A Defense of the Unknown in Infographics
We’re inventors - we’re creators. And that’s the most important thing about what we do. And I think we should welcome failure every once in a while.Hannah Fairfield - NYT Graphics Editor, Malofiej 18, March 2010
Last year at Malofiej, one of the major awards ceremonies for infographics in journalism, The New York Times took home 'Best in Show' for their work on box office receipts from 1986 to 2008. I'm sure most of you saw it. It was non-traditional. It was an adaptation of Lee Byron's streamgraph, which he had previously applied to last.fm music listening habits - a smoothed stacked area chart at the core.
What followed was a lot of back chatter among the infographic community. Many didn't like the interactive at all, despite winning an award voted on by peers. Some called it one of the worst graphics NYT had ever published, that it was too complicated for readers, and that it was too hard to read.
This surprised me.
It's something I've come to expect from academics and the stat crowd but not from graphic departments that report the news. I had the impression that they were more open-minded, but I guess not all of them are.
This, from Hannah Fairfield, a New York Times graphics editor, is no doubt a response to the haters at this year's Malofiej.
I obviously strongly agree. Although Hannah sort of implies that the streamgraph was a failure. I'd argue that it was a success. Hundreds of thousands of people, millions maybe, engaged with the box office data and there's no obscene misrepresentations. Were the patterns too complex to understand for some people? Yeah, probably, but how else is the general public supposed to learn? They'll get there eventually.
Your turn. Does the box office streamgraph work?