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– 1% of the news in infographics …

Infographics and the Brain – Stephen Few

It’s not often that a guy steps up at the Malofiej-stage and starts praising the bar-chart! But Stephen Few did just that. In an entertaining manner he drove home his point about keeping it simple, when you design infographics. Preferably as simple as they did it more than 200 years ago, when the charts were invented.

– ‘The sad reality is, that most of the graphs that are printed today in the world do not work as effectively as those pioneering efforts of William Playfair long ago’.

With clients such as WHO, NASA and Apple – and being the author of three books, Stephen Few certainly has the experience to tell us a thing or two. Even if he isn’t working in journalism, he knows what we should do to inform our readers.

But what he might not fully understand with the journalistic situation is that newspapers are in many cases meant more as entertainment than info-presenter – and oftentimes infographics are presented in extremely busy environments, where you’ll lose your reader if you choose to go with a barchart.

For an infographic to work in news, you do need something else to catch the attention – in contrast to serving a business user, who sits down with a report to gain information as quickly and reliable as possible.

Or maybe Stephen do understand that you need attention-getters, when you present information? – How else to explain all the images in his slides – including Paris Hilton in sexy underwear? She might be a bit skinny, but she still has more curves than your regular barchart.

Magic tricks to fool the human brain
To further ease the info-flow Stephen had also brought a couple of ‘magic’ eye-brain-tricks. And predictably the entire audience was manipulated easy enough and failed to see the differences between two pictures, and didn’t really see what was going on with a shirt, when we were asked to concentrate on something else.

Stephen also gave some thoughtful criticism of current trends – especially the idea to transform almost everything into circles to beautify it. It could have been fun if David McCandless hadn’t failed to show up to Malofiej, as one of the criticized graphics was a coloured language-wheel from Information is Beautiful.

-‘What I think David fails to recognize is something that Da Vinci recognized – and that is, that sometimes circles do the job well, and sometimes other shapes, such as rectangles do the job well’, said Stephen.

Can you imagine the discussions they would have gotten into at the judging? Maybe the circle-man and the rectangle-man would have found some common grounds in the end, (rounded corners?) or maybe the circles had lost the argument, as Stephen could back most of his ideas with scientific findings in cognitive psychology.

Bonus: Enjoy this video showing Stephen Few in his presentation, when he told us how he himself had been tricked in a visual perception-experiment. ‘The Gorilla-story’.