Tips to make top visualizations from the New York Times
The New York Times is often regarded as one of the top developers of infographics. Over the years, they have been the recipients of tons of prestigious awards. But don’t just take my word for it; at the 2012 Malofiej 20 awards, the New York Times was awarded an impressive eight gold medals and Best of Show. So what’s the secret of the New York Times’ success?
In an effort to answer this question, data visualization designer, Andy Kirk, highlights some of the things that the New York Times is doing right in his post on Visual.ly. I’ve taken the top five most important onesand summarized them below. If after checking out these you’re still hungry for more, then check out Kirk’s entire article to see and learn more about how the New York Times continually punches out one awesome visual after another.
1. Clearly outline the purpose or goal
Developing a goal for an infographic is one of the earliest steps in the design process, but it’s also one of the most important. Kirk states, all the “key design decisions will be based on the clarity of concept at this initial stage of the process and this is one area in which the New York Times excels.” So, take some time here and really outline what it is you want your graphic to accomplish.
2. Trust your audience
According to Kirk, “The overriding aim of a visualization or infographic should be to make a subject accessible.” Visualizations are about making data easier to understand for the reader, not about simplifying it. “You are not looking to dilute a subject’s complexity, just make it more digestible through elegant representation.” In some cases it’s important to remember that a subject may take some time to understand – don’t stress if that ends up being the case. It’s more important to understand that it is OK if the reader has to put in a little effort to understand the material. “The New York Times trusts its readers to have the patience, maturity and the motivation to treasure the task of reading and learning from a graphic and this, in turn, enhances the quality of their design decisions.”
3. Location, location, location
The actual design of an infogarphic is only half of the equation, you cannot overlook placement. Making sure that infographics are placed so they do not distract, annoy or confuse readers is also important. “The New York Times graphics editors are seamlessly integrated into the editorial rhythm of the paper’s journalism cycle. Rather than graphics being viewed as an after-thought or novelty visual accompaniment to a written piece, many are elevated to become the central artefact of a story.” This involvement really helps integrate the graphics, allowing them to enhance the reader’s overall experience.
4. Clearly stated questions
Making sure your graphic clearly states the question it is answering is another important element of a good visual. Kirk writes, “The strong journalistic culture of the graphic designers [at the New York Times] leads to exceptional clarity about the questions each visual piece is answering and the stories they are trying to portray.” This helps visuals enhance and contribute to the overall story.
The thoughtful placement of labels, captions, and introductions can really make or break your visual. They really set the stage or help drive home the point that your visual is trying to make. According to Amanda Cox, the New York Times graphic editor, “considers the annotation layer of their graphics to be ‘the most important thing we do.’…the New York Times’ designers take the responsibility to assist a reader in understanding the context of a graphic and interpretation of its key messages.”
Have other suggestions that make up a good visual? I’d love to hear them in the comments.