Grasp and Go – Bad Information Graphics in TV Election Coverage

November 9, 2008 § 6 Comments


“Let’s flip back to CNN,” my mom said, “I can’t understand the graphics at the bottom.”

Either could I—at least in the short time that ABC gave me to figure out what I was reading and consider its ramifications. So we watched CNN, even though I think we both liked ABC’s studio hosting better.

There were many problems with ABC’s information graphics, but most of it stems from their decision to show the results from both the Senate races and the Presidential race in the same graphic space at the same time. While showing both results might be a good notion, ABC needed to be more careful with how they presented the visual information.

In all instances, a viewer should be able to quickly identify and understand the on-screen visual information. Or more concisely: Grasp and go. ABC’s design severely inhibits the viewer’s ability to “grasp and go” by ignoring the power of simple visual cues, such as the use of proximity and space. ABC’s ignorance of the visual power of proximity and space starts a whole host of problems, causing a viewer’s eye to group the visual information vertically, like a column or a list. All of which would be great, except that ABC wanted its viewers to read the graphics horizontally, like reading a book.

Reading the information vertically happens for multiple reasons, the first being how close the check boxes are to the left of each name. However, the opposing candidate in each race is actually off to the right, just out of my immediate visual field. For example, if I look at Obama’s name and checkbox, I cannot miss seeing Hagan’s name and checkbox. It’s just there. Conversely, McCain’s name is in another visual “sector” that I have to move my eyes for. So, in one view, I see Obama and Hagan. In another view, I see McCain and Dole. To compare across columns (which is basically what they are), I have to move my eyes across the screen. Further complicating this is that ABC’s design runs counter to the common life experience of an election ballot’s vertical layout. Placing some space or a hard visual line between the two rows would have been immensely helpful. Not a cure-all, but helpful.

Finally, because there is no space or visual cue to separate the rows of information, the viewers’ eyes automatically group the colors into one piece of information. Again, this is completely counter to what ABC wanted us to glean: That there are two different sets of results showing different political races for different states. Combine all this with the 4-5 seconds a viewer has to read and comprehend the results before the results switch to the next race and it’s all too much.

CNN, it was, then. Where they may have had ridiculous holograms and hyperactive coverage, but at least I could understand their information graphics.


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§ 6 Responses to Grasp and Go – Bad Information Graphics in TV Election Coverage

  • I agree this was really bad. Another poor decision I can’t figure out was to show presidential results from one state and gubernatorial results from a different state. Its one more piece of info that I have to absorb in a short amount of time and it precludes me from making comparisons between the two races.

  • Mom says:

    Glad it wasn’t just me that was having difficulty processing the information. Thanks for the explanation and for validating my inability to comprehend everything in a timely manner. Thought it was just my old brain not functioning fast enough to keep up with modern media 🙂

  • Kip says:

    you mean you didn’t consider Fox? 😉 I can’t stand ABC or CNN 😉

  • jefftzucker says:

    @Kip – Nice catch. ;~) I avoided both MSNBC and Fox News for the election. CNN drove me a little batty with their hyperactive coverage—every time they had a projection, they ran this graphic with sound effects that sounded borrowed from the old MTV News intros. Really annoying. Or I’m just old.

    Otherwise, over at public television, the few minutes I watched were straight-up old school, no rolling on-screen graphics, just a few people sitting at their news desk, calmly discussing the election results. Definitely not “The Situation Room” with 22 analysts…

  • […] simplified this infographic to make it easy and quick to understand, such as a grasp-and-go effect ( ). Advertisement Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed From […]

  • […] In my improved information graphic, I stuck with the same title, since it shows the main idea the infographic is aiming towards.  I narrowed the description below to just “IKEA’s store traffic indicator” because that is essentially all you need to know in order to understand the diagram.  The words “compliment” the diagram, or vise versa.  I combined all three “clock” diagrams into one, and made it more of a bar diagram.  I went from 9:00 AM-9:00 PM, because those were the hours for the longest day (Saturday).  I came to the conclusion of the AM to PM placements with the help of google, looking at numerous IKEA store times and comparing them to the original information graphic, putting the pieces together of what the original information graphic meant to show for times.  I believe my use of times in an ordered list provides an easier visual on the eye, for less confusion and quicker desired results.  Instead of using a color for “closed”, I just wrote closed in the times the store was closed because clearly no one wants to go to the store when it is closed so they want those times eliminated at first glance.  I used the same colors as the original information graphic, as through my research, it is best to use simple, easily distinguished colors, that are not too bright and only a few so that the diagram is simple to read, as well as keeping a simple background that does not distract from the main idea (  Also, in our culture, green means go, red means stop, and yellow is in the middle, meaning slow down.  Since red applies to high volume, this is where there is a lot of store traffic, which is probably a bad time one would want to shop.  Since green applies to low volume, there are less people shopping which would be a good time someone would want to go shopping.  Yellow is between heavy shopping traffic and low shopping traffic, so it depends what fits best in someone’s schedule.  I aligned the columns of Mon-Fri, Saturday, and Sunday all right next to each other so that the volumes of traffic for each day are easily comparable at similar times.  I also added the time ranges into each volume area incase it was difficult to match up the lines to the side list of times.  Next to the earliest times I wrote (open) so that it is clear when the store opens, and added CLOSED to the bottom with areas that suggest it is closed until open time.  With redundancy, I made a key note in the Legend box that the stores are closed until open, so that there is no confusion.  Finally, I left the IKEA at the bottom, in large font, so that people can easily recognize what company this shopping is for.  Overall, I believe I simplified this infographic to make it easy and quick to understand, such as a grasp-and-go effect ( ). […]

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