Like infographics, video and motion graphics use text and graphic elements (drawings, typography, charts, etc.) to tell an educational story. Unlike infographics, they have such tools at their disposal as animation, live action video, music, and narration to do it. Video has many benefits: it’s dynamic, engages the senses, changes over time, includes multimedia elements, and is a familiar and enjoyable format for many viewers. On the other hand, video has a time limit, may require loading, is easily overwhelming, isn’t easily referenced at a glance, and relies on a viewer’s willingness to watch (as opposed to an infographic that’s displayed all at once). Clearly, video is best for some projects, while infographics better serve others. Here is an examination of some of the great potential of the video format, and a look at some potential problems.
The Many Benefits of Narration (Or, in Some Cases, Lack Thereof)
Telling a story with text and image alone presents many challenges. How do you keep your audience engaged? How do you pull the eye in the right directions, at the right times? How do you balance image and text for maximum impact? In a video, the answer to all of these problems is narration. A clear, concise, well-written narration does more than text can do alone. It adds inflection: emphasis and character. It engages the ear alongside the eye. It provides an overarching story summary, a scaffold on which the images and text can hang comfortably. A skillful narrative, punctuated by stark statistics and exciting visuals, is a powerful thing. In the motion graphic below, “The Violence of Mexican Drug Cartels,” the narration stands alone, but the visuals do too. Together, they deliver a stark, moving message, a sum greater than its well-conceived parts.
Some motion graphics don’t have narration, but include music or sound effects to give the piece fluidity and style. This type of video works when the visuals can tell a story on their own. Too much text in a narration-free videographic is a sure-fire recipe for trouble (more on this below). A good example of an effective and compelling narration-free videographic is “Chicago: Five Great Buildings,” below. This project features stunning, eye-catching animation that doesn’t need a narrative. It’s self-explanatory and purposefully architectural in its production. Its purpose is simple and straightforward, warranting a simple and straightforward presentation.
When Infographics Make Great Video
When an infographic is particularly concise (it uses minimal text, includes bold visuals, and tells a clear story) it may lend itself to animation. This is particularly true for infographics in a series: images that work together to tell a story over time. The video below, “Visualizing One Trillion Dollars,” began as a series of images (see those here). While these images do stand alone, and may work well in book form or as a poster display, as a collection they’re not particularly conducive to the screen (it takes a persistent viewer to scroll through them all). The video adaptation, however, presents the images alongside a narration, telling the overarching story quickly and effectively for maximum impact. This is another example of the story-telling power of narration.
The Bane of Video and Motion Graphics: Too Much Text
There are a few common pitfalls for videographics that dramatically reduce their impact. Perhaps the most frequent offense: too much text presented too quickly. It’s always important to limit text in a graphic project, but in a static infographic, text-heaviness can sometimes work well. This is hardly ever the case with motion graphics. Moving text is difficult to read, and the ticking clock imposes pressure and stress for viewers, each of whom has a different reading speed. Leaving the text on the screen too long may frustrate some fast-reading viewers while shifting through text too quickly may completely stymie the slower readers. The longer the text block, the more obvious the length discrepancies, and the more problematic the speed becomes. Add motion to the text and the problem is compounded further: moving text is difficult to read and may even hurt the eyes. The moral of this story: keep text short, make it bold and easy to read, and leave it on the screen as long as possible without boring the reader. Anni Murray is a writer, editor, multimedia artist, amateur mycologist, and biology student. She is currently working on Prism, a speculative science fiction story cycle. All opinions expressed in this article are her own. Follow her on Twitter.