23 maj 2013

Form over function?


EVERY TIME I SEE DAGENS NYHETER, I enjoy the paper’s new look which has been recognized in several design competitions and which earned Sweden’s leading morning daily a well-deserved place among the World’s Best-Designed Newspapers. Whether on print or tablet, DN appears to have found a form which matches its high-quality contents perfectly.

With one exception.
DN’s infographics are suffering from a severe case of circulitis.

I can understand how tempting it must have been to promote the DN punkt – the full stop sign which has distinguished Dagens Nyheter’s nameplate ever since the newspaper was founded in 1864 – to a key element of the new design. And in many instances, this works fine:


WHEN IT COMES TO CHARTS AND DIAGRAMS, however, DN’s fascination with the circular shape has taken them too far.
As a means for representing data, a circle has got limited potential. Divide the circle into components, like the slices of a pie, and we can roughly estimate how these different slices relate to each other (for that purpose, we use our experience from looking at a clock) … but when it comes to judging the actual size of a circle, most of us have to give up.

Try it yourself: How much bigger than circle A is circle B?
The problem is, we don’t know the ”rules”. Contrary to a bar chart, where the convention dictates that only one dimension matters – the height of a column, the length of a bar – no one has taught us how the size of a circle should translate into numbers. Do they want us to compare the area of circle A to circle B, or perhaps the diameter?
The difference is significant. The diameter of circle B is three times bigger than that of A; the area is nine times bigger!

A relation which becomes much easier to see if bars are used instead of circles:



When using circles to represent size, one will have to add the actual values to help readers get the message. And then, you might ask, what’s the point of making the graphic?

EXPERIMENTING AND LOOKING FOR NEW WAYS TO VISUALIZE DATA should be encouraged, and I guess it’s natural for fashion to change on the infographics scene as well as elsewhere. Currently, circles are en vogue. But using circles where a different shape – e g bars – would be appropriate is the equivalent of writing with distorted letters that nobody are able to read. Infographics is a kind of language, and you cannot replace one linguistic component with another just because you think the new one looks more interesting, or fits better into your design concept. Not if you wish to be understood.

Have a look at these graphics from recent issues of Dagens Nyheter and see how little information they convey to the reader. If an exact value had not been written in each circle, the graphics would have been impossible to decipher. And with the use of conventional bar or pie charts, all these examples would have delivered the message much more clearly and instantaneously:



FUNCTION IS BEING SACRIFICED on the altar of form. How strange to see this happen in a publication with such a rich infographic history and one of Scandinavia’s finest graphic departments. Moreover, the recent – otherwise very successful – redesign is in fact the brainchild of an infographic expert!
Rickard Frank started out as a graphic reporter at Svenska Dagbladet and has given infographics top priority at all the papers he has been able to influence through consulting or in various managing positions.
Therefore, I simply don’t understand why Rickard allows his own paper to consistently under-inform just for the sake of style.
Please, kill this darling! Now!

PS: In his wonderful book The Functional Art, Alberto Cairo dissects the phenomenon which he has named ”the bubble plague” (and even manages to come up with a few cases where it makes sense to use the so-called ”bubble chart”).

3 kommentarer:

Christina Bruun Olsson sagde ...

Yes, i am so agree. Kill the bobbles :-)
For more interesting reading, look at Stehpen Fews principles for data-design: http://www.perceptualedge.com/examples.php

Ole Munk sagde ...

Thanks Christina! I wasn't familiar with Stephen's examples. A very rewarding read!

Jonas Ericsson sagde ...

Thank's for a great article Ole! Ever since the first circular DN-grafic I've been irritated over the lack of userperspective.