As newspapers struggle to find a niche in our increasingly online life they have created some stunningly powerful infographics that visually illustrate and simplify the complexities of issues and events. Here is an example of a Washington Post infographic that illustrates the personal tax increase issue in the US. By comparison here is an article about this same issue. Which would you rather uses? Which does the best job of communicating all aspects of the issue?
It appears infographics will increasing become one of the main stream forms of communication we use to understand our world. But what about the data base driven applications we use on a day to day basis. Can we leverage the infographic style of communicating information and meaning to make applications better?
We are beginning to see an increasing use of charts and graphs in data driven applications. These are great for summarizing data and illustrating relationships and quantitative comparisons. Can we take this even further to the point where the infographic not only communicates information but becomes the way we interact with and update that data.
The new travel site hipmunk.com illustrates the elegant simplicity and data richness that can be visualized for easily finding and selecting fights. It was recently named one of the 5 of the best user experiences of 2010 by Mashable.com. This infographic application use a timeline chart to show the departure and arrival times as well as flight and layover durations. Since most of us want to find the cheapest and shorts flight this presentation makes it very easy to find what best fits our needs. Clicking the bar starts the flight booking process.
Compare this to the same data presentation on Kayak. Which is easier to read to find the shortest and least expensive flight?
So can this Infographic App design be extended to other types of applications? Lets consider the user interface for the client information component of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Here is an example of a CRM screen. It contains a lot of information that takes a while to digest and interpret. So what does all this data mean? Does it mean the relationship with the customer is a good one? Does it show any gaps in the service to the customer?
By comparison an infographic app design might look like this.
The icons in this swim lane time line chart illustrate the approximate date of a customer event. Clicking the icon could show the details of the event.
Interactive IGUIs are not new. They have been around for while, but have only been used for very specific functions. Case in point is the appointment scheduling screen in Microsoft Outlook. Can you imagine setting up an appointment for a group people without the appointment availability time line graphic.
With business knowledge growing at a very rapid rate, it is difficult for employees to keep up with new process and knowledge, much less mine the current data for insight about clients. The interactive info graphic user interface might be a design strategy that helps people understand data and act on it.