Making the best online infographic of the year


This is the translation to english of an article written by me at 233grados.com, the communication blog of lainformacion.com. The original Q&A were in english, so just the lead is translated. I have to thank Joe Ward very much for his time and help with this interview.

This is an explanation for general public, if you want a more specialized explanation, you have it at  Xocas.com

The New York Times won (once more) the Peter Sullivan award to the best online infographic of the year with 'How Mariano Rivera dominates hitters'. This video explanation was told to be 'the path for the future of infographics'.
We talk with Joe Ward, sports infographics editor at The New York Times and one of the authors of this work, about this particular infographic and about how does one of the best infographics department of the world works.

With all the possibilities that interactivity offers, why did you decide to use a video for the Mariano Rivera graphic?
Making a video wasn’t our first idea for the graphic. Shan Carter had been fooling around with all the pitch data we had and wrote a program to see what the data might show.

This led to an idea for making a user-based interactive that would allow the user to sift through the data themselves.

Rivera interactive

But this presented a lot of problems. Only serious baseball fans would want to spend the time manipulating the data and we wanted this to appeal to a broader audience. And the idea was to show what made him so good and this approach would not accomplish that.
So we decided on two things. First, we wanted to do the work for the audience; figure out what the data showed and present only that data without any other noise. Second, we thought that if we could give people the sense that they were trying to hit against him, that might show how hard it is and why he was so good. Graham Roberts, using Maya, did a nice job creating the sensation that you were going against Rivera.

We had a handful of points we wanted to show, which included the speed of the pitch coming in (0.4 seconds, which is accurate in the graphic); how hitters identify pitches by their spin (and how his cutter was hard to identify); and a map of how accurate he was with his pitches.
So to make these points and to give people the experience of what it must be like to hit against him, we thought it made the most sense to just let them watch it and with narration we could explain what it was they were seeing.

Do you think the success of the NYT sports graphics that mixes video and graphics would be the next fashion in infrographics?
I certainly think that the mix of graphics and videos have a lot of benefits. The history of graphics is filled with attempts of trying to show motion in print. But, of course with the Web, we no longer have to fake it, we can show motion when motion is called for. It seems like the natural progression. But I think that audio can also be very effective and is underused. I think even simple charts can have some added value if they are accompanied by well-edited and simple narration. Interactivity certainly has a place in Web graphics, but I also think that the more work you can do for the viewer, the better. And sometimes that means narrating the explanation instead of making them read it. The more things you make them read, the less time they will spend looking at your charts or drawings. What we all try to do is tell stories and oftentimes it is better to actually TELL them.

What particular thing do you think that makes NYT the best infographics department?

Well, it is nice that you think we are the best.
There are a lot of factors that go into making a successful infographics department. The Times has a rich history of cartography and graphics that has continued to evolve through the years and the newsroom has long embraced these as viable and critical ways to tell or enrich stories. Under the stewardship of Tom Bodkin, the assistant managing editor who has overseen our department for many years, our group has grown in stature and in number. Steve Duenes, our graphics director and Matt Ericson, his deputy, create a productive and creative environment where we are free to try new things and attempt to expand what we do. Collaboration is also a key ingredient at The Times. We have a staff with diverse skills and Steve and Matt are very good at putting the right people together on projects to best exploit those skills.

What are the keys to create graphics for both print and online products?
The basic principles for each type of graphic are the same: make it clear, informative and easy to navigate. The online versions allow for more options, and if used properly, can aid in achieving the goals of those principles. For instance, no matter how well a print graphic is designed for navigation, you can never really control where a reader is going to look. But with an interactive, you can control how much information the viewer sees and in what order they see it.
Some people think that many NYT graphics are too complicated for the regular readers. What do you think about that perception?
Sometimes graphics are complicated because the information itself is complicated. But our job is to make sense out of the information and try to make it clear for the reader. Do as much work for the reader as we can. But sometimes the graphics still remain complicated. These should be the exception, though.
I think when infographics people get in trouble is when they design graphics with other infographics people in mind, instead of with the reader in mind. I think it is a part of all of us to try to impress other people in the business with the work we do, but those instincts need to be kept in check most of the time because in the end we are doing this for the reader, not for each other..  

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