A better way to think about innovation

By Luke Heilbuth We must innovate! is a catchphrase of the digital age. In reality, most of us grip limpet-like to the things we know. Humans are creatures of habit, after all. Our inclination is to fear or resent changes that force us to move beyond our comfort zone. This is called the familiarity heuristic in behavioural economics – our tendency to favour the familiar over the unknown. A recent theory in psychology reveals that our brain is also a ‘cognitive miser’ – programmed to shun effortful, sophisticated thinking in favour of less effortful, simple thinking. In other words, our minds have evolved to avoid the difficulty and stress associated with innovative thinking. But what if there was a way to improve the odds? In this article, I’ll outline a way to structure your thinking about innovation. Who knows? It might lead you to the next big thing. Answers shmanswers Remember studying as a kid? Knowing the date of the Bolshevik revolution seemed important. You wouldn’t do well at school unless you memorised a laundry list of information. At university – even during your last job interview – you continued to be judged on your ability to respond to the questions asked of you. But today, learning how to answer by rote isn’t what it used to be. There are two reasons for this. First, the ‘right’ answer to a question often changes as the limits of human knowledge expand. For over a thousand years, people assumed the answer to ‘what are the laws of the universe?’ could be found in the Bible. Newton then formulated his laws of motion, which held sway for three centuries. Einstein developed the general theory of relativity in the mid 20th Century, which now exists in parallel with quantum mechanics. We don’t know what will come next, but we know our understanding is incomplete. Second, basic economic theory holds that scarcity creates value. Thanks to the internet, the answers to most questions are freely available to anyone, in seconds. This trend has only just begun. The artificial intelligence revolution will continue to erode the value of occupations that essentially revolve around collating data to spit out an answer. High-status professions like stock broking, medicine, accounting and the law are all in the firing line. Take accounting. In the very near future, the algorithms of companies like Xero will replace most of the accounting work currently done by humans. If this all sounds concerning, it doesn’t need to be. It just means we have to think more creatively about how businesses stay relevant. One way of doing this is to reduce the premium we place on answers and increase the premium we place on questions. For instance, if the boards of Blockbuster and Kodak had asked more probing questions about the viability of their product, they might have recognised their answers to home entertainment (DVD hire) and preserving family memories (film photography) were at risk of becoming irrelevant. Netflix and the iPhone saw the opportunity that new technology afforded and ate their lunch. Questions = innovation So what’s the solution? To avoid going to the corporate graveyard, businesses need to understand the following insight: Those who ask the right questions transform the world. And every time a true innovator reaches a satisfactory answer, he or she can use it as a stepping-stone to ask a new, better question. story-image_word-doc-01The idea that questions are the best way to develop new understanding comes from the dialectic method – the process of comparing and contrasting competing arguments to reach new insights. There is nothing new here – the idea has been around since Socrates – but it works. Here’s a simple method you can adopt:
  1. Think of an initial question.
  2. Try and answer it using as many falsifiable hypotheses as possible.
  3. Test those hypotheses through observation.
  4. Discard those that fail.
  5. Build on those that show promise by asking better and better questions.
Let’s take Elon Musk as an example. He begins by asking an initial question: How can I accelerate the world’s transition from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar-electric economy, for the benefit of shareholders and the environment? After discarding alternative hypotheses, his answer is to focus on electric vehicles (Tesla, Inc), lithium ion battery storage (Tesla Powerwall) and solar energy panels (SolarCity). But there are problems with cost blowouts, delays, and scepticism about whether his new technologies will become widely adopted. So Musk asks a better question: How can I create synergies, lower consumer costs, take advantage of economies of scale, and ensure my technology becomes mainstream? Musk answers by winning shareholder approval to merge Tesla and SolarCity; lobbies for billions in tax credits and government subsidies; builds a massive Gigafactory in Nevada to manufacture lithium ion batteries at scale, builds a massive factory in Buffalo to manufacture solar panels at scale, and gives away Tesla’s patents to competitors for free to guarantee the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. There’s only one Elon Musk. So don’t be discouraged if your initial question doesn’t bear fruit. No transformational idea is born perfect and ready for implementation. It’s a seed that grows best under the care and attention of a highly talented team, so get other people on board early. The trick is to start the process of asking the right question initially and seeing where it leads. As Mark Twain once said: He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.

