Interactive Data Lab. Free tool.
Gephi – an interactive visualization and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex systems, dynamic and hierarchical graphs. Runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Gephi is open-source and free.
Grammar (collection of graphical primitives for composing data driven graphics):
R-ggplot2 – plotting system for R, based on the grammar of graphics, which tries to take the good parts of base and lattice graphics and none of the bad parts. It takes care of many of the fiddly details that make plotting a hassle (like drawing legends) as well as providing a powerful model of graphics that makes it easy to produce complex multi-layered graphics.
SPSS – With SPSS predictive analytics software, you can predict with confidence what will happen next so that you can make smarter decisions, solve problems and improve outcomes.
plot.ly – free for community.
Bokeh – a Python interactive visualization library that targets modern web browsers for presentation. Its goal is to provide elegant, concise construction of novel graphics in the style of D3.js, but also deliver this capability with high-performance interactivity over very large or streaming datasets. Bokeh can help anyone who would like to quickly and easily create interactive plots, dashboards, and data applications. Open source.
Vega – offers a full declarative visualization grammar, suitable for expressive custom interactive visualization design and programmatic generation. Created by UW Interactive Data Lab.
Canvas (paint directly on a pixel grid, design and manage every element of chart):
Processing – flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts. Since 2001, Processing has promoted software literacy within the visual arts and visual literacy within technology. Free to download and open source. Interactive programs with 2D, 3D or PDF output. OpenGL integration for accelerated 2D and 3D. For GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. Over 100 libraries extend the core software. Well documented, with many books available
Nodebox – is ideal for rapid data visualization. NodeBox can import many data formats such as Excel spreadsheets and you can write your own data importers and exporters. Every parameter in NodeBox can be animated. Animations can be exported as common movie formats or as a sequence of images.
Sketchpad – aims to be a open studio for individuals learning to sketch beautiful code on the web canvas.
Paper.js – The Swiss Army Knife of Vector Graphics Scripting. It is an open source vector graphics scripting framework that runs on top of the HTML5 Canvas. It offers a clean Scene Graph / Document Object Model and a lot of powerful functionality to create and work with vector graphics and bezier curves, all neatly wrapped up in a well designed, consistent and clean programming interface.
Processing.js – a sister project of the popular Processing visual programming language, designed for the web. Processing.js makes your data visualizations, digital art, interactive animations, educational graphs, video games, etc. work using web standards and without any plug-ins. You write code using the Processing language, include it in your web page, and Processing.js does the rest. It’s not magic, but almost.