Creating effective interactive graphics with Kat Downs

Interactive graphics, no matter how interesting or cool, should always hit home on the most important feature: the storytelling.  The Washington Post’s Kat Downs shared three takeaway techniques on how to create graphics that not only tells your audience a story, but makes it easy for them to understand it.

1. Clarity is king. As designers, we sometimes get lost in the wow factor, and create graphics that are stunning but lack real usability.  Downs’ first tip is to always focus on the user.  Pinpoint the story you want to tell, and make sure (1) your interactive tells it and (2) your user knows how to use the interactive.  No matter how great your story is, if the audience gets confused and can’t figure out how to consume it, they’ll leave.

2. Keep it simple. As interactives become more popular, the word “interactive” is becoming nearly synonymous with “complicated.”  Downs reminds us that just like in print design, simplicity can be the most effective, showing a winter Olympics New York Times graphic as an example of how just adding a little sound can be extremely effective.  Don’t bloat the graphic with extra information just because you have it and don’t hold any back if it’s essential to what happened.  The medium is just a tool to enhance storytelling.

3. Approach every story as if you’re telling it for the first time. Don’t tell stories in the way that’s easiest for you.  Try new things, collaborate ideas and design your piece from scratch.  If this means learning new learns, all the better.

Finally, here are a few tips from Kat.

Make sure to:

  • Make your navigation intuitive
  • Let users control the pace
  • Big, clearly labeled buttons
  • Reduce clutter
  • Be consistent


  • Expect the user to know what to do
  • Hide things behind tabs
  • Require too much scrolling or clicking
  • Force users to consume more than 2 things at a time

To see other examples Downs used in the presentation, go here.

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