See how they all dance together

I saw two things on Twitter recently that got me very excited but that also might sound the death knell of my blog.

Telling Information came about through my desire to rationalise all the things that contribute to the making of good infographics today and give me more of a clue about where the future might be heading. (With hindsight I think that might have been more accurate written as ‘where my future might be heading’.)

These two things I’ve just seen on Twitter crystallise my take on those two questions. So maybe the blog’s job is done?

The making of good infographics

This was a tweet from GDS Head of Design Ben Terrett fresh off the back of winning their D&AD Black Pencil for doing exactly this.

It really chimes with what I was getting at by recently changing my Twitter bio to saying something about working to combine words, images and numbers in such a way that they help each other out. It runs the risk of sounding trite but this really is the essence of what I have learnt about how infographics can be best applied in journalism. It is the essence of a good infographic. It is what is lacking in infoguff. I’ve alluded to this previously on the blog in terms of ‘saying what you see’, integrated editorial design and the difference between infographics and illustration.

And I recognise that design and writing working together is a lesson that can be applied much more widely than just journalism. It’s something most people in most workplaces have to grapple with yet bizarrely it’s not a skillset our education system serves very well.

Where the my future might be heading
The second tweet I saw was Bret Victor’s most recent presentation at MIT’s Media Lab which – through my interpretation – takes this idea of design and writing working together and runs with it into the future.

His talk is fascinating, posing the challenge that we need a new way to think about systems. However it’s the demonstrations upon which he builds up his argument that have got me so excited. They provide solutions to problems I have come across as an infographic designer.

I’d recommend watching the full 40mins but if you’re short of time first hop to 3:20 and watch for 2 minutes to see ‘words and pictures very tightly intertwined’ such that you don’t have to construct a picture in your head, you can just see it. *Vigorous head nodding* (Spot the same the principle of using design and words to work together from earlier? That’s integrated design.)

Then hop to 16:45 and listen for another two minutes. He demonstrates five representations of the same system and you can see how they all dance together. In the past I have linked to data that sings and the magic of data. Let’s have it dancing now too. You see the system from so many different angles that you can feel your way around it. *Envious sigh* The importance of getting a feel for data and the value of getting users to interact with the data have long been pet themes of mine.

And if you’re a designer with some mathematical nouse who’s ever daydreamt of a more dynamic version of Illustrator that would allow you to manipulate visualisations once they’d been created rather than laboriously creating one-offs every time (quite possibly due to using AfterEffects’ much more intuitive, scrubbing interface, a blog post I nearly once wrote) watch from 29:30. This might be equally appealing for coders who find themselves working in an indirect, non-visual environment to create visuals? He showcases a tool for creating data driven pictures by direct manipulation of the picture itself. *Excited squeak*

This blog’s job done?
I had to write this blog post to explore why those two tweets got me so excited, and it’s only by doing so that I realise I am close to answering the two questions I posed way back when. This has quite surprised me. In truth I don’t recall writing them down thinking I’d ever find answers, more that they would serve as a point of reference for what I put on the blog. But having just been able to link to so many prior blog posts shows at least I have stuck to them, and done so to the extent that some answers have emerged.

Shit. It worked.

So now I understand why I got excited. It feels like it might all be coming together, pointing in a specific direction. Though hang on, I’m not ready, I’m busy over here doing these other things.

I guess it’s part of my ongoing journey, but what I’ve just had is a glimpse of a new and enticing horizon. Just need to think about building the right ship to get there…

BTW I don’t imagine the blog will be going anywhere. I enjoy a rant. And I find it to be a useful repository.

(And thanks to a wander around Bret’s website there’s one more of my blog posts I want to link to. I think I was too harsh on myself for stumbling at the first hurdle of trying to learn to code. Turns out it wasn’t necessarily my fault.)