Duncan Swain is a Creative Director, journalist and sometimes speaker, specialising in data visualization. He co-founded the Information is Beautiful Studio in London and comes from a background of 20 years in journalism, design and digital platforms.
In 2016 he will sit on the Graphic Design Jury at the D&AD Professional Awards. This year, for the first time, D&AD is introducing a sub-category of Graphic Design specifically for Data Visualisation. Below, Duncan argues that this is a welcome addition to the landscape, and celebrates the fact that data viz has become a mainstream form of communication.
Data viz or, what’s sometimes seen as its poorer cousin, infographics, have become an established part of our daily media diet. You can’t make it through a day’s Twitter stream, the free morning paper or a broadsheet’s business section without stumbling over scaled bubbles, a chord diagram or small multiples of choropleths. I exaggerate for effect, but you get the picture.
Data visualisation has now taken its rightful place among the more traditional storytelling formats we all know and love – text articles, videos, audio pieces, illustrations. Using data instead of words as the main substance of a story can be an intriguing, innovative way of revealing something unknown. We can make connections, show patterns and isolate outliers that would otherwise remain hidden in the huge swathes of data that businesses, organizations, governments and even the devices we carry with us record every day.
Data viz is nothing new – Florence Nightingale was using it to persuade the British government to spend more on fighting infections in grim Crimean War hospitals in the 1850s – but it is here to stay.
So this is great timing for D&AD to be launching its inaugural Data Visualisation sub-category in Graphic Design. It’s good to see a major design-oriented organisation recognising the discipline.
After all, data visualisation can, and should, fundamentally be about great design because at its heart visualisation is about communication. And great successful, innovative communication can and should be underpinned by the best design. That could be pure graphic design, or interaction design, or animation or annotated live action. But it has to be great. And it should be recognised by awards.
As with all new disciplines mainstream organisations can run a little behind the industry focused players. After all, Spain’s Malofiej awards have been around since 1993 and our own Information is Beautiful Awards will be in its fifth year in 2016.
And I think this also points D&AD in the direction it also needs to take next. Having a Data Visualisation category is an admirable starting point. The next step would be to recognise this branch of design in all its granular glory.
Data visualisation can be expressed in so many different ways; interactive online or on mobile; a physical installation (see our pieces for Kew Gardens Spice Festival last summer); a motion graphic; or projection mapped onto an exhibition space. All are perfectly valid and point to this being a growing, flourishing area of expertise that deserves even more focus and recognition.