ESPN SportsTicker + Wayfinding

December 8, 2008 § 1 Comment

As an avid sports fan and watcher of ESPN, I’m enthralled by ESPN’s new sportsticker wayfinding device. In the clip below, watch the rolling information at the bottom. (My apologies for the clip of a show I find annoying.) Underneath the NFL label on the bottom left-hand side, you will see a small yellow bar. As the news passes through, the bar reduces in size exactly in proportion to each bit of news. So, if there are 20 news bits, the bar reduces by 1/20th after each news bit. Anyway, take a look (the image becomes clearer around :30).

To many people, I’m sure this is no big deal. But, trust me, for sports dorks the world over, it is a big deal.

Why? I’ve been watching ESPN for about 25 years. The ticker is a mainstay on ESPN, predates the Internet, and is a common source for game updates, even with the Internet. I have flipped over to the ticker way more times than I could count (guessing, I’d say 18,000 times). Yet, it’s one of the most often overlooked experiences in the world of a sports fan. And until now, one of the most frustrating.

The reason the ticker has been so frustrating is because the time spent on each sport varies widely with no way for the viewer to know how much time would be spent on each sport. For example, if Major League Baseball is in season, but only 3 games are being played that day, then the amount of time the ticker spends on baseball is short. But, unless I follow baseball (read: “care”), I, the viewer, have no idea how long the ticker will spend reporting on baseball before moving on to, say, the NBA. 30 seconds? 2 minutes? 5 minutes? Longer?

Since I didn’t know how long the news would last, I had no sense of where I was in the flow of information I often cared less about. This made it so I either had to watch intently for an undetermined amount of time or take a chance on turning my attention elsewhere, hoping to catch it at the right moment. (Perhaps the most frustrating thing was waiting patiently, getting distracted for a few seconds, and in the process, missing your favorite team’s score that you were waiting to see.) In response, the reality is that as time went by, I would often change the channel or turn the TV off.

What is really nice about the ESPN ticker is how simply they added such useful information. They used the information structure already in place and gave it one extra feature that, like Lebowski’s rug, really ties the room together.

Consider the ticker’s underlying information structure already in place:

1. Alphabetical through different sports league title (MLB, MLS, NBA, NCAA, etc.);
2. News (about 5 seconds per bit, depending)
3. Scores (about 4 secs per game)

And now: 4. The line segment.

That simple line segment uses humans’ ability to make quick spatial judgments to give micro-level information that, in turn, guides the macro-level information. For example, if the line is moving in little chunks, based on a constant starting point of line length, we can quickly estimate how many news bits there are. And given the underlying structure of alphabetical ordering and a fairly constant time for scores and news, we can quickly estimate how much time will be spent before moving on to the next sport.

Seriously, this was the simplest little thing that I applaud for its, well, simplicity. And yes, this is completely inconsequential in the grand scheme. But it’s little things like this that show audience consideration that help make design what it is.


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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