Technology is changing the world: what it means for you

By Luke Heilbuth Here’s a thought: in the not too distant future, your Kindle could have face-recognition sensors that record what makes you laugh, cry or frown. Amazon will then sell you stuff based on your reactions. Your books will be reading you, even as you read them. bwd-bcorp-presentation-1_the-point-pg2 Welcome to the digital age, where big data, analytics and algorithms know you better than you know yourself. While machine learning has made our lives more convenient, experts are divided on whether advances in technology will be good for us over the longer term. Some futurists worry that super-intelligent machines could discard us altogether one day. Others think a hi-tech nirvana awaits, where artificial intelligence will solve all our problems, even death. President Eisenhower once said that pessimism never won any battle, so I’ll side with the optimists for now. My focus is on the ideas of the American economist, Jeremy Rifkin. If he’s right, the way we do business, organise government, educate our children and interact with each other is about to change, and for the better. In this article, I’ll explain:
  • why the Internet of Things is changing everything
  • how technology is disrupting capitalism
  • why the sharing economy is booming
  • what questions you should be asking to prepare for the future.
bwd-bcorp-presentation-1_the-point-pg4The third industrial revolution In his thinking about the future of technology, Rifkin noticed that the really big economic shifts in history have one thing in common: breakthroughs in energy, communications and transport technologies at around the same time. During the first industrial revolution in 19th Century Britain, advances in steam technology led to the invention of the steam-powered printer and the steam locomotive, which in turn led to the creation of the mass media and the railways. These breakthroughs were also underpinned by a new energy source in cheap coal. In the second industrial revolution in the 20th Century United States, electricity led to the development of the telephone, radio and television. A new kind of energy, cheap Texas crude, spurred the invention of a new form of transport: motor vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine. bwd-bcorp-presentation-1_the-point-pg6An even more seismic revolution is now underway. The convergence of renewable (especially solar) energy, the communications internet and self-driving electric vehicles is giving rise to a technology platform called the Internet of Things: the embedding of computing devices into everyday objects which send and receive data through the internet. Over 20 billion devices already link farms, mines, the electricity grid, production lines, transport networks, warehouses and recycling systems to the internet. By 2030, Cisco predicts up to 500 billion devices will be connected. The key takeout is that every part of our economic and social system will soon be linked via sensors and software to the IoT platform. The implications are staggering. Everything is about to change. The paradox of capitalism Even capitalism. It turns out Marx was (partly) right. Capitalism contains the seeds of its own decline – if not demise. But it isn’t the exploitation of workers. It’s extreme productivity. Put another way, capitalism has become too good at what it does. The problem revolves around an idea called zero marginal cost: the price at which an additional unit can be produced without an increase in the total cost of production. Until recently, no-one thought about the possibility of technology becoming so advanced that marginal costs would be reduced to near zero, making goods and services almost free and abundant after fixed costs are taken into account. bwd-bcorp-presentation-1_the-point-pg8This can be tricky, so I’ll explain with a practical example. Remember 1999? It was a good year for movies, with The Matrix, American Beauty and Fight Club tearing up the box office. But the performances of Keanu, Kevin and Brad weren’t the most important things in the entertainment industry. The guy we should have been watching was an 18-year-old insomniac called Shawn Fanning. In a mad dash of creativity, Fanning stayed up for 60 hours straight writing source code