What is an interactive graphic?

Is always good to start with semantics – so what do we actually mean by interactive?

I could argue that all graphics are interactive since as soon as someone looks at a graphic, either online or in print, they are interacting with it.

Our brains ‘read’ the images and text to process the information and perhaps generate new insights or ideas.

However in the way the word interactive has been used recently it has been shorthand for something that has a ‘state change’ – which is realistically only possible online.

So what do we mean by ‘state change’ – well perhaps the mouse cursor moves over a line on a graph and the line thickens, or the data points become visible.

To this can be added all kind of levels of sophistication; lines that move in a time sequence; bars that expand, buttons being pressed. In fact a whole cornucopia of fancy whizzery jiggery pokery is possible.

All fabulous stuff no doubt.

But what is the point?

When hopefully we are not just doing something for the sake of doing something different?

It would be nice to keep a mental checklist something along these lines:

  • Are we doing it just because we can, or because it helps communicate our messages more clearly and with more impact?
  • Do we know that the people we have created it for will find it useful? In fact do we know who we have created it for?
  • What if we decide to chance our arms and do it anyway? Are we going to ask for any feedback from our users? Surely we are, aren’t we?

All these things cost time and money to produce and it’s not entirely our money.

So the next time that you hear the phrase ‘interactive graphic’ used perhaps make a slight mental pause and think about some of the points above. That would be lovely.

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