When my daughter was three and was out for a walk on a fall day, she pointed to a spider web and explained what it was. “Dad, this is a website,” she said.
It was a visual way of describing a word she had heard but didn’t understand yet. And graphical information and visualizations give us a method to do the reverse: use pictures to describe a story in a way we can understand. If kids want to understand the world around them, infographics can.
There is currently a data revolution around the world. From journalism to government, the stories of the world are told through numbers and facts. But while we treat this as something that only applies to adults, it belongs to everyone. And the younger it starts, the better.
This week sees the publication of a book I worked on with infographic design father Peter Grundy – Infographics: Human body. And in April, Animal Kingdom is released, created with graphic designer Nichola Blechman.
So, why produce an infographic book for children? Data is a way to fight blur, something kids don’t like at all. The facts are black and white, true and false for the average six-year-old. They want certainty.
“A good image equals a good deed,” Van Gogh said, and since we were able to draw a line graph, designers knew that an image can bring data to life. In 1801, William Playfair, who invented line charts and pie charts to help people understand complex problems, published his Statistical Review and explained how important it is to make data interesting:
“Appealing to the eye when proportion and size are concerned is the best and easiest method of conveying a distinct idea. “
But he also wanted to start them young, by printing data “in the mind at a time when memory is capable of being printed in a lasting and lasting way, thus laying the foundations for precise and valuable knowledge”.
Peter Grundy has been explaining the world in computer graphics since the 1970s as one half of Grundy & Northedge. Human Body is his first work for children. “I’ve been trying different things for 30 years and the younger I am the easier it is,” he says. “We are learning to see on our own, my belief is that we are captivated by images long before we learn to read and by the time we get to school our visual language is very advanced. So I think I can be more experimental with a younger audience.
Data is a crucial part of the work he does – it’s not about decoration but storytelling. “With a lot of editorial design, illustration is seen as a decorative element. As a graphic designer / illustrator, I see words and images as a whole, both together delivering a stronger message.
Psychologists have known for some time that showing rather than just telling a child works. This study compared children who were said something verbally to others who were only shown a picture. Children who showed the pictures were more likely to retain this information and remember it later. “Without an image, to think is impossible”, said Aristotle. The images work.
Alberto Cairo writes on data visualization and teaches graphics and information visualization at the School of Communication at the University of Miami. He emphasizes that understanding computer graphics is not innate in us – it has to be learned.
“You have to learn to read a graph before you can understand it. The only reason we take bar charts and line charts for granted is because they’re so common and we’ve been taught to read them, ”he says. “One eye-opening experience for me was seeing that my child was introduced to bar and line charts in school and after that he started using these kinds of charts in his work.”
Animal Kingdom designer Nicholas Blechman says the reality of data is alluring and contrasts with the fanciful regime kids face in their entertainment every day. “So many children’s books fictionalize the world through wildly creative and inventive stories. There is something refreshing about a book that is about hard facts, ”he says. “Much of the information is weird, you almost couldn’t make it up (eg Koala bears feeding their young with poo). Knowledge is power, and kids love the certainty of knowing the fastest animal or the animal with the biggest brain.
This is not about dumbing down or aiming graphics only at children. Designer Nigel Holmes is the author of the Lonely Planet book of Everything, a visual guide to traveling the world. He says that one major factor is perhaps the most retro aspect of a book: the paper it’s printed on.
Books speak to children by “presenting them in a book (or on paper) rather than through digital media.” There are too many distractions on mobile devices. This doesn’t mean that books should be like homework.
It identifies Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz’s Isotype System (rows of beautifully drawn little icons representing amounts of anything: money, motorcycles, corn, guns, women, men, children). “It’s a great, friendly way to show both what the numbers are and what they’re talking about. They can see what the topic is before they “read” the graph.
Holmes’ tips for designing visuals for children are as follows:
By not talking to children, just writing clearly and making the writing conversational (hence “talking”). Using humor. I find that children understand and enjoy jokes and puns. Many publishers of children’s books do not believe this. My experience shows that they are wrong.
Simon roger is a currently data editor at Twitter. He launched the Guardian Datablog in 2009 and is the author of the data journalism book “Facts Are Sacred”.
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