for his file-sharing website. Napster created a digital network that allowed millions to share music for free, devastating the profits of the music industry. This same phenomenon soon bulldozed the business models of the movie companies, print newspapers, television and book publishing. Over three billion consumers now produce and share their own music, videos, pictures and ideas on their smart phones and computers, nearly for free, bypassing traditional sources of news and entertainment altogether. An even more extraordinary thing is now happening. Zero marginal cost is crossing over from the digital world to disrupt the business models of industries in the real world, like manufacturing, energy and education. bwd-bcorp-presentation-1_the-point-pg9 As Rifkin notes, enthusiasts in garages around the world are making products using 3D printers, recycled plastic and open-sourced software. Millions of households are producing and storing their own renewable energy, even selling it back into the grid. And more than six million of us are heading online to enrol for free in university courses taught by some of the finest professors in the world. The collaborative commons If a 3D printer can create almost anything for little cost, where is the status in owning a cupboard full of possessions? The economic system best suited for a connected world, where many goods and services are almost free, is the collaborative commons: a digital version of the sharing economy used in most hunter-gatherer societies. A move towards a more socially responsible economy is already in train, as the Internet of Things creates greater opportunities for collaboration and inclusion. Rifkin points to the growing use of social media to share ideas and information, and the use of cooperatives to share cars, homes, tools and toys. As machines take more human jobs in manufacturing, retail and transport, new employment opportunities will also lie primarily in the collaborative commons. Jobs that strengthen social capital like education, health, child care, environmental protection, and care for the elderly will increase in popularity and status. bwd-bcorp-presentation-1_the-point-pg11 So what of capitalism itself? I suspect Rifkin pushes the implications of the sharing economy’s growth too far. I doubt the capitalist system will be relegated to the role of “niche player” as he suggests. But his most important insight is correct: zero marginal cost will continue to strangle top-down, vertically integrated business models that previously enjoyed fat margins and significant pricing power. Remember the Kindle example I used at the start of this article? The most successful businesses in future will be aggregators of data like Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google and Xero, which make profits by hoarding our personal information to offer us ever more tailored goods and services. The digital age is already raising difficult questions about how technology is shaping our lives. I’m not sure if Rifkin is right, but I hope he is. A world based around community, sustainability and material abundance sounds pretty good to me. A practical take-away To help digest these ideas – and to move them from the theoretical to something useful – here’s a list of questions you should be asking to prepare for the future:
  1. How will you transition from industrial age technologies, like television and oil, to digital age technologies, like electric cars and renewables?
  1. How will you adapt your business model to take advantage of the Internet of Things? In a connected world, your opportunities are bigger than you realise. But so are your threats.
  1. Does your organisation understand the danger posed by zero-marginal cost? If relevant, are you investing in transitioning your business to an aggregator model?
  1. Have you invested in your social license to operate? Social media and greater environmental awareness means unethical or irresponsible behaviour can do permanent damage to a business.
  1. Have you thought about how to benefit from the growth of the sharing economy? Can you collaborate with likeminded partners to share opportunities and build social capital?
  Interested in knowing more? Contact me at luke@bwdcreative.com.au to learn how the experts at BWD can help.

