Towards a Typology of Interactive Information Graphics: the Experts’ View

Prof. Dr. Wibke Weber

Introduction: Interactive information graphics are a relatively new form of visual, multimedia storytelling. They have emerged as a product of the era of media convergence. Particularly in online journalism and data journalism the interactive information graphics become more and more important for conveying information. News sites, such as,,, use interactive information graphics to explain complex information clearly and intelligible, e.g. the earthquake in Haiti, the White House health care plan or the Iraq’s protocols. Information graphics have the potential to make statistical data truly comprehensible; they can make the data engaging, point out causal relationships, and tell the story behind the story.

Former research/ related work: While the information graphic in print has been widely studied, the interactive information graphic – as a form of visual storytelling in journalism – is at its very beginning (Boczkowski 2004, Cairo 2005, Schumacher 2009, Burmester et al. 2010). The difference between a print graphic and an online graphic mainly lies in three aspects: information architecture, interactivity, and multimodality. These three aspects fundamentally change 1. perception: the way in which users perceive, click, and navigate through information graphics on the web; 2. production: the way in which designers, editors or journalists produce information graphics; 3. product types: the way in which facts or stories are communicated.

Scientific publications about interactive information graphics are rare, and each researcher focuses on another aspect: Schumacher (2009) provides a good overview of user experiences with interactive multimodal representations. George-Palilonis (2006) gives more practical guidelines and describes the professional skills for designers and journalists. Cairo (2005) provides support particularly for the process of developing interactive news information graphics. Nichani and Rajamanickham (2003) outline a classification of interactive information graphics. Burmester et al. (2010) tested how users perceive interactive information graphics. However, both a design framework for interactive information graphics and a typology of interactive information graphics are still missing.

Research aim: Therefore my aim is to develop a typology of interactive information graphics as first step towards a design framework for interactive information graphics. The typologies and classifications that exist for print graphics cannot be transferred to interactive information graphics one-to-one; the employment of multimedia elements, the interactivity, the information architecture of hypermedia, the visual language of websites, and the ongoing development of technologies and techniques (e.g. templates) require a typology that is more complex and sophisticated.

Research methods: Since the object of research remains to be investigated, the character of the study is explorative. The qualitative method “Grounded Theory” seemed to be the most appropriate research approach combined with the method of qualitative content analysis. More than a dozen guided interviews were conducted with information graphic experts working in media companies, e.g. Spiegel online, ZDF, 20 Minuten. The interview guideline covers different aspects of interactive information graphics: terms and definitions, visualization elements, graphical style, narrative style, the design process. I wanted to find out:

o What do experts consider as interactive information graphic?

o What do they know about this new genre and its graphic style?

o How do they employ the different visualization elements (e.g. graphs, timelines, map)?

o How important are storyline and dramaturgy?

The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and then qualitatively analyzed.

Research results: The producers have different and contradictory concepts about interactive information graphics. Depending on whether it is a designer or a journalist they use different terms for the interactive information graphic and different criteria to categorize the graphics. Sometimes they refer to the old categories and terms they know from print graphics; sometimes, they have created their own terms to describe a specific type, e.g. “Erklärgrafik”, “Feature-Grafik”. The current design process in the editorial offices is characterized by a learning-by-doing-situation and by experiments with this new visualization form. The overall picture of interactive information graphics seems to be missing, and narrative style and dramaturgy have still to be developed.

My contribution for the SGKM Conference:

Based on the findings from the expert interviews I will:

o give a current appraisal of interactive information graphics on news sites

o present a catalogue of criteria for categorizing interactive information graphics

o discuss an outline of a typology of interactive information graphics

o sketch an outlook of further research towards a framework for interactive information graphics.

P. Boczkowski. The Process of Adopting Multimedia and Interactivity in Three Online Newsrooms. In

Journal of Communication 54 (2). 197-213. 2004.

M. Burmester, M. Mast, R. Tille, W. Weber: How Users Perceive and Use Interactive Information

Graphics: an Exploratory Study. In: IEEE Proceedings of the 14th International Conference

Information Visualization (IV 10). London July 2010. pp 361 – 368.

A. Cairo. The Future is Now. In Design Journal 97. 16-17. Winter 2005.

J. George-Palilonis. A Practical Guide to Graphics Reporting. Burlington, MA, Focal Press. 2006.

M. Nichani, V. Rajamanickam. Interactive Visual Explainers – A Simple Classification. 2003.

(Retrieved 28. Nov. 2010)

P. Schumacher. Rezeption als Interaktion. Baden-Baden, Nomos. 2009.E.R. Tufte. Visual

Explanations. Cheshire, CT, Graphics Press. 1997.