We caught up with the winner of the second round of the On Think Tanks Data Visualisation competition about their inspiration and experience creating the winning piece.

Visualising the Past, Present and Future of Carbon Emissions, an interactive visualisation by Bill Dugan at the World Resources Institute, USA, is an innovative concept that had big impact.

We spoke to Bill about his team’s inspiration for the graphic and his advice for anyone else looking to use interactive visuals to tell a story. 

OTT: What was the inspiration for your interactive graphic? Did you consider doing a static graphic at any point or was this always the concept? 

BD: This was always the concept. WRI began an initiative called Information Into Action two years ago, with the purpose of reaching a wider audience with more timely information. We actually hired the vendor (Kiln) first, before we knew what the project was going to be! Then we held an internal competition within WRI to have each program develop an idea pitch. We worked with them to develop the materials, language, and approach, and then we let Kiln decide which project they found the most promising.

OTT: The data used obviously dates back a very long time. Was it easy to access this data? How did you go about getting the future projections? 

BD: WRI has been doing climate analysis for years, and the infographic is an extension of the findings from our Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, along with additional data sourced from the University of Oxford by our friends at Kiln.

OTT: The graphic was very well received, with 35,000 views in one day on the Guardian. Were you expecting it to be so popular, and have you seen much of a response from policy makers? 

BD: We hoped it would be popular, and were frankly very surprised and happy it got so much visibility!

OTT: The graphic design in the visualisation is relatively simple, was this an intentional decision?

BD: Yes. Working with the vendor, we wanted to keep the design secondary and supplemental to the data and the story itself. They did a great job of developing the look and feel of the piece, and we worked collaboratively to reach the final solution.

OTT: I can see from your website that your data visualisations are usually static graphics. Why did you decide that this was a good project to use interactivity?

BD: Actually, we do quite a lot of interactive visualisations. Most of them are map-based, and are usually user-driven. They generally allow the user to find information on their own. This interactive piece was a new approach for us­–narrated and self-playing, although the user can pause it and interact with it at any time. Because we were showing data over a long timeline, we knew an interactive would be perfect for telling that story.

OTT: Has the success of this graphic inspired you to make more interactive infographics? 

BD: Definitely. I’m pushing the organisation to fund and build more visualisations around the research we’re doing.

OTT: What would you say are the pros and cons of using an interactive model as opposed to a static graphic?

BD: The pros are that storytelling is more compelling, especially with a narrated voiceover. The cons are the amount of planning, preparation, and building we need to do to make one of these, which means it’s hard to build something quick and timely unless there’s a long-term plan in place.

OTT: If you could give one piece of advice to another think tank or organisation hoping to do something similar, what would it be?

BD: Develop your story and concept carefully– don’t rush it. Make sure your overall voice is conversational.

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