Despite what your position may be on Shell, you have to admit it invests a lot on visualizing the energy future –“more energy, less carbon dioxide”–it is grappling with, for good or ill. This is the stuff that gets churned out in white papers, and high-brow academic gatherings, but doesn’t often trickle down to the hoi polloi. We know by now that spreadsheets and PPT decks make people’s eyes glaze over..
In Shell’s 2050, post-Kyoto energy scenario, the visualization lets you pick a year from 2015 through 2050, and look at several factors that come into play in a planet that will be home to 9.5 billion in 2050; the ‘picture’ looks grim/complicated, even from within the cheerful graphics. It makes you want to do something whether it is to invest in fuel cells or reduce your carbon footprint.
Visualization is that great lens that puts data in context, and moves us to take action, even if it starts off with clicking a button. It can be as simple as being a dynamic feed. Check WorldoMeters.info. The speed at which you ‘see’ top-soil erosion taking place, and ‘dollars spent on dieting in the USA’ will give you a jolt!
We use similar, but more complex visualization tools to create scenarios like this at the Decision Theater. The most interesting one, WaterSim, lets people simulate a drought and see the effects on agriculture and lifestyle choices. The challenge is to take this complexity that works well in our immersive environment (the ‘drum’) and render it in a webified environment.
Looking around at so many data-rich web sites, I could see why many sites are begging to be rendered with more visualization. Those of us writing or designing data sheets and white papers will have to recognize some hard realities:
- New platforms. People will use new devices and platforms to interact with our information via small screens, on high-res devices, and those capable of and hungry for animation.
- Audience habits: Readers will demand to ‘snack’ on information, before they dig deep. Will our web pages and PDF’s cut to the chase? What’s a ‘media snack?” Check this out.
- Time shifting. Information might be accessed (downloaded, snacked on) via one platform, consumed on another. Will the visual appeal transfer? Quality isn’t the issue, but compatibility. CNN stories watched on a high-def monitor still transfer to grainy formats on YouTube.
Visualization poses many challenges, but they are grood ones, because they force us to distil information, and give it more context.