Introduction by David Byrne
What a thrill and pleasure it was to be asked to write this introduction. I love these infographic things, and welcomed the excuse to think about them some more. I was not a judge in this selection, but I spent a good few days examining many infographics that did and didn’t make it into the final selected group — some of the best of which are interactive and some of the others designed for broadsheet newspapers with their giant pages or four-page foldouts in glossy magazines. Despite the change in context, you’ll be able to make sense of most of the wonderful work going on in this odd corner of the workplace, where assignments to include a lot of information battle it out with a publication’s available space, printing specs, web technology, and deadlines.The very best of these, in my opinion, engender and facilitate an insight by visual means — allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and easily that otherwise would take many pages and illustrations and tables to convey. Insight seems to happen most often when data sets are crossed in the design of the piece — when we can quickly see the effects on something over time, for example, or view how factors like income, race, geography, or diet might affect other data. When that happens, there’s an instant "Aha!" — we can see how income affects or at least correlates with, for example, folks’ levels of education. Or, less expectedly, we might, for example, see how rainfall seems to have a profound effect on consumption of hard liquor (I made that part up). What we can get in this medium is the instant revelation of a pattern that wasn’t noticeable before. Many infographics here spark insights, and they do so super quickly. The interactive "Road to Victory," for example, allows one to see Obama’s odds against Romney — how Romney had many more options to lose, given the decision tree of possible wins and losses in various states. Surprising us with before-unseen clarity is the kind of thing this medium can sometimes do far better than any other.Sometimes a picture or graphic is indeed worth 1,000 words. Sometimes a graphic is merely a replacement for those words, and sometimes it’s an oversized dingbat, merely visually breaking up the blocks of text on the printed or web page. When infographics work, and many of these in Best American Infographics 2013
do, they take you somewhere no other medium can go; they allow and facilitate intuitive insights; and they reveal the hidden patterns buried in mountains of data.The graphic nature of these pieces helps them function as metaphors. Democrats become blue shapes and Republicans red ones. Pop songs are an aqua wedge-shaped snake. I get that. We have an inbuilt ability to manipulate visual metaphors in ways we cannot do with the things and concepts they stand for — to use them as malleable, conceptual Tetris blocks or modeling clay that we can more easily squeeze, stack, and reorder. And then — whammo! — a pattern emerges, and we’ve arrived someplace we would never have gotten to by any other means.