Vox: Visually Explaining the News

There is a lot of news out there. It is coming at us from so many directions, with so many views, and usually with a lot of intensity. Therefore, it is easy to kind of start dismissing all of it. But as conscientious citizens of society, we really should be trying to understand a good chunk of it. But then let’s say you do start paying attention. But then maybe you don’t actually understand what you’re hearing. Don’t be embarrassed. If you were an expert in everything, well you would be annoying for starters…haha What is happening in our world, country, state, city…well it can get a little tangled.

As a visual designer, I often find my job is to untangle complicated messages or situations and communicate it in a way that is less arduous on the audience. Making sure that I anticipate some of the communication pitfalls and build bridges for my audience that they can leap across to a better understanding. In the end, hopefully enriching their lives. Seems like that could be helpful in a couple of areas (news, insurance, banking, etc) of our lives, right?

So what if there was a news outlet that took that understanding of news and combined it with design and storytelling? That is where you will find They have popped up on my radar a couple times over the last year, each time to a resounding feeling of delight. But when I watched a video on gun violence that trotted out the data in a way that was so easy to understand, my little design heart knew I had found something special.

Stance on gun control in the United States aside for the moment…the best thing about this video? It’s so simple. There are literally black and white printouts, a red sharpie, and a voice over. So why does this work? Well, there are a couple reasons.

The first is that it is indeed simple. Good and clear design does not require it have a ton of bells, whistles, and shiny bits. It’s actually usually the exact opposite. When I was recently guest lecturing on visual design principles (specifically around presentations) to a group of Ph.D students in the sciences, I dropped the truth bomb that always gets everyone talking: Design starts in black and white. If you can’t explain it through these simple terms, adding colors, display type faces, or even motion is not going to help you reach your audience.  This video is already talking about a possibly confusing topic. Why add to the confusion by ill-placed design decisions?

The second reason is that the visuals are there to support the narration. Visuals can certainly stand on their own, but usually there is some well-written accompanying text so that the visuals make sense. When you hear someone speak, you’re there to hear new and interesting information through their particular lens view of the world. I rarely show up to a presentation to see someone’s awesome slides. I just need the visuals to support that narration and not distract from it.

The last reason why this video rocks is because of a very small detail that you might not detect the first watch through. She actually makes a mistake and misspells something. But she quickly scratches it out and keeps going. Pure gold. We are human. Talking about human things. It’s okay to be human. That show of human error that could have easily been edited out made me all the more ready to listen to what she had to say.

Vox is a news outlet that offers standard written news stories, video stories showcasing data, maps + data, and even card stacks for those of us that need to ingest news quickly and keep running through their day. We learned awhile ago that there is more than one way to interact with the news. Just look at The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Humor can go a long way in engaging an audience on topics that aren’t always easy to understand or pleasant, but still very important. The same can be said about data and human-to-human discussions. Offerings

With all news outlets, the information presented should always be taken with a grain of salt. No matter how enlightened you are, there is bias within each of us. News outlets are no different. But at least this is another version to review and try out. It beats being talked at in 30-second sound bites. Check today!


Want to see more? This video discusses designing figures for communication and an age-old argument that I still end up discussing on a regular basis.

The Power of Motion

As a classically trained visual communication designer, I work with a lot of static things: imagery, color, type, physical pieces, etc. But you’re only a good designer if you’re constantly expanding your skills and gaining interest in new creative fields. Most recently? Motion. I still remember a RIDICULOUS project I had to do in Flash in undergrad that included moving letterforms, some jazz music, and a lot of cussing. This certainly wasn’t my forte, but I was fascinated by the prospect of what it could do. I do believe I got a B+ on that project…But I digress.

Since then, I have made friends and professionally worked with with quite a few talented people that work with video and with the invention of video being on DSLR cameras, some very talented photographers that made the jump from static imagery to moving pictures. It is such a different way of thinking. You would think that it would be easier, since everyday is one big film of moving pictures. But it takes a certain eye. It’s being able to envision composition after composition (think Wes Anderson films), layering them end to end, to be able to tell a story.

It always comes back to a story. What story are you telling? Why are you telling it? How does it impact people? These are the same questions that tons of creatives ask themselves everyday and in their own special medium, they tell those stories. Each of us tries to communicate an idea, by way of understanding humans, their emotions, and connecting in some way through our creative medium. It’s a powerful task and pure joy when it works.

I recently came across a short (that’s proper film jargon right there!) on National Geographic’s website by English filmmaker, illustrator, and composer Temujin Doran. This short is based on neuroscientist David Eagleman’s book Sum: Forty Tales from the AfterlivesThrough a lyrical approach, Doran presents what life would be like if we took the sum of activity spent on seemingly mundane activities, like trying to remember someone’s name, and reshuffled them so we experienced those sum’s sequentially in a single life. It’s truly fascinating and better explained by viewing.

Throughout the entire video, I couldn’t help wanting to overlay infographics that represented the data the narrator was speaking to the audience. We always interpret the world how we know it best. However, that need soon dissipated and I was swept up in the story he was creating. Between the music, the beautiful imagery, and the narrator, I was in the story, rather than just experiencing it. After being released from my mesmerization, I had a little pang of envy. The work I do is just different. Not less, but different. But there are some capabilities that motion brings that seems to heighten the senses and that emotional connection I always try to obtain through my work.

But that’s when collaboration becomes the key. I like knowing and gaining new skills, but I also know that simply working with someone that has made motion their career-driven passion in life…well that is just as amazing to experience. It expands my view of the world, introduces me to another creative medium, and another possibility appears on how to tell a truly fascinating story.

Do you have a favorite short (or even advertisement)? Perhaps a cinematographer that you follow from film to film? Please share it in the comments below!