The future of e-books lies with interactivity so that means understanding the basic principles of interactive graphics. As authors, most of us won’t be graphic designers, but you should at leaf understand the principles of good graphic design so you can recognize when a graphic image clarifies information and when it simply muddles it.
Alberto Cairo wrote an interesting book called “The Functional Art” that lays out some principles for creating informative and educational graphics both static and interactive. The four principles he defines for interactive graphics include:
Instruction means that the graphic serves some purpose by teaching a single point. When you see a line chart showing the rise and fall of a stock’s price, that graphic tells you how a stock price has changed over time, which is much easier to see on a chart than by looking at tables of stock prices over time. At the very least, a graphic image needs to instruct or it serves no purpose at all. All types of static graphics must meet this minimum requirement but interactive graphics need to go one step further
Conversation means the user can “talk” to the graphic by inputting some type of command that can be as simple as clicking on a button. The simplest interactive graphics do this. For example, a simple interactive graphic could ask the user to input his or her age and then display a graph showing the person’s life expectancy. Then if you add in additional data like being a smoker or fitness enthusiast, you can see your life expectancy increase or decrease.
Manipulation means you can look at the data in different ways. For example, an interactive chart may show the cities with the highest crime rate. Then it might let you view the cities with the highest crime rate and least amount of education so you can see the correlation.
Exploration lets you reach different conclusions based on the interactive graphic’s data. For example, you might have an interactive graphic that lists unemployment figures for different cities. Then by clicking on a city, a short video or picture might appear letting you see the physical appearance of that city and maybe hear or see people talking about that city. This lets you explore the conditions behind the data rather than just see the data itself.
Through Instruction, Conversation, Manipulation, and Exploration, interactive graphics can give readers far more information than a static graphic image on a page. Designing interactive graphics can be an art in itself, but it’s something you should be aware of since the future of e-books relies on interactivity. To learn more about interactive graphics and good graphic design, read “The Functional Art” or similar books about info graphic design.