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SEPTEMBER 23, 2009   

Worth a thousand words?

Watch as a visual "mediator" provides a running commentary —using pictures and words—as President Obama's speaks about the stimulus package.

The video, from NewMediators.com, shows how this new design practice combines print, interactive and performance to make information clearer and more accessible than words alone.

Doing the visual commentary live is a different twist, but using simple images and language to explain a complex topic is how CommonCraft.com builds their short videos. I first ran across this approach two years ago when researching Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs).

Does all information want to be in pictures?

Maybe. A guy named David McCandless calls himself a "visual and data journalist" who aims to make visible "facts, data, ideas, subjects, issues, statistics, and questions—with the minimum of words."

Detail of Billion Dollar GramHaving trouble getting your head the idea of a billion dollars? David's Billion Dollar Gram shows it elegantly, in color, with clear comparisons of how the world spends money.

Or how about time travel? Do you understand it? His piece Timelines may not answer all your questions, but it sure is a lovely way to show...something.

The name of McCandless' site, InformationIsBeautiful.net, reminded me of the title of Edward Tufte's book Beautiful Evidence. Tufte has established himself as an international guru when it comes to visualizing information. One of his earlier books, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, is probably the best intro to the topic you'll find. It will open your eyes to how information can be clarified—or obscured—by charts and graphics.

Add a computer and the Internet to the mix and you get something like Golan Levin's work The Dumpster, an "interactive online visualization that attempts to depict a slice through the romantic lives of American teenagers."

So: words + pictures + performance + interaction + internet = a very exciting space for today's designer to work in. We're moving way past Photoshop and Illustrator, folks.

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