I’d be willing to bet that there is a significant correlation between business’ escalating interest in information graphics and the sheer amount of information being created. People are asked to absorb more data than ever but the amount of information our brains can actually absorb is pretty much the same. How exactly are we supposed to adapt to this computer enabled data deluge?
We could try speed-reading or memory exercises, but as with many other things in life, the solution is not about trying harder but being smarter. Or in this case, designing smarter.
“Information graphics are visual representations of information, data or knowledge” or so says wikipedia. Essentially it’s presenting lots of information in a way that is not only digestible but meaningful (I just ran across this great lego-fied example). My agency has been asked to pitch quite a few infographics initiatives for large corporations here in the Bay Area over the past couple years and I don’t think we’re an anomaly. I’m pleased that this design-driven approach to solving the problem of communicating swarms of information is gaining momentum—it’s a tool that will dramatically increase in value as terabytes become petabytes become exabytes.
Nobody in the corporate world has nailed it yet (though it will happen soon), but I’ll point to a small closed-loop system as an example—a pared down environment where data can quickly be interpreted and decisions can immediately affect outcomes: Fitness.
For years professional athletes have realized the benefits of tracking their performance, and they’ve had the labs and doctors to help gather and analyze it all. But now, athletic companies like Nike are helping anybody train like a pro by creating powerful feedback loops that make it feasible for amateurs to interpret their own training data. Otherwise known as the “quantified self” movement, fitness geeks are able to mine their own data to greater effect both during and after their workouts. This wouldn’t be as appealing (or even possible) with a spreadsheet of GPS coordinates and velocity readings—what makes it accessible to regular folk like you and me is the organization of the data, and design of the information.
Nike has always had a strong design streak, and with the launch of their quantifying initiative called Nike+, they’ve applied this skill set to empower customers with their personalized data. Presenting only the raw information makes the user do all the work, but organizing and presenting it in a way that simplifies the decision making process equips the user to achieve their goal through better decision making.
Fitness freaks aren’t the only ones who should be able to make better decisions with well-designed data presentation, but for now it seems they are the only ones who can. While computers may be enabling us to collect more data, it’ll be the human brain that’ll have to make sense of it and in the end there is only so much we can cram up there.