From 2Bs to bots

By Clare Maxwell As a teenager, one of my summer jobs was product testing for a market research company. My mum would drop me off at the corporate headquarters where I’d spend the next two hours sitting in a sterile white booth, tasting chips delivered to me through a hatch in the wall, and filling out a 50 page survey with a 2B pencil describing the level of saltiness of the tiny morsel of food I’d been given. The job bored me to death, I wanted more chips, but the $40 payout seemed worth it at the time! Reflecting on it now, if I thought completing the survey was bad, what about the poor person who needed to decipher my handwriting and enter it into a spread sheet at the other end? What a laborious task. It’s little wonder 90% of all the data in the world has been created in the last two years. With the arrival of automated data capture, search marketing, user testing, online polls, chatbots and community forums, teenagers with 2B pencils are a thing of the past. With more options available, more companies are performing studies – not just the guys who can afford it. What this means is a higher demand on users to take part in surveys. But just because capturing data has become easier, it doesn’t mean filling out a survey is more enjoyable. So where the focus of market research used to be on writing the perfect set of questions, it now includes creating an experience people want to take part in. Because there’s no point in writing questions if no one wants to answer them. So, how do you get creative with data capture? To give you a starting point, we’ve reviewed some of the most popular digital formats for market research from a researcher and a customer perspective: Surveys First off, you need to determine if you’re after specific insights or a big picture summary. If it’s quantitative data, a survey will be the easiest and most efficient way to get to the point quickly, as customers are more likely to enter information in one sitting than return frequently to a discussion page to check what has been said. Surveys are the most comfortable choice for non-tech-savvy users, because they are similar to the paper forms we’ve been filling out for years. However, if you want to avoid boring your audience to tears, a custom experience is a must. There are plenty of platforms that allow you to build surveys with animation and images. For example, we created our Sustainability Tool using Typeform. But beware: the upside of surveys – familiarity – can also be their downfall. Based on past experiences, customers might not even open your survey at all if they think they know what it will be like. This is where incentives, time estimates, progress bars and games will help persuade users to give the survey a go. For example, the QLD government created the Health and Fitness Age calculator which collects information about health and eating habits, but, as an incentive, at the end calculates an age to represent the user’s health. screen-shot-2017-03-29-at-3-11-01-pm Forums Forums are like the online version of a focus group. They are a great way of gathering opinions and feedback on an idea or product. While it can be hard to get measurable data for a report out of a group discussion, allowing the conversation to take an organic journey can be helpful for uncovering unexpected insights. The biggest challenge in creating a successful forum is making it a tool people actually want to use. Usually forums are created using an existing template, re-skinned to match your brand. Unfortunately most templates out there at the moment have clunky user interfaces, making it hard for people with low technical abilities to use, and frustrating for tech-savvy audiences. Here lies a great opportunity for designers to rethink the forum format and create a new model that works – let me know how you go with that! Another variable on forums is user profiling. If you ask users to sign up to your forum and fill in a short form, you can gather data about their demographics, adding an extra layer of insight to their answers. But this process might deter some users from joining the forum. So my recommendation would be, if user demographics aren’t particularly relevant to your project, allow anonymity so that anyone can join. Just be sure to set some rules to make sure people behave in an appropriate manner online. Community Groups and Social Media If you’ve only got a short timeframe and not much money, hosting research on social media could be the way to go, as it’s free and has the functionality to post a variety of content for discussion. For more organic data collection, using a closed Facebook or LinkedIn group allows you to invite your users to a confidential page where you can ask them to respond to pictures, videos, questions and polls, and of course engage in lively discussion. You can plan all your content in advance and publish it using a scheduler like Hootsuite to avoid the toll of constant maintenance. Or, if you want a quick answer, mirco-surveys have become increasingly popular on social media. This means simply posting a single question poll to your company page to engage your followers interest on a topic. For example, Bill Gates recently posted a poll to Twitter asking “what has happened to extreme poverty over the last 25 years?” After answering the question, users could see the results and learn about his charity work. This micro-survey gathered data, taught users about poverty statistics and promoted his cause at the same time. screen-shot-2017-03-29-at-3-11-24-pm One common argument people make against social media market research is “what if our customers don’t have an account?” I say don’t let this stop you, the rewards outweigh the risk in this case. If you choose a platform your target group already uses, this can work in your favour, as the research will be built into their daily routine. Bots and Conversational UX A UX trend currently taking off is artificial intelligence, with one example being ‘conversational UX’. Conversational UX basically means that instead of a webpage being made out of a navigation, buttons, links and content, the whole online experience appears as one dynamic conversation. These formats are sometimes called “bots”, because the user is talking to a form of artificial intelligence. Some bots exist in a free-form style, where the user can ask anything they like. Other bots control the conversation by running on a set of cleverly devised questions, like the news site UX Bear. screen-shot-2017-03-29-at-3-12-16-pm   This second format lends itself perfectly to market research, because as the user answers each question, data is being collected. Bots can collect users’ names and demographics, ask them what they’re interested in, offer them information to read and ask their opinion on it, without it feeling like a survey. The experience doesn’t have to be a single linear journey either. You can collect ideas from people who’ve already responded and then replay them to new users to gain deeper insights.
With a well-devised content strategy, a bot could gain some interesting insights without customers even knowing they were taking part in market research. In fact, this is where market research is already heading. Apple keeps voice data from Siri requests for two years and uses it to improve their products. Google tracks our locations, browsing history, YouTube viewing and emails to create advertising profiles and deliver us personalised content. With the progression of the Internet of Things, all aspects of our everyday lives are being documented, such as how many steps we’ve taken in a day, how many calories we’ve eaten, how many hours we’ve spent watching Netflix and even how many hours we’ve slept in a night. In years to come we may not have to conduct surveys at all. It will simply be a matter of buying data that’s already been collected. But in the meantime, remember no 2B pencils. Whatever format you choose to capture data, make it enjoyable, seamless and integrated into your customers’ digital lives.

