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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 Vox.com. 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.

Vox.com 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 Vox.com 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.

Best way to learn new things? Talk with your smart friends!

I am a very lucky person. I have managed to seek out and surround myself with some incredibly smart people. Different type of smarts too: culinary, scientific, farming, emotional, technology, design, craft, gardening, parenting, card playing, fashion, historical, and a myriad of topics I’m sure I haven’t even tapped into.

It is also well known that I am a knowledge sponge: If I can learn something new, you can bet I want to and most likely I want to learn it from a person! I use the internet just like everyone else to get a base foundation, but the connection I feel when I converse about knowledge is something pretty special. Not only do I better my life for the skills I’m learning, but I tie it to my connection to that person. It makes for a pretty great mental library of knowledge/skills and exceptional people.

Photo Credit: Scott Ichikawa, 2015

Recently I was talking to one of these exceptional people, a Mr. Josh Klekamp, a Visual and Interaction Designer based in Seattle. To me, he is the guru to all things websites and apps. This is partially due to how we met each other, which was in grad school, and then as he attempted to instill some website knowledge into a bunch of VCD students. Josh always did like a challenge…haha Since that occasion, he has been a wealth of knowledge and a Website Fairy Godfather on numerous occasions.

Recently we were remedying a website situation over a few beers (I was distracted petting his dog Rue) and Josh asked if I had heard of Marvel? I of course first thought of superheroes, but was shortly enlightened that it is actually a new (and free!) mobile and web prototyping tool. As we all know, the best tools are those that leverage existing user technologies, not requiring us to learn yet another approach to trying to prototype user interactions in a more realistic way for testing and review.

Marvel connects with your Dropbox account (woohoo!), allowing you to easily make your user interface mockup files, add your hotspots, and if you end up wanting to make a quick visual change, make it and your prototype syncs with the updated file! While seemingly simple, that is what makes it awesome! The simpler the better. Every company will have their prototyping apps they use the most, but it never hurts to know what’s new and how people are approaching the same issues as you. Could be something to bring up at that next weekly design meeting!

Take a look at their demo video and let me know what you think. Have a prototyping tool you like better? Tell me all about it in the comments section!