Information graphics – Advantages and disadvantages
It might take pages to fully describe the Sydney City Rail map, such as listing the lines system, instructions of directions, mentioning of joint points, and so on. But it only takes ONE image to illustrate all of the criteria above. The illustrated image of the City Rail map is something called ‘information graphic’.
Sydney City Rail Map in the Future
Napoleon Bonaparte once said ‘A picture is worth a thousands word’, which now is set to be the goal of visualisation or the creation of information graphics. As the lecture pointed out, visualisation is not about photography, is not about capturing what we see into images, but it is about how to publish data in a creative, yet much more effective way. As a form of archive, information graphics contain data that can communicate with readers/audiences in the matter of seconds. The ‘end-goals’ of visualisation are illustrating the relationships among the contents of the graphic, as well as establishing an understanding of the data in it.
Looking back as the City Rail network map in Sydney, it is obvious that Central is the biggest joint points of all lines from Innerwest line to Airport & Easthills line, for example. But it may takes hundred words to list the name of all the available lines in the system when all you have to do in the graphic is making lines with different colours, patterns and positions.
However, is it always beneficial to have visualisation of data? Bresciani and Eppler have found out that even visualisation has risks, mainly in three categories: cognitive, emotional and social. And all the risks come from both designers and users/readers. They note that the highest risk is the de-focused of information. Due to the huge amount of data that was compressed in one picture, it may end up storing too much information and readers can be distracted easily from their main reading purposes. For example, in the City Rail map, the amount of lines and stops may distract or confuse people, especially when they first see the map.
Another risk is cultural and cross-cultural differences.
These are pitfalls related to the social environment and induced by the heterogeneity of users, due to the fact that the meaning of symbols and colours are not universal (Henderson 1995, Ware 2004, Nisbett 2004, Ewenstein/White 2007). Hence some graphic representations may be misinterpreted in other cultural contexts.
Everybody has a unique perception towards certain kinds of things and comes from different cultures, which leads to different ways of interpreting the meaning of the ‘text’ (in this case, a graphic). One graphic can be relevant to one group of people and irrelevant to another. For example the Sydney City Rail map is only useful for those who are currently living in Sydney. Those who live in Melbourne or Adelaide would find this useless.