So You Want To Be a Data Journalist: Interactive Designs

I enjoy interactive visualizations over static designs. Actually, I now expect most visualizations to be interactive, which means that it should have some sort of clickable function to it, whether it is a pop-up box that provides more information of the graph that I am reading or an interactive game.

Why? Because static designs are boring. But I also think it’s because designers are thinking of ways of grabbing and holding on to the user’s attention in a tech-era where our gadgets are interactive, like our smartphone devices that ask us to navigate by using our fingers on the screen.

I think this is the psychological expectation that we have, which is why interactive designs are usually more successful than static graphs or infographics.

Dan Saffer, in ‘Designing For Interaction’ says “interaction is about behavior, and behavior is much harder to observe and understand than appearance.” What? Well, he says that designers focus on the users rather than what the company prefers. Isn’t that obvious? Not always. Some prototypes of products make sense to the company but are not functional.

Think about the Office’s fake version of a tablet, the Pyramid Triangle:

http://www.nbc.com/assets/video/widget/widget.html?vid=1359427

Users don’t want to use a produce that makes it difficult to complete their tasks because it’s too clunky to hold.

Saffer mentions several factors that designers should keep in mind, and I think one of the most important factors is incorporating emotion. Saffer brings up the example of the Volkswagen Beetle, which has been successful for decades.

Saffer is right – emotion is key because it fosters loyalty. An emotional interactive is probably more likely to be shared on Twitter or through Facebook than something that is not emotional. Interactivity can potentially make users feel like they are part of something.

Saffer adds that, “interaction design isn’t only about fixing problems; it’s also about facilitating interactions between people in richer, deeper, better ways – that is, finding new ways to better connect human beings to one another, and by doing so, make the world a better place to live.”

It’s a bit whimsical, but I agree with Saffer to some extent. Does interactive design make the world a better place to live? Maybe for the privileged few who get to use technological innovations like the iPhone. But for people like ourselves who are lucky enough to use these innovations, the interactivity of it may help use to understand an idea from different perspectives, such as the way we may view the World Bank’s Mapping for Results interactive map, which shows users where and how aid money is contributing to the development projects taking place across the world.

I think this kind of interaction shortens the degrees of separation between the privileged few and not so privileged. It also holds governments responsible for following through with projects that they’re supposed to be doing.

Maybe Saffer was on to something when he said that interactivity could make the world better.

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