Everything changes; nothing ever stays the same.
This is true about many aspects of life, and infographics are no exception.
At Buzzmachine Studios, we keep our eyes peeled for trends in infographics, and one thing we've noticed more recently is the use of interactive and animated infographics.
Interactive infographics are infographics that allow the viewer to interact with the data rather than viewing a static infographic. They require programming to create, and sometimes are able to feature more data or information than a static infographic can (think about it – the web page that holds the interactive infographic can be as long as the designer wants, and can navigate to other pages if they desire, as well).
Typically these come in the form of data visualizations which let the user determine the criteria for the display of the information. Where more traditional infographics tell a story with the information, data visualizations are somewhat open-ended, allowing the user to draw their own conclusions about what the data tells them.
Animated information graphics – sometimes called gifographics because many use animated gifs – are more like traditional, static infographics except they introduce elements of motion to help draw attention to certain aspects of the information or to tell the story more effectively.
Some of the best animated infographics we've seen are being produced by Jacob O'Neal, a graphic/web designer based in Oregon. His site, Animagraffs, is loaded with some really outstanding examples of animated infographics. We've posted a piece of one of those graphics below, but you really need to see it on his site to fully appreciate it.
© Jacob O'Neal
While interactive and animated infographics may be very intriguing at first glance, there are definite pros and cons when it comes to using them.
Pros of INTERACTIVE/ANIMATED infographics
- They are visually appealing. Bright colors, pretty pictures, interesting information. All of these things combined make them something people are eager to get into.
- Interactive = fun. Of course, people love interacting with things. When you can become hands-on with anything, you're going to have more interest from users, etc.
- Animation in graphics can be a powerful storytelling tool. Using motion and movement can help advance the narrative and communicate the message more easily than a static image can in general. It's like the difference between photographs and a TV show or movie.
Cons of INTERACTIVE/ANIMATED infograpahics
- They are expensive. As we mentioned before, interactive data viz projects or animated infographics require a programmer or animator. So, not only do you have to pay for a designer to create the infographic pieces, you have to pay for a programmer to make it work correctly and/or an animator to add motion.
- Time-consuming = lots of work. When you have something that requires coding and other programming, there is a chance it could break. This means more work for you (or for those you've hired to create the infographic), and more frustration for everyone. For animated graphics, count on potentially doubling or exponentially increasing the amount of man hours it takes to produce a finished product depending on the complexity and length of the animation.
- Flashy doesn't always mean effective. Many times, an interactive infographic relies heavily on flashy artwork and design, which takes away from the actual information being presented. As with many static infographics out there on the web, often times it's all about the eye candy and gimmicky bling, and we've seen plenty of animated graphics that have lots of animation that doesn't do much to advance the story, but golly, they sure do have lots of animation in them.
Many people have predicted that these kinds of interactive/animated graphics are the future of visual storytelling, and that they'll ultimately replace static methods. To be sure, animated/interactive graphics have their place, and they can be very powerful communication tools, but they'll never fully supplant static infographics for three reasons.
- Not every medium supports animation/interactivity. Printed collateral, which is still by far the most-used form of marketing/communication method, doesn't do animation/interactivity – at least not in a cost effective way. There are exceptions, of course, but developing them means having deep pockets. Which brings us too…
- Interactivity and animation is expensive. There's a reason it takes Pixar 4-7 years to produce an animated feature-length film with thousands of animators, modelers, texture artists, lighting designers, etc. working on the production. Animation exponentially increases production time. That's not to say every project is the equivalent of a Pixar movie, but the point is any animation increases the cost over a static project. The same is true for interactive projects that require programming by developers. Not every company or individual has a marketing budget that will support this kind of cash outlay.
- Perhaps most importantly, not every project needs to be animated or have interactivity. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. You only need animated/interactive elements in projects where they help tell the story more effectively. If you don't need them, why spend the time and money to include them when a static infographic does the job just as well or even better?
Don't get us wrong. We love producing animated and interactive graphics, and we love seeing examples of outstanding visual thinking when they're done by fantastic artists like Jacob O'Neal. They most definitely have their time and place, but the hype that's bubbling up about them within certain circles is often just that – hype.
We're in favor of first examining the raw data/information, determining the message that needs to be communicated, and only then deciding what kind of finished product will best tell that story. Sometimes the recommendation will be to use interactivity and/or animation, and sometimes a good, old-fashioned static infographic is the best option.