A design challenge that we in newspaper design rarely talked about until recently is dealing with “big data.”

Computational power has increased quite a bit in recent years and yet another round of buzz words has arrived, with big data and “data visualization” two of the most prominent. This is at the same time as datasets were growing and were filled with more and more information. Big data.

Not that it is any different from the visualizing of data that people did a decade or so ago when the area of interest was “information graphics.” Some back then even called the people who created these things “visual journalists.” They still do today to a certain extent.

But the big deal today is that with those gains in computer power and storage, datasets have become much richer and more complex. So turning those datasets into an easily understood visual presentation has become more complex, but with an opportunity for creativity as well.

If you are tasked with presenting a large amount of data, you could present it in a list or in a table, but that does not necessarily maximize the understanding of the receiver of the communication, which is – or should be – the goal of all written and visual communication.

I like to call it “meaning transfer,” because that should be the goal of all professional, journalistic communication: the transfer of what the communication means, not just the communication of raw, unfiltered information. Edward Tufte would likely be a little wary of data visualization because in a lot of ways, it means putting in non-information gee gaws just to create visual interest.

But wait! If the visualization, as superficial as it may seem, e.g., displaying a dataset of hotels not by price or customer ratings but by how literary characters might evaluate them (as odd as that may seem), actually helps comprehension, then isn’t it an integral part of the information transfer? Where should the line be drawn?

That is why I never liked the term “information graphics,” although “meaning graphics” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

But if you transfer information without the meaning or the context, then what have you achieved?

Especially in today’s information glut-world, a little less info and a little more meaning would be a positive change from the polarized Hatfield and McCoy political world of competing ideological information we live in today.

Good journalism, which includes good writing, editing and design, and it must include all three to be optimally effective, is interested in meaning transfer, not simple information transfer. Design can be an integral part of good journalism and not an add-on.

What do you think? Start the conversation below. Thanks!

Categories : Design, journalism
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Old newspaper joke

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The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country.

The Washington Post is read by people who think they ought to run the country.

USA TODAY is read by people who think they ought to run the country, but don’t understand The Washington Post.

The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn’t mind running the country, if they could spare the time.

The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.

The New York Daily News is read by people who aren’t too sure who is running the country.

The New York Post is read by people who don’t care who’s running the country, as long as they do something scandalous.

The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure there is a country or that anyone is running it.

The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country.

Not sure of the source, but I just love this.

Who reads your paper?

Here’s my take: The Florida Times-Union is read by people who don’t care who is running the country as long as they are Republicans.

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Here we go yet again. It’s the designer’s Tower of Intentional Babel combined with technology evolution with some blindness to history and to my sense of logic. It makes me crazy.

Now we are talking about “service design,” apparently a part of “user experience,” which is just another way of saying design isn’t art, but actions that are taken with the customer or consumer in mind.

Back in the day, we old newspaper hot types talked about writing so that “the Kansas City milkman” could understand it. Today, designers talk about user experience as if it were a new idea. Today, hip designers would call that a “persona.” But nothing has really changed.

There is a new book, This Is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider, that is touted on Amazon thusly: “Service design thinking is the designing and marketing of services that improve the customer experience, and the interactions between the service providers and the customers.”

Well, duh. That is simply design to me. I don’t understand why we need 31 flavors of design: user experience, interaction design, service design, user centered design, usability, etc. As I have said before, if it ain’t user-centered, it ain’t design. Period.

Here is an interview with Stickdorn and Jared Spool.

Your mileage may vary.

Categories : Design, General comment
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