When I first got to know Illustrator, I was eager to draw things. I hated bar charts because they’re not aesthetically pleasing. I spent hours and hours clumsily tracing a human body with the pen tool. That graphic literally took me nine hours.
Then I was at Laura’s class, stunned at how simple symbols could convey meanings so effectively. I realized I was just drawing for drawing’s sake. That same graphic could have been done in one hour, with no less beauty and perhaps more effectiveness.
I admire good drawings, for sure. Beautiful things always catch people’s eyeballs. But in a newsroom, under deadline pressure, and with information dissemination as the top task, perhaps a graphic artist would think something else is more important than beauty.
Accuracy, for example.
The graphic above compares spendings by state. At first glance, it’s not bad. The color and the flags make it visually appealing, and it does provide information. It’s definitely better than a map or a chart, as someone with limited imagination like me would make.
First, why are the flags so evenly distributed? The scale is not right. There should be big gaps and small gaps, but what this graphic tells us is, the differences in spending among all the states are the same. It might be OK if the viewer only wants to know which state spent most and which least. But the accuracy problem is worth mentioning. Look at Connecticut and D.C., the difference is close to $7,000, but the distance between the two’s flag poles is equal to that of Maryland and Washington, whose difference is only a little over $100.
Moreover, beside the lower row of flags, there’s a sign saying “Graph starts at $20,000.” I can’t say it’s wrong, but I may wonder, why $20,000? Again this is the scale’s fault.
It’s a pity to see the drawing, a progress from merely charts and maps, become a decoration, or even something that spoils the accuracy of the whole graphic.
As much as I admire beautiful drawings, I’m more enchanted by graphics that make me think or help me learn. Jonathan Jarvis’s The Crisis of Credit is one of them.
It’s just awesome. Simple drawings, most of them only symbols. Easy to follow steps. Good use of color. And most important, clear explanations. It has all the sophistication of a great graphic, yet it’s so visual and so self-explanatory. Viewers can get so much information from it.
As many of you may know, the complete version of it is actually a motiongraphic, like the ones we saw in Kevin Quealy’s speech. Its simplicity and comprehensiveness drew millions of viewers and thousands of comments. You can see the video here.