Graphical Web 2016

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Graphical Web 2016, a festival of graphics, data and general geekery hosted by the Infomatics Lab at the Met Office in Exeter. It felt like a homecoming in many ways, the first being that our team had hosted this very same conference a couple of years ago in Winchester, and the second being the fact that it was hosted in Devon, where I grew up! I turned my West Country accent up a notch just to fit in.

There were some thoroughly entertaining talks – but what did we learn, and what will I take back to the office? Here were a few of my highlights that I thought I’d share…

Tiny vis
First up was a talk on “tiny vis” by Matthew Strom who describes himself as a pixel farmer. He spoke about the role of graphics in newsrooms & reporting, and the idea that graphics didn’t have to be big standout “special occasions” but they can be small graphics, often replacing words or numbers. He drew parallels with emoticons, which have quickly been adopted to convey emotion.

The presentation included a few hints and tips for doing the same with data which we’re going to explore when we get a moment.

The first was the use of the font FF Chartwell – which is a font which lets build some very basic html (span elements) set a class, type numbers, add some colour styles and you have a chart.


The second looked at the use of unicode characters to create mini-charts. The beauty of this approach being that unicode works in many different environments, without the need for any font loading. I imagine it might work nicely on social media platforms for illustrating the direction of a change quickly. That said, the options are more limited than the chartwell option.

Have a look at the slides from this presentation:

UX is teamwork
Mariana Mota from Oxford Computer Consultants spoke about “UX is teamwork”. Much of the advice was along the lines of that popularised by the likes of Government Digital Service, but Mariana gave many top tips and practical advice along the way.

Some of this was very simple advice on better communication – tips on how to present work to others, and making it clearer to others what is expected. For example, Mariana spoke about the feedback sessions they run on their designs. They expect that designers make it clear the stage the design is at, and what feedback is expected on. They are encouraged to ask clear questions, and explain the rationale for their decisions. On the flip-side people who are giving feedback are expected to ask questions as to the approach taken, and avoid giving personal opinion instead referring to any user research and the objectives.

This was just one example, but I hope we can apply this to our own work. As part of the Design Community of Practice I hope we can build on some of this advice and turn it into something we can encourage across the office – begin to set expectations for how people can expect to work with designers and our wider team.

Twitter moments
There was a short talk from Anna Slingo on the use of Twitter moments. If you’ve not come across them before the concept is essentially the collation of tweets to tell a story around a particular theme.

The moments tab is something I’ve personally ignored on the Twitter app and web interfaces, but the MET Office had seemed to have achieved wide reach through its use, seeing an increase in followers and engagement with their information.

We’ve experimented with the use of slideshare, and listicles in our own work where the project content lends itself to these formats, but Twitter moments looks like another option we could explore… particularly for those moments where we bring existing content together to tell a particular story, or perhaps as an alternative to Storify.

Again the talk included some great tips, such as the use of dark tweets to build the “moment”. Never heard of dark tweets? Me neither. Apparently you can create tweets via the ad platform that never need to paid for, nor appear on your twitter account – but they can be used to form a moment.

More details on dark tweets

Japan: The next big quake

Steven Bernard from the FT spoke about a project he had completed earlier in the year looking at the possible impact of an earthquake hitting the manufacturing region south of Tokyo. A scenario that is not unlikely, according to seismologists.

The talk covered the full spectrum of the project beginning with the overused question “Can we have an interactive map please?” A situation I could sympathise with, given our own teams exposure to this question.

The approaches used were impressive. The use of 3D graphics isn’t something we’d often advocate in our own work, but in this scenario (to model the tsunami height along the coastline) it added a sense of scale that would have been difficult to achieve in other ways.

I was most interested to hear about the use of the Adobe Illustrator plug-in he used “ai2html” originally developed by the New York Times. Annotation really matters to us and our ability to use the combination of graphics and words to tell our stories. The plug-in is something that we’ve been recently experimenting with in our own team and it was useful to see how another team had approached using for different devices.

I wasn’t able to stay at the conference for the whole duration, in part because I needed to be back in the office, and in part because I had tickets for the Southampton v Inter Milan match on the Thursday evening. But from what I saw on Twitter it looked like I missed some great presentations 🙁

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