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The Future of Infographics and Journalism? One Designer Thinks He’s Got the Answer

By developing a system of interactive icons and information-management software, Jonathan Jarvis hopes to change the way we absorb hyper-complex issues.

New Mediators

You might already be familiar with Jonathan Jarvis: A few months ago, the graphic designer struck Internet gold with his elegant, illuminating video, filled with infographics explaining the credit crisis. It garnered over two million views. He didn’t stop there. As Motionographer reports, Jarvis has started a new company, The New Mediators, which aims to create motiongraphics, videos and presentations to throw light on the world’s most complicated problems. Not that Jarvis would put it like that–he’s planning nothing short of a revolution in infographics and democracy, as even a quick reading of his hyper-theoretical Web site reveals. What’s most interesting are these scenarios that Jarvis imagines:

The video slides off of the wall and down onto the table. Every symbol,
arrow, and graphic becomes malleable–you can “grab” the bank icon. If
you needed to see the bank’s balance sheet, you could click it with
your finger, bringing up the most current information. You could also
flip it over to examine the sources used while researching the piece.
Then you drag the bank together with another bank while talking about a
possible merger, which you then toss across the table to allow
your colleagues to examine the instantly-calculated combined assets.

Imagine if all U.S. Government information was tagged in a format
similar to XBRL, allowing it to be sorted, organized, and mashed up.
Imagine if this information was fed out through a series of application
programming interfaces (API). These APIs could be taken by analysts,
journalists, designers, or anyone who is interested and visually
synthesized into graphics, diagrams, videos, interactive applications,
performances, etc. In a sense, if the U.S. Government encouraged such
practices by making the information friendly and useful, they could
“crowd-source” their responsible transparency –or, responsible
governmental transparency “of the people, by the people, for the
people.”

Sounds awesome–and a tad bullshitty, right? But the best example of what Jarvis is talking about is his own work–including the credit crisis video, but also this rather amazing live annotation of the Obama stimulus plan, which is synched up with his speech before Congress:



Jarvis’s idea, basically, it to create a suite of logos, symbols, and software that makes performances like these available to anyone seeking to hash out an issue. Is that even possible? As Motionographer points out, not everyone is as fluent with an issue as Jarvis. Asking your neighborhood accountant to do a presentation like the one above is like asking your band teacher to sit-in for Miles Davis. And a system like Jarvis proposes would be fiendishly difficult to program and maintain–although ManyEyes and Google

But even assuming some magic presentation system–accessed, for example, on Microsoft Surface–the alchemy behind any good data visualization lies in the organizing intelligence of the designer. Without that? Any new-fangled info-viz tool is nothing more than a gussied up version of Powerpoint. In other words: We’ve got a long time to wait before we see the future of informed storytelling and journalism, as imagined by Jonathan Jarvis. In the meantime? Hire someone like him to do the work for you.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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