Interactive graphics a powerful tool

Interactive graphics are a clever, innovative way to engage audiences in the online sphere, according to journalist, environment editor and journalistic entrepreneur Duncan Clark.

A consultant editor for The Guardian environment and co-founder of digital journalism company Kiln, Mr Clark says data visualisation is a powerful method of challenging readers with information that is better expressed without letters and numbers.

Mr Clark was most recently behind an interactive piece on climate change by The Guardian, which asked the question of how much the earth could heat up over the a lifetime.

“The interactive added depth and breadth to our coverage of a big story, and helped our readers get a much more personal perspective on what the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report – and climate change generally – might mean for them and their children and grandchildren,” Mr Clark said.

“It also turned out to be a great way to drive large amounts of traffic, and to generate new followers on The Guardian’s social media channels, helped by the customised tweets that the tool generates for users.”

That graphic in particular was created with data from climate scientists at the University of Oxford, who provided a set of figures consistent with the new IPCC report.

The data arrived in a .CSV file, the plain text equivalent of a spreadsheet with pure data separated only by commas.

Mr Clark said the key was to turn that data into something meaningful for readers; something to which they could relate.

“The first step was to think about the user journey, which was a little complex because the tool needed to give different information to people of different ages,” he said.

In the end, he settled with the universal death cycle.

“Once I’d worked out what information to serve to what users based on their age, I experimented with different designs.”

The interactive graphic itself was built using the D3 tool, built by Stanford University PhD candidate Mike Bostock. D3 is a [computer language] JavaScript library which uses data to create infographics in web browsers.

Mr Clark said the graphic took about a day to build, but three more days to tweak it to a level at which he was happy.

When it was released, it resonated with audiences around the world, driving major traffic for The Guardian.

“We’ve had loads of positive feedback via email and Twitter, including requests to license it overseas in other languages,” Mr Clark said.

“So far around 18,000 people [almost 20,000 as of Tuesday] have shared information from it on social media – including Bill Gates who yesterday told his millions of Facebook followers than he had found it ‘pretty sobering’ and encouraged them to try it too.”

For anyone interested in experimenting with building their own infographics, the D3 tool is available to download for free via its website.

Leave a comment