Thursday, July 18, 2013

"animation" with power point

Let me begin this post by stating clearly that the only types of animation in Power Point (or substitute your presentation application of choice) that I endorse are: appear, disappear, and (sparingly) transparency. Please steer clear of any bouncing, flying, or fading in/out (as well as any other "slick" animations by which you may be tempted). To use an analogy, flashy animation is to presentation software as 3D is to a graph: unnecessary at best, and distracting at worst.

But that's slightly off topic. Today, I want to show you how you can use Excel and Power Point together with some simple screencasting with QuickTime Player to simulate a fully animated video.

When I solicited examples for a recent workshop, one participant sent me a graph they had created, along with this explanation:
This graphic summarized the key finding of the LAC (Latin America & Caribbean) middle class flagship we just launched. It is clearly not difficult to understand but my frustration was knowing that it could be more effective as an animated chart that could tell in a few seconds how far LAC has come. I tried to no avail to find someone who could do it for us. At the end, The Economist did what I would have liked to have done for our launch (link). 
Could we have done this ourselves? Or who could have done this for us and for how much? What kind of skills are required?
General consensus when I asked around was that The Economist's version was probably done using D3. I don't have any experience with this, and when I read the first part of the summary on the site ("D3 allows you to bind arbitrary data to a Document Object Model (DOM), and then apply data-driven transformations to the document." ...that's a mouthful!), my inclination to use tools more familiar to my audience was confirmed.

What I'll show you here should probably be considered a brute-force approach. There are certainly more eloquent solutions out there, but in case you aren't familiar with those (or don't have time or interest to learn the tools that would allow for them), this is a workable solution using good old Excel and Power Point, together with QuickTime Player.

My approach was to build the final graph in Excel, and then make a number of copies of it, eliminating some of the data elements from each so that I could focus on one component at a time to tell the story. Then I copied and pasted each of these into Power Point (making sure the visual was in exactly the same place on each slide). I pasted onto separate slides, so you see the progression as you move through them. You could also do this on a single slide with animation in Power Point (appear/disappear), which just takes a little more time and patience to set up. Patience is key throughout this process - it's a little painstaking to set up, but in the end I think achieves the desired result. Finally, after my slides were created, I used QuickTime Player to record my computer screen and voice.

Here's my resulting video:



The Excel file used to create the graphs can be downloaded here.
The Power Point file used to create the video above can be downloaded here.

This was my first time using QuickTime Player to create a screencast. I found it to be pretty straightforward; the instructions I followed can be found here.

Note how you could use this same approach in Power Point to focus your audience's attention in a live presentation as well.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

200 words on infographics

Recently, I was asked to share my thoughts on the "future of infographics" for an article Arnie Kuenn was writing for the Content Marketing Institute. The words I shared with him are below; the full article, where four other experts weigh in with their thoughts as well, can be found here.

Infographics run the gamut, from fluffy to informative. On the former side, we are presented with elements like over-sized numbers and portions of filled in little man-shapes. The graphics appear glamorous and have a sort of sex appeal that draws you in. Unfortunately, upon further evaluation, these visual displays are often shallow and leave me dissatisfied. On the other end of the spectrum are infographics that actually inform; many of the good examples I’ve seen here are in the area of data journalism (e.g. Alberto Cairo’s work).

There are critical questions an information designer must be able to answer before they begin the design process: who is your audience? and what do you need them to know or do? It’s only after the answers to these questions can be succinctly expressed that an effective method of display that will best aid the message can be chosen. Good data visualization (infographic or otherwise) tells a story.
While I’m not certain what the future will bring when it comes to the landscape of infographics, my hope is that the trend will be away from the fluffy data-dump and towards visualizations that are thoughtfully designed to impart information and tell a story.


REMINDER! registration is open for upcoming storytelling with data workshops in San Francisco and Chicago: details can be found here.