Kinetic Text and Data visualisation - How are your skills?

You need new skills.

So do I.

This world is all about sharing ideas and information, and I'd be willing to bet that our skills are out of date.

The blogosphere, the internet and indeed bricks and mortar offices and lecture halls are awash with the world's experts in getting ideas and information across. The best do it better than ever before. We have insights into the how the brain works, what makes things 'click in to place', what makes things memorable enough to stay there once we get them in, we have refined presentation techniques and thinking available to us to help us do this better than ever before. The bar of Clarity Heroes links on the right is chockers with great thinkers and presenters. Getting ideas across has become the new science - and many of us - including myself - are leaving ourselves behind when it comes to being able to take advantage of all this great thinking.

Guys like Garr Reynolds will tell you that it's 'not all about the technology'. And he's right. But sometimes it is.

I read an article before Christmas telling me that YouTube had surpassed Yahoo as the world's number 2 search engine. How good a video producer are you for things at work?

The world has moved on in the way it communicates ideas, but strangely the demand for new tools as basic requirements to participate hasn't yet caught people like me short. But it is about to - and it should.

I see these great presentations. I see these amazing visualisations of data. (See Hans Rosling below) I see new ways to capture an increasingly sophisticated, skeptical and short-attention-span audience every day (like with the Kinetic Text in Girl Effect further below).

And yet, my own skills and the skills of many of my colleagues seem to be topping out at being 'pretty good at PowerPoint. Worse, my employer seems satisfied with this.

RUBBISH I SAY! It's not good enough, and it's not placing enough emphasis on the need to be able to communicate well!

Just watch
Hans Rosling use some very clever technology to get complex statistics across in a powerful and engaging way:

That was no Excel plug-in!

In another example, check out how powerfully this message comes across using Kinetic Text:

Also check out 4 approaches to kinetic text from wisdump.

You KNOW that's not available to you NO MATTER HOW GOOD YOU ARE AT POWERPOINT.

Incidentally, if
you want to give that Kinetic Text a whirl (and I haven't yet, but I'm happy to pass along the goods in the name of Clarity) then the people of Carnegie Mellon University who have been messing about with kinetic text for 10 years have made a java engine available for download. Their site also contains some background info and several examples.

That's fantastic stuff!


Do YOU know how to do What Hans did? Can you whip up a Kinetic Text supplement for a presentation tomorrow morning? I certainly can't. I'll tell you what though:
Today's 12-year-olds will be able to.

And sure, there will be new toys that prove to be useless. There will be new technologies that are good, but get misused (flash intros to websites? Yikes.) But that's not an argument against learning new stuff! We have to play with these things to get good at them and to find the real value. For every 'girl effect', there's something dreadful. But that's great. At least there's something!

Office jobs are all about getting ideas across. And some of the most powerful examples of getting ideas across involve technology. Not for its own sake, but because it's a real facilitator.

I'm looking forward to the day when people like me are grumbling about these new tools we have to learn just to pass the basic requiremnets hurdle. This stuff shouldn't just be the domain of the specialist - it should be mainstream!

We don't walk around taking stone tablets and chisels to meetings anymore do we? No! We advance our tools! Well I think the standard-issue PPT is becoming the shaven goose-quill and blacking pot, and while some of us may pride our nib-carving skills over and above some of our colleagues', let's dip in to the future a bit.

The world is changing. Audiences are changing. Thinking and methods available to us are changing. If your job involves the need to get messages across to people, are you keeping up?

So if you want to communicate clearly, if you want to capture your audience's attention, then skill yourself up. I know I'm going to.

How are your skills?

Clarity rule: Upskill


  1. Dude,

    The reason why these things you point out are basically good is because they all show an understanding of and good execution of graphic design skills.

    If you aspire to presenting your self in a similar way you must do these things,
    1> learn graphic design
    2> ditch amature tools
    3> learn photoshop
    4> learn flash

    once this is done ... and if you have some creativity ... you should be able to get somthing pretty decent.

  2. Hi Simon.
    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you enthusiastically - especially about the 'ditch amateur tools' one.

    Really though, it should be our employers insisting we do those things.

    For some reason instead, it's my experience generally that we seem to insist on using PowerPoint for everything - including "document" creation.

    When I think of the people who make documents we PAY TO READ - like magazines - somehow I don't imagine them working up the layouts using PPT.

    So why do we? I'm sure we'd argue that it's equally important that our clients are engaged and easily able to read the information we give them as it is for them to read the latest Wired or Economist.

    It will be interesting to see what shape the everyday business communication world takes when the 12-year-olds take over. When everybody is an ex 12-year-old, and everybody has the upgraded technical skills as the norm, (rather than the small percentage of people who have them now)I expect things will look and feel a lot different.