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Randy Krum infographic designerRandy Krum

President of InfoNewt.
Data Visualization, Infographic Design, Visual Thinking, Product Development and Marketing professional fascinated by good infographics.  Always looking for better ways to get the point across.

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Monday
May092011

The Obama Energy Agenda: The White House attempts an #Infographic

 

On Friday, the White House (yes, that White House) released this infographic, The Obama Energy Agenda & Gas Prices.  This is one of the very few “official” infographic designs we’ve seen from the U.S. Government, so I think it deserves a little more critique than normal.  There are some things I like about this one, and some things I don’t.

The Good: 

  • The fact that this was released by the White House, is a really big positive.  I generally praise companies that experiment with infographics to get their messages out, and an official one like this from the government says big things about infographics continuing to grow in relevance in today’s society of information overload.  If you want your information to reach a bunch of people online (especially the younger crowd) then using an infographic is your best bet.
  • Nice layout telling a story.  The best infographics tell a story well, and the progression of topics top-to-bottom tell the story Obama’s team wants to share.  One topic leads into the next.
  • Bold colors.  The dark background stands out nicely in most online news and blog formats, even on the white background color of the White House Blog.  The color gradient matches the new, official White House logo with the blue gradient background you see at the top.  Makes the overall infographic feel very official.
  • Good use of illustrations.  Sometimes, visualizing a point is effectively done with an image or illustration so the reader immediately knows what you’re talking about.  The car with a power cord, the bus, the fuel gauge and the oil wells designed into the separator line near the top.
  • I like the color scheme too.  Some infographics go so crazy with clashing colors it’s hard to read, but the consistent light blue, yellow and white is easy on the eyes.
  • They included a social sharing button at the bottom of the blog posts.  They use a combined social button that expands to show many sharing services.  I generally find that less people actually use combined buttons, but they certainly save screen real estate and there’s a way to share online.  There’s no logo or company name included in this button either, so the White House isn’t endorsing a particular company.
  • I like the line chart.  They removed the y-axis labels and put the data right onto the chart, along with additional comments.  This makes the whole chart easier to understand.

 

The Bad: 

  • NO DATA SOURCES!  Where did the numbers come from?!?  You want readers to engage and debate your story, not challenge your facts.  Citing all of your data sources keeps the conversation on your story.  This design, without sources, almost invites readers to focus on challenging the facts instead of becoming engaged in the conversation about energy.
  • Way too much text!
  • The infographic above is the blog-size version.  The high-resolution version is tough to find because clicking on the image only takes you to the blog-size image.  Separately, in the text of the White House post, you have to click “Download Full Size” to view the higher-resolution version. (Click the image above to view high-resolution)
  • Text too small.  The font is so small in some places, it’s hard to read, and many people won’t find the text link to the high-resolution version.
  • Not many data visualizations.  Big numbers are not visualizations. and there are only three actual data visualizations (line chart, column chart and color filled factory illustrations).  There are so many more numbers included that should have been visualized to give them context!  
    • How does 35.5 mpg from 2012-2016 compare to the last four years?
    • “Over 2 billion barrels of American crude oil produced in 2010.”  Show the last 20 years to provide context.
    • “…would reduce oil consumption of about 750 million barrels through 2010.”  Is that a lot?  Making the text bold makes it feel important, but it doesn’t give the reader any frame of reference.
  • The stacked column chart could be much better.
    • They could have removed the Y-axis labels and the background lines
    • Legends are evil.  In the 2012 column, they could have identified the color-coding of the different sources of renewable energy instead of putting a separate legend under the chart.  Makes the reader work harder to look back-and-forth at a legend.
    • Why isn’t “Solar” the yellow color instead of “Geothermal”?  Yellow…like the sun.
  • The factory visual at the bottom is tough.  For any shape visualizations, it’s the AREA of the shape that conveys meaning, and I think the designer missed it here.  It looks like the green color height matches the data, but not the area of the factory shape.  Readers understand this intuitively, so to most readers the factory showing 2035 data will just look wrong, even if they don’t know why.
  • No designer credit.  Who designed it?
  • No single landing page.  The infographic is actually included in two different blog posts: The President on Jobs & Gas Prices: Read His Remarks, Download the Graphic on May 6th and Weekly Address: Clean Energy to Out-Innovate the Rest of the World on May 7th.
    • This makes tracking more difficult because they would have to look at links and views for both individual blog posts.
    • The infographic is actually the secondary topic to both blog posts, so it’s never truly highlighted as the focus of the blog post.  It’s just included in blog posts about energy topics.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE that the White House staff is experimenting with infographics, and I hope they do many more in the future.  They just need some more practice. 

What do you think?

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