Great Moments in Infoviz: I.O.U.S.A.

Last week I finally caught Patrick Creadon’s documentary I.O.U.S.A., in which former comptroller general David Walker and former Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson explain why the national debt is 1) so huge, 2) even more enormous than most people realize, 3) not going away anytime soon and 4) actually a threat to the continued viability of the US as a trading partner/solvent nation.

Sobering message notwithstanding, I found the film gripping—in large part because of Brian Oakes‘s remarkably clear and cogent data presentation throughout. The dimensions and meaning of the national debt are so amorphous to most people that the film would never have succeeded without infoviz graphics. And Oakes is a master of the form. Check it out:

From a recent Q&A with Oakes at Design Observer:

What other roles does design play in the dissemination of the film’s message?

When you are dealing with many graphic sequences that are popping up throughout the film, it is very important to connect all of those sequences visually. The graphics should become a character of the story. Once the overall visual vocabulary for a film is established, the information you are presenting becomes much more digestible and you’re not asking the viewer to “switch visual gears” every time a graphic comes on screen….

The film was funded and produced by a private non-profit organization. What role do you think the U.S. government ought to be playing in producing design, such as motion info-graphics work like yours, to explain complex policy issues? How and where would you disseminate these policy motion info-graphics to effectively reach the public?

That’s a pretty interesting question. I think it would be pretty amazing if the government formed the IGB (Information Graphics Bureau). But realistically, I think they have bigger fish to fry right now. They do put out their numbers so I think it’s important for media outlets to present this information accurately. One of the things you will see in all of I.O.U.S.A.’s graphics is a source. I was against doing this in the beginning but in the end, I think it was very smart because legitimacy is crucial.

Would you be willing to work for the government in that capacity?

As long as there is a secret underground lair and retinal scan entry points, if the government wants to form the IGB I would be happy to head up the organization.

Brian Oakes, I salute you. Not only are your graphics rich and fascinating, but also your criteria for an awesome lair are impeccable. If there actually is an IGB someday, I am so there.

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