Mathew Lowry

Visualising complexity

I started out as a science journalist before moving to Europe, so I’ve always loved explaining complex things. Unfortunately, although I love words, they’re often not enough – nothing beats an infographic, or better a narrated animation, to really get complex things across.

Unfortunately, I’m a rubbish artist, so until recently all I could do was either work with graphic artists, or do clunky powerpoint shows with too many animations and then add my awful voice to make a screencast. Today, however, tools to capture and/or present knowledge graphically are becoming increasingly powerful and within-reach to design-challenged writers like me.

Just in the past week, for example, I came across:

Prezi: words cannot do justice to Prezi, which is the point. Revolutionary, revelationary and liberating:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Debategraph: an FIR podcast introduced me to Debategraph, a collaborative, wiki-like tool for portraying a debate and aims to “make the best arguments on all sides of any public debate freely available to all and continuously open to challenge and improvement by all.“. It is being used by The Independent newspaper to discuss the future of newspapers. I’d love to embed it here but WordPress won’t let me.

Google’s wonder wheel: a LinkedIn group led me to a video on problogger explaining a Google search engine feature I’d never looked at before – the Wonderwheel, which presents your search term in the centre of a sort of mind map, presenting useful search refinements as branches. The video is aimed at bloggers facing writer’s block, so I thought I’d also embed a much shorter video from the Google engineer behind it:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Bitstrips: Also this week, an RWW article on my Reader led me to Bitstrips, a wonderful tool for building comic strips.

It was developed for teachers but the potential for using comic strips is enormous, as Google’s comic strip to launch Chrome showed:

OK, so that one didn’t come across my desk last week, and neither did this video my friend Pras did at Group Partners a whole back. Still, it rocks, and shows that you don’t need anything cleverly digital to work graphically:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

In fact, all you really need is the back of a napkin to win slideshare’s ‘best presentation of 2009’ (and explain what healthcare reform is all about):

And that one did come across my desk last week. Other stuff I’ve tagged ‘visualisation’ recently includes, in no particular order:

I can’t help thinking that tools and techniques like this could do a lot better job than the acres of online text and desperately unviral YouTube videos that keep being used to try and explain the EU.

Author :


  1. Hello Mathew, your list of tools was a nice surprise yesterday night. So thanks a lot, it helps both me and my 14years old son. Ciao, Carla

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  2. hi,
    thanks for mentioning Prezi in your post! With prezi you can also create relations, visualize arguments, and build up narratives in a very easy way. You can also embed an invite others to collaborate.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. I feel pretty envious of your son, Carla, growing up with such toys. Glad the pot was useful.

    Zoli, it’s a pleasure. Congrats on prezi. I’ll be exploring it a lot in the coming weeks.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  4. Ciao Mathew, you’re right, who in the sixties could ever dream of such free tools? we only had rapidograph ink and letraset (and so expensive)
    thks again, Carla

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  5. Zoli, thanks for help moving us ever closer to the day when Powerpoint presentations have been either rendered obsolete or banned.

    Mathew, something else to file under “visualisation”.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  6. Scott, thanks so much for that link! It’s amazing.

    And sorry for the delay in replying, but now my own comments are appearing in my spam filter! ;-(

Comments are closed.