Transforming your connection with brands

By Chris Chatfield, Brand Director, BWD Increasingly, through our brand strategy and implementation work, we’re having conversations with clients about how to digitally improve customers’ experiences and interactions with their brand. The immersive value of virtual reality (VR) is often excitedly raised as clients are increasingly aware of the importance of emotional connections between their customers and their brand. And there’s strong evidence that consumers feel more connected to, and have more positive emotional feelings towards, brands that adopt VR. The problem is that clients believe VR is expensive and difficult to execute, can’t be viewed without a (weird-looking) headset, and isn’t being used by many organisations. Their concerns are fair as, only a few years ago, this would have been true, but we’re pleased to say that these perceptions are rapidly becoming outdated. For example, it’s quite possible to produce a simple, immersive VR experience from as little as $10k, in a similar timeframe as a traditional video, and with an output that can be viewed on a desktop or mobile using nothing more than Youtube. Following is our primer into VR, and if it rocks your (real or virtual) boat, then why not ask us for some more information?

Autoinfograph: How technology can make us all designers (sort of)

Last month we were lucky enough to host a workshop with one of Australia’s largest property companies. The objective was to help them win more of the projects they tender for. It was a fun few hours. My colleagues Derryn Heilbuth and Chris Chatfield talked about the writing and design techniques we employ for these long-form documents, and I finished off with two hours on the wider world of data visualisation. By Gethin Fisher, General Manager, BWD But the bit I really enjoyed was watching a dozen marketers design their first infographic. They were awesome: creative, insightful and surprisingly good-looking. It got me thinking: should we, a creative agency that does this sort of thing for a living, really be teaching our clients how to do it? How can we justify our fees if anyone can produce something similar, for free, themselves? Fortunately, my fears were allayed almost immediately, as Chris stepped up and showed them one he’d prepared earlier. A prolonged ‘Ooooohhhhh…’ went round the room. His years of training, technical know-how and creative thinking blew them away. So now that I don’t fear this democratised creativity, I feel entirely comfortable sharing my opinion on the DIY design tools we played with in preparation for the workshop.   Visage graphic   Visage Visage was the first ‘content creation’ site I came across in my search for design templates and infographics. It’s built by a Californian agency that produces lovely datavis (the visual representation of data) work themselves and who share good intel through their emails and white papers. Visage is built primarily for social media posts, so if you want to design your own tweet-sized graphics or you need some attractive charts or tables that look better than Excel, then this site will serve you well. Canva Canva is similar to Visage but it’s made in Sydney and has way more variety so we’re bound to like it more! Canva has loads of templates to choose from, plus you can easily re-size the graphic to fit your need; I produced my LinkedIn background wall to the correct dimensions in seconds, instead of bugging our studio to do it for me. In truth, most of their templates are for personal or consumer purposes, and I did have some trouble saving and downloading my designs during my first session, but overall it was rather fun.   Piktograph infographic   Piktochart Piktochart is the application we used during our workshop. For an audience of corporate communicators it had the right mix of business-related templates, from reports and infographics to online presentations. Our group of marketers got stuck in quickly and they all found a template to suit the wireframes they’d sketched. In the Pro version there are more lovely templates, like the one above, plus you can download at print quality if you want to use them offline. So if you’re a business person who needs something designed fast and cheap and you don’t have a designer to lean on, Piktochart seems best-in-class to me. Specialist Apps As you’d expect, there are loads of niche applications to be found at the end of your Google search. plot.ly has got some radical, interactive chart types if you want to embed some complex datavis into your website. Timeline JS, as the name suggests, is a tool for embedding timelines into your website, a task I’m sure most communications teams have been asked to complete at some point. Similarly, Storymap JS enables you to plot your stories on a Google Map, which again is great if you want to show off your company facilities or a physical journey online. There are many other mapping, graphing and visualising tools, so my advice here is to Google your need and let the application come to you. Business Intelligence Tools At the other end of the scale, if you’re looking to handle large, complex or unstructured datasets, then you’ll probably be entering the jargon-heavy world of business intelligence (BI) tools. Again there are heaps to choose from, as detailed in this ironic scatter graph from Gartner (the irony being that their data visualisation about leading data visualisation tools is an awful piece of data visualisation).   BI Tools 2016 Gartner   From what I hear around the corporate locker rooms, Tableau is the most widely adopted and easiest to use by people who don’t have an analytical background, but investment decisions in this realm are often driven by your existing IT stack and how well the tools work together. In conclusion, it’s not surprising that designers get nervous about the arrival of tools like The Grid, which uses artificial intelligence to design your website for you, but the truth is that robots won’t take away our creative jobs. Not just yet. To me, it’s a bit like owning a guitar. It might look great hanging on my wall, or feel nice in my hands, and I really would like one for my birthday, but owning a great guitar doesn’t mean I can make great music.

