By: Steven Heller | March 11, 2010
Dona Wong is an expert in conceptualizing and producing information graphics that are easily understood by millions of demanding readers on a daily basis. Drawing on her years of experience as a visual journalist for both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, she offers her insights on how to communicate with clear, concise, and intelligent graphics in her new book, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics, a critical area of visual communications that impacts everyone. Here she answers a few questions on the role of info graphics:
What is the most important element of aninformation graphic?
The critical issue is the balance of visual impact and data richness. A highly designed graphic with insubstantial content will capture your attention, but end up as eye candy and leave readers disappointed. A complex graphic chock-full of data, unedited and not filtered, will be overwhelming and will fail to communicatethe intended message. Simply organizing and filtering the data merely producesa table. But marrying that with the appropriate visual expression will bringout the message in the most eloquent and efficient way.
How is there a universal informationlanguage?
“Universal”implies there is a standard so everyone uses the same convention. My issue isno one has yet defined the basic grammar of information graphics. We learn howto write starting from ABC and form words before we write an editorial. Withgraphics, people install their software and start making graphics with zerotraining. A pie chart with 15 slices or a bar chart without a zero baseline islike a misspelled word in the headline. And yet people accept that kind ofmediocrity in their graphics presentations. My goal is to raiseeveryone’s awareness and sensitize them to the best charting practices.
Can all information be communicatedvisually?
Yes, allinformation can be communicated visually, but not all words or data should bereplaced by visuals. A successful communicator uses the right combination ofgraphics, photos, words, gestures, voice—you name it. All information graphicshave one common goal—to communicate the intended message. The challenge is howto turn a massive amount of information into a compelling story. No program canreplace the human touch in this process.