In his new book, James Gleick writes that, “We have information fatigue, anxiety, and glut.” One could say the same things about content and data – we are bombarded daily by the two, with barely a reprieve at home. We are expected to comprehend ever larger amounts of content and data while our brains stay the same size. Overload is a real possibility for some.
Thankfully, science and health communicators have embraced visual storytelling as a way to convey ideas (even complex ones) quickly and cleanly to a variety of audiences. The development of visual assets such as infographics and animations helps clients to present a unified story and message across the spheres of the media cloverleaf.
Following are some of the most common visual solutions in the science and health space.
As visual representations of information, data, or knowledge, infographics use a combination of illustration, text, and graphic elements to quickly and clearly explain complex information. By arranging information in layers and according to multiple variables, the infographic can present a large amount of information in a manner that is easy to digest and allows for visual connections to be made. Infographics can also be adapted across a variety of media, increasing the value proposition of each graphic.
- Static infographics, like this one from GOOD, present a proscribed story for the viewer to explore. The story unfolds in a directed manner for the viewer to discover, piece by piece. In this case, a viewer can compare the scales of historic disease outbreaks in one place.
- Interactive infographics, like this one from the NYT, allow the user to control certain aspects of the graphic. This allows for deeper digging into relevant pieces of the story. In this case, a user interested in supercomputers located in Europe can explore that section of the infographic in detail.
Taking complex and large amounts of data and turning them into eye-catching yet tidy data visualizations is not easy. But with the right visual storytelling tools and an interesting dataset, visualizations engage viewers, allowing them to make unseen connections and to establish patterns otherwise invisible to the viewer.
- Using publicly available data, Derek Watkins created this visualization, which tracks post office expansion in the United States over time. In addition to a great, visual way to see how the United States population expanded over time, other patterns emerge, including lack of activity in the South during the Civil War and the first offices opening on the west coast in 1848.
A key tool for visualization specialists, animations can provide a larger context for a health or science story. For example, an animation can quickly show the numerous processes and cellular mechanisms that contribute to osteoporosis, which can lead to a conversation about drugs that treat the disease. Animations have proven especially popular for use by pharmaceutical companies.
- Pre-launch: While pre-launch settings are restricted, mechanism of action (MOA) animation can be a novel addition to presentations at advisory boards or to venture capital pitches.
- Launch: Around the launch of a pharmaceutical, MOA animation can help reinforce a company’s leadership in certain therapeutic categories. It can also highlight points of differentiation from competitor drugs. As usual, care must be taken to avoid off-label claims.
- Post-launch: An aging drug may be reformulated for extended release or a new route of administration, offering an opportunity to visualize the new delivery mechanism and to highlight its value.
What examples of visual data have you seen?
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