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Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Infographics

It’s Data Baby! And he’s covered in our unhealthy obsession for numbers!

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Infographics
Baby

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How prevalent is our cultural obsession with data? Our children are now crawling with it, according to a new commercial by IBM.

Data Baby” is a gorgeous spot, to be sure, directed with typical finesse by Fast Company favorites Motion Theory. And it’s not the only commercial to alert us to the fact that everything around us is a series of numbers and patterns to be combed, categorized and visualized–this piece is part of a larger series by IBM, claiming that our planet is “alive with data.” But really? “This is a baby generating data in a neonatal ward?” No. It’s a baby! The only data it’s generated so far is sitting inside that diaper.

Hide your kids! The data-viz nerds are coming for our children!

How I Met Your Mother

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Infographics and data visualization have reached some kind of tipping
point in our world, agreed four of the discipline’s smartest designers at
the Interactive
Infographics
panel at SXSW Tuesday afternoon. Casey Caplowe of GOOD, Ben
Fry, creator of Processing,
Shan Carter of the The New York Times Graphics Department and Eric
Rodenbeck of Stamen all agreed
that they’d seen some kind of sea change when it came to people
understanding what they do. Infographics are so mainstream that there are even jokes about infographics on shows like How I Met Your Mother, where the characters hold an intervention with someone who has an unhealthy relationship with
charts and graphs (hmmm, sound familiar?). Of course we can’t prove
this global obsession with data-viz scientifically or anything…but
maybe someone can make an infographic about that?

infographic

But in our thirst for data, have we forgotten that infographics aren’t just numbers, icons and pretty colors? That they still need to tell a compelling narrative? Actually, all panelists agreed, the best place to start when it came to crunching data was not by combing our infants for numbers (in fact, I think most doctors will agree one should not comb infants at all). Carter had a quite revolutionary method for finding his information: Picking up the phone. Yes, most of the New York Times‘ award-winning infographics are researched, by a team of about 30 people, who do their reporting the old-fashioned way. It’s true, said Fry, it’s always better to take a real world approach that doesn’t include an Excel document. “If you start with data, you’ll end up with something that looks like data.” And as beautiful as he is, let’s hope it doesn’t look like Data Baby, either.

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.

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