Animated Graphics in the Mainstream

"One Race, Every Medalist Ever" infographic at ARC

The importance of data and its display have been in the media of late. I’m thinking about the recent NY Times review of the Tesla S and CEO Elon Musk’s response to the negative press, complete with his own logs and charts. And then there was the NPR story, “The ‘Big Data’ Revolution: How Number Crunchers Can Predict Our Lives,” which featured an interview with Kenneth Cukier, co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.

In late February, I was honored to be a part of the Hollywood Theatre’s “Arc: An Evening of Animated Infographics,” a screening curated by former Second Story Content & Media Producer Michael Neault. Working with members of our team, Michael did an amazing job of putting together a series of animated infographic shorts into an hour-long collection. Michael recently left Portland for New York, and, in his absence, I had the pleasure of introducing the evening as well as participating in a short Q&A with Periscopic partners Kim Rees and Dino Citraro. Their work, U.S. Gun Killings in 2010, was featured in the series.

I was extremely impressed by the turnout, as it’s a positive sign of how this form of communication is evolving into the mainstream. In my career, I’ve watched the evolution of infographics, and I’m excited to see animated graphics becoming more commonplace. And as “big data” becomes more accessible and a part of the norm for how we do business, it’s increasingly critical that we successfully communicate complex information accurately and comprehensively.

Graphics set in motion are excellent tools to explain sets of data or processes in compressed time. But the animated graphics that excite me the most are those that help me understand complex stories and connect with me on an emotional level. Simple moving slides with charts and graphs are fine as motion studies, but I’m specifically talking about motion graphics that use juxtaposition, pacing and contrast to communicate concepts and relationships. These kinds of animated graphics help me understand process and data through narrative. The two that stood out most for me from the screening were:

These pieces use a technique that I think works particularly well: positioning a common element consistently throughout the animation. In the Titanic animation, the ship is featured in nearly every frame while the graphic pans across and zooms in and out at varying angles to tell the story. Even in a map view, the Titanic, represented by a single dot or line, was still central to the narrative. In “One Race,” The NY Times presented from varying angles a single track representing all of the event’s medal winners over the years. The animated graphic was based entirely on points of view rather than the animation of moving elements.

I hope to see more meaningful explanatory animated graphics become a part of the mainstream. I’m especially looking forward to how we can advance the form beyond the small (web+mobile) and large (theatrical) screens.

—Andrew DeVigal, Director, Content Strategy

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