A geek’s eye view of the Olympic Games

There is no time quite like the Olympic Games.  Couch potatoes are inspired to spring off the sofa, the sport-phobic are glued to their televisions, we are filled with patriotic fever over sports we normally ignore.  It’s a complete change of mental scenery and I absolutely love it.  The Olympics is also a traditional time for thought pieces making tenuous connections between elite sport and all manner of topics.  You have been warned…

While watching Max Whitlock win his two gold medals for Team GB I will not have been the only person to think about the amount of hard work that went into those minutes of gymnastic perfection.  I will probably be one of a very small minority that thought “All that blood, sweat and tears for just a few moments to show what you can do…it’s EXACTLY like an infographic!”

An infographic/data visualisation is an analyst’s chance to smack people between the eyes with data and its meaning, to really bring data to life.  If executed to perfection, one picture can instantly communicate what 1,000 words could only dream of.  Not surprising, considering human brains have been processing images for millennia, while the written word is a tool we have developed to allow us to conjure up images to process.

The use of infographics has exploded in the past few years, with blogs such as information is beautiful and the Guardian’s data blog gaining cult following. Swoon over this truly Olympic visualisation of Government spending by department.  It’s a few years old now but still brilliant.  Like watching footage of Nadia Comăneci score her perfect 10s.

Source: Government spending by department 2010-11, The Guardian

Source: Government spending by department 2010-11, The Guardian

However, like athletes, not all infographics are created equal.  A tiny few are Olympians, most are not, and they are increasingly coming under fire as a method of communication due to the plethora of poor ones based on dodgy data.  Luckily for the budding data enthusiasts-come-designers there is help out there.  I recently fell for the Improvement Academy’s guide to Public Health Infographics.  Finally, an evidence-based guide to what works and how to do it!  So clear, so practical, great design, a lot of work has gone into it, it must have taken ages to produce…Hang on, maybe writing a guide to creating infographics is like competing in the Olympics…