Six inspiring examples of digital storytelling

By Gethin Fisher

The emergence of HTML5 has led to an explosion of new ways to tell stories online. Here are just six examples, though we could have given you sixty!

1. Paced learning

‘Where did everything come from? Where are we heading?’ These are two big questions that you can answer in approximately 50 minutes at bighistoryproject.com The content and UX of this site are awesome. It tells you exactly where you are in each chapter, allows you to control the speed at which you learn and enables you to explore the wonders of the universe in many different ways. I’m sure even Mr Spock would be mildly impressed! 

2. Data visualisation

If you’re a corporate communicator, you’ve probably been passed a giant spreadsheet and asked to ‘make a story out of that lot’. I suspect this project, from the Economic Policy Institute, started in the same way. But check out the interesting ways they get you to interact and personalise this data. It’s both technically inspiring and thought provoking for all us who live in this ‘lucky country’. 

http://inequality.is/

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 3.31.11 pm

3. Pictures

We love the stark UX that a full screen image or video can bring. This Tumblr blog from NPR tells ‘Stories about how you see the world’ in a clean and at times hauntingly beautiful way. http://lookatthisstory.tumblr.com/tagged/stories/

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 3.32.58 pm

4. Stacks and Sway

Microsoft is too big and powerful to get completely swept aside by all this innovation. They’ve responded with lots of new tools for basically taking PowerPoint online. Sway is their inhouse tool for producing interactive reports and presentations, and Stacker is a free software tool that has a similar idea. Both can be embedded into your existing website and are responsive and therefore mobile-friendly.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 3.33.23 pm

Check out http://newsbound.com/ for some great examples that won’t cost the earth to produce. 

5. Outliers

It’s easy to be mean about averages, but often the really interesting stories lie in your outliers, a data point that is distanced from the norm. 

The Spotify Year In Music review is not interesting for telling us that lots of people listen to Taylor Swift. It’s the outliers, the unusual fun facts, that will stick with you. Like more people listening to Abba on New Years Day than any other band; or 30 May being the happiest day for music.

6. Podcasts

And finally, here’s a digital medium that has no pictures. It doesn’t need any code, has no interactivity and is basically mirroring one of the earliest forms of mass communication: radio.  

Nevertheless, podcasts have had a massive upsurge in interest and innovation in the last couple of years, in large part because it’s the perfect format for commuters that need to keep their eyes on the road but their ears can be distracted. I listened to this RadioLab episode on my way in this morning, which has a great story and an even better tone of voice. You might also like Serial or Freakonomics Radio on your next commute.

If you like this content, then you will love our new ebook, ‘Data Fatigue and the future of datavis’. To pre-order you copy, email gethin@bwdcreative.com.au 

