How do graphics encourage audience engagement?

Graphics not only visualize stories in compelling ways but can tell strong stories and relay important information to a reader.

By Ella Wilks-Harper, contributor

Reuters Institute research found that in Hong Kong respondents (25%) were specifically interested in viewing news graphics.Popularity in news graphics has resulted in some countries such as Taiwan introducing paywalls for premium content, which includes information graphics.

Last year, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled to safety in Bangladesh from violence in Myanmar and for those following the humanitarian crisis Reuters graphics were an essential read.

The New York Time’s second most-read article of 2017 was its coverage of the Alabama election results. The coverage incorporated graphics that mapped the counties of Birmingham and Montgomery, as well providing graphics that showed helpful live estimates of the final vote.

These graphics visualized the humanitarian crisis as it unfolded in a series of projects. One such project titled, “A Desperate Escape” combined data and satellite imagery to capture the journey taken to safety and the destruction left behind.

“That was one of my favourite graphics I worked on last year, it’s been a very important humanitarian story,” says Simon Scarr, deputy editor of graphics at Reuters. “It combined a lot of various multimedia elements and strong use of data and satellite imagery. It also got good feedback from agencies and human rights group”

Let’s take a look at how Scarr’s team make graphic and how they provide a better content experience...

 

Graphics keep the reader’s attention

Spread across Singapore, London and New York, Scarr helps manage a 14-person graphics team to produce an average of ten graphics a day. The team collaborates with all areas of the newsroom from reporters on the ground, through bureau chiefs in various countries, regional editing hubs and editors, as well as investigative reporting teams.

Speaking about how users consume graphics, Scarr says, “Your brain digests information better visually than it does reading straight-forward text or plain text.” He added, “It’s easier to keep the reader’s attention, you can digest it better than from plain-text. You can also prove or disprove information if you've got data”.

This ability to prove and disprove information visualizing is perhaps why publishers have been creating explainer pieces that incorporate graphics. In the wake of the Las Ramblas terror attack in Barcelona, on August 17 2017 The Guardian created an explainer piece that incorporated graphics to illustrate how the events unfolded. The piece incorporated aerial images and graphics that succinctly gave key information to the reader.

Graphics drive traffic

The New York Time’s second most-read article of 2017 was its coverage of the Alabama election results. The coverage incorporated graphics that mapped the counties of Birmingham and Montgomery, as well providing graphics that showed helpful live estimates of the final vote.

“The graphics we do are not just illustrations and explainer, diagrams and charts, it’s also a lot of photography, video and video editing, satellite imagery that really bring our bigger projects to life, ”explains Scarr.

Reuters graphics are made from scratch using HTML, CSS, javascript, D3 and GIS software such as Arc and QGIS, allowing publishers to add their style and customize the graphics.

 

Remember to make user-friendly graphics

Reuters Institute research found an upsurge in mobile use last year, most notably the US (+8%), South Korea (+7%) and Australia (+4%). Consequently, graphics need to be mobile-focused and responsive in design to accommodate this rise in mobile news consumers.

Speaking at Journalism.co.uk’s 20th newsrewired conference, Colleen Mcenaney, graphics editor at the Wall Street Journal said the focus is now on more linear, explanatory stories that put graphics centre-stage on mobile. This shift optimizes swiping and scrolling.

Responding to this trend, Scarr says, “We always design with that in mind knowing a large number of people that are looking at our work will be looking at it on a small screen. Mobile design is not an afterthought, the project has to be really strong across each screen size.”

Related Articles

As written word continues to be a powerful form of expression, visual storytelling has proven to be much more compelling and driving deeper engagement. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words (and clicks).

In a constantly changing media landscape, technology tailored content is key to survival.

How will technology companies fight a rising tide of criticism? Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s predicts this year’s trends.