I was reading through the latest issue of Discover magazine, when I came across an interesting interview conducted by Jennifer Barone. She was chatting with a guy named Hans Rosling, who developed statistical analysis software that uses animation to convey complex data in novel, compelling ways.
The software, called Trendalyzer, was acquired by the good Samaritans at Google and has been used in hundreds of international forums to help world leaders understand trends in health, poverty and economics so that they can make better policy decisions.
You can get a feel for the application at The Gapminder World 2006, which uses data from the United Nationsâ€”data made publicly available in part to feed Trendalyzer.
Rosling explains the benefit of animation in the Discover interview like this:
Then in 1994, I got the idea to show each country as a bubble, with economic factors on one axis and child survival on the other. My son started writing the code that made the bubbles move through time, and his wife joined as designer. When you show time as an x-axis, you violate the way we think. But when you show time as graphic movement, as animation, people suddenly understand. …
Show the income distribution of the United States and China over time, and in 15 to 20 seconds I can make people understand things that textbooks and years of study haven’t. This is a discovery in perceptual psychology, of how to show trends in society.
It’s also one the most straightforward examples of motion graphics I’ve seen. Trendalyzer literally puts graphics into motion. The fact that motion helps us make a gigantic cognitive leap across daunting chasms of data is a testament to the power of the moving image.