The anatomy of user experience

By Randle Juan What is UX? User experience (UX) is what your customer feels when interacting with your online offerings. To deliver a great user experience, the digital designer must manage a balancing act, considering the goals of the user and the business as well as technical limits. Here’s advice for anyone seeking to create a new website or digital product. The five elements 1.Conception It all starts here, usually with quantitative (such as structured surveys) and qualitative (like open user interviews) research. Once the data’s been sorted into categories of users, it’s developed into ‘personas’. These are fictional customers whose habits and needs are based on common elements identified in consumer research. . The personas serve as useful references. They also help to address your product’s potential ‘pain points’ – problems a user may have – and are used as a guide when identifying the site objectives. Personas usually contain this information: •    Goals and needs •    Behaviours •    Pain points •    Scenarios •    Biographical information. 2. Imagining the baby Based on the user needs and site objectives, the designer must write a series of functional specifications. These are the features needed to ensure you have a working product or service. Once you have determined these, you need to list the content requirements, such as words and text. If you were creating a photography app like Instagram, for example, you would need to ensure the user could take photos and share them. Taking photos is the function; uploading and sharing the images creates the content. 3. Building the skeleton Next, the designer must create the structure – information architecture (IA) – which organises the information in a logical way. Typically this involves creating a site map. Then the ‘interaction design’ is developed, which allows the user to access the site or product in the best possible way, also referred to by interaction designers as ‘the happy path’. 4. Assembling the organs Once the flow and architecture of the product have been determined, the designer creates the functions, which are separated into three main parts: interface, navigation and information design. When designing the interface, the designer must predict what the user may need to do to complete certain actions, which involves determining, for example, the behaviour of buttons, sliders or form fields. Then the navigation is designed. This guides the user through the site or product, via tools like menus and ‘breadcrumb trails’ (secondary navigation devices that reveal the user’s location in a website). Information design determines the hierarchy of the content, which includes the positioning of elements from the site or product. These include images, titles and sidebars. Once all these elements are in place, a wireframe is designed. This is a page plan or blueprint (like an interactive editorial plan) which is then thoroughly tested to ensure all the elements work well together. 5. Putting on the skin Finally, using the wireframe as a base, all the visual components – such as graphics, icons, colours, images and fonts – are added to create a prototype. This is then tested on sample users to check that the product works. When this is complete and the design is approved, the actual code is developed prior to the product launch. The result, hopefully, is a happy and healthy infant.

Infographics: the answer to information overload?

They’ve been called the language of the internet, visual essays or data visualisations, and they’re spreading rapidly.

Thanks to information overload and the advent of digital and mobile technology, more and more readers these days ‘skim the surface’ rather than dive into narrative. Writers and designers are being challenged to cut down on unwieldy text and use their skills to tell visual stories that are easily and quickly understood. That’s why, in the age of big data, infographics have truly come of age. Writing and designing sustainability reports for Lion, one of Australasia’s leading food and beverage companies, gives us an opportunity to test our skills in this area. The reports are published as interactive pdfs on the company’s website and can be found at www.lionco.com. What lessons have we learned? 1. It’s a collaborative exercise: Strategic thinking is as important as good design, so an effective infographic (there are plenty of bad ones) is a result of close collaboration between writer and designer. 2. The numbers must tell a story: A good infographic requires you to create a clear vision of the story behind the numbers. All good stories are built on a firm angle or idea, not just a topic (for example, tax-effective investments is a topic, 10 ways to save tax on your investments is an angle). Infographics must make sense of the numbers so the story they share is easily understood. 3. Show, don’t tell: Writers are often told to use the ‘show don’t tell’ technique to enable readers to experience the story through actions rather than words. In infographics, the ‘actions’ become visual. In the drafting process we revisit every element to see whether we can’t further ‘visualise’ data. 4. Observe the principles of good design: Infographics must be aesthetically pleasing, so your choice of fonts, colours, size, graphical devices and spatial relationships is critical. 5. Clarity is key: It’s vital to edit the superfluous so you present the most compelling data – in the least amount of space. The reader must be able to look at it and instantly know what it’s about. Incidentally, Internet chatter and the self-styled specialists who have sprung up in recent times would have us believe that infographics are new. But they’ve been around for a long time. Indeed, as The Guardian newspaper’s Show and Tell infographic site points out, German physician Fritz Kahn’s extraordinary poster, visualising the human body as a vast network of machines and industrial processes, was published in Stuttgart in 1926. And The Table of Universal History, a visualised history of humankind from the creation of Adam and Eve to the then present day, goes back even further. It was published in Paris in 1858. – Derryn Heilbuth