Saturday, March 14, 2009

I see! Visuals create understanding.

When we grasp an idea or a concept we often say 'I see' -even when the information might have been delivered in writing or verbally. Our minds paint a picture, the bits of information become joined and a meaningful picture forms. If it is meaningful we say that it has made an impression or have gained insight.

I won't say that I think 'visually'; I'm not sure that is what is happening inside my brain at all. But I do know that I think more clearly and have better comprehension, faster when ideas are presented to me with the support of images or graphics.

Of course not all images are created equal. Some can be baffling and serve only to amplify the speed of confusion. But well thought-out graphics can be a godsend for conveying ideas - with that metaphor in mind it reminds me of how paintings and stained glass windows helped dramatise the liturgy for an ignorant peasantry.

There is a selection information graphics here which illustrate a range of contemporary techniques to explain the economic crisis.

Video offers an unrivalled means of not only conveying information but engaging the viewer with a narrative to support the data that can be both rational and emotional. How many times did you ever feel an emotional connection with a text book on engineering, say. The video I've embedded in this post explains the changes to cars to be used in the 2009 Formula 1 motor racing series. To a lay person, like me, the changes sound mundane. New front and rear spoiler configurations that reduce grip, a return to slick tyres/tires that increase grip, a new system for converting wasted kinetic energy from the drive train - and so on. I can sense your eyes glazing over already. But the clip brings the information to life with superb Computer Generated Graphics (CGI), a story telling narrative whereby the information is conveyed graphically - at full throttle - changes to aerodynamic aids are dramatically illustrated while you are taking a hairpin bend under full braking. It is exciting - the narration is by a droll Sebastian Vettel, a German driver whose measured delivery anchors the story in a way that a breathless Jimmy Stewart would not.

“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”

The net result is operatic and thrilling. I can't wait to see the cars in action. I clearly see the point that F1 has answered its critics who said the event had become a drag race without the excitement of overtaking.

That's what happens when you feel involved.

If you are interested in information graphics I recommend these books:

Information Architects - Saul Wurman
Information Anxiety 2 Information Architects - Saul Wurman
Beautiful Evidence - Edward Tufte
Visual Explanations - Edward Tufte

(any others?...interested in your recommendations and links)

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