On Isolation and Animation

I recommend reading 24 hours in an Invisible Epidemic. you should read it because I’m going to talk about the syntax and mechanics, not the content. Go ahead and check it out, I’ll wait.

The curtain is purple and barely lit. We see a pixelated body on stage, possibly dead. Is this a game? His name is Martin.

As you scroll, new elements appear. To the right, minutes tick like a metronome. A black box stops time to deliver a somber voice over.

At 6:01, we are pulled back to a grid view. It reminded me of a scene in Amadeus where Salieri describes Mozart’s genius.

Data Journalism is an experiment. It goes by a slew of other names like explorable explainables, explainers, immersive narratives. I don’t know if it’s a genre or medium, so we’ll call it data journalism for now.

Like comics, data journalism is a bastard child of writing and the materialities of the format. Comics came out of newspapers, first as illustrations with captions and eventually as sequential art. Comics weren’t a product of the printing press though. It was only several rounds of optimization and industrialization that page composition became flexible enough to allow deviation from the format.

Like comics, data journalism often feels like a composition. Everything is very intentionally arranged. NYT has a few great examples. (While the pieces are engaging, there’s always a question of whether it was worth the effort.)

This was the first time I felt a composition was polyphonic. The timeline on the right keeps me down in the weeds, feeling each moment pass. When the grid appears, my attention expands my view to a panoptical level. I experience two focal distances at once, like a polyfocal parallax.

This is a good design. I immediately thought of Slack and Discord, tarpits of text, and how I wish there could be a polyfocal view like this.

We have lived in software for generation now. Some of us don’t know what life was like before apps. Good software design implies that the design is robust and scalable. equates good design with scalable. Frameworks become standards because they are supposedly scalable.

Comics are not scalable. A good design in a comic may only be good for the scope of that story. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is an excellent example. He creates new visual techniques that work only in conjunction with that particular text.

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