The future of the Internet is design: from fine art galleries to the size of the box you type in name. So start figuring out how to rejigger things to make your career relevant.
Here’s how I know what’s coming:
First, a flurry of emails arrive in my in-box each day touting “free infographics.” After sniffing around, I discovered that infographics garner so many clicks that SEO mavens publish quick, cheesy infographics to hand out for free in exchange for links back to publisher sites. The infographics suck so much that I’m not even going to show you one, but there’s a lesson here: people love pictures.
This means that you will be more valuable and more relevant if you can think in terms of visuals. This makes sense. It’s clear that in the last twenty years, as emails became the norm, if you were great at communicating via text, you had an advantage.
Not that everything can be reduced to an infographic, but what can be reduced is made more interesting. Short is good, and concise is fun, and in a world where we have too many facts, we appreciate a quick picture that synthesizes facts into something meaningful rather than a summary of disjointed facts.
In the design world there is a sense that design is not so much about product or endpoint but rather the interaction one has with another person. Davin Stowell, of Smart Design says, “Companies used to come to us asking for products. More recently they have been asking us to help them understand their customers. It’s almost as if our role has transcended from design experts to relationship consultants.”
I just received the book Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little. I did not read it. I skimmed it. Because, as the author, Christopher Johnson writes, “We have a collective obsession with brevity in all media.” I’m not going to argue here if this is good or bad (although I think it’s good). I’m going to tell you that if you don’t get on the brevity bandwagon, no one will listen. And presenting information visually is one of the most reliable ways to present it with brevity.
A list does that as well, by the way. It’s sort of the stepping stone between text and infographic. Which is why lists are so popular online—you can skim them. So, here’s a list of things you can do to start thinking more visually:
1. Read Tufte. He’s the king of information design. Every big thinker you admire has read Edward Tufte, trust me. The last time I read Tufte was in Seth Godin’s bathroom. No kidding. He keeps a Tufte book there.
2. Think short. Short writing already rules the Internet. You get noticed with short big-ideas, 140-character quips, and a 20 minute summary of a career’s worth of research. Infographics take bunches of very short ideas, and create a single, consise idea on top of them. A good infographic is like a poem that ends at just the right time.
3. Demand more meaning. It’s not enough to stack pictures of missiles to show an arms race. The information you put together needs to amount to something new. Statistics should not surprise people so much as the conclusion the infographic draws from the statistics. Check out the arms race infographic in the book Diagrams: Innovative Solutions for Graphic Designers. It blew my mind how quickly it allowed me to synthesize tons of arms race data and feel smart about it. And then I realized that a good infographic is the visual of a good blog post with lots of links — a fresh and solid argument on the surface, and lots of small pieces of evidence underneath.
4. Consider not only text-to-visual but also verbal-to-visual. Alexis Finch creates graphic renditions of speeches. She is able to go beyond a speaker’s outline to capture the most interesting ideas and how they relate to each other. Finch creates, in effect, her own version of the topic. Here is a sketch she did of a speech I gave at Tech Week.
5. Market yourself visually. The limitations of a text-based resume are clear. Solutions are not so clear. But Vizualize.me has a good start on solutions with their chart-based resume service. For example, text is too linear to describe today’s non-linear careers. But a chart-based resume shows time in a more useful way to an employer:
6. Steer your career visually. If you have a text-based resume, you need to always think in terms of bullets — is your project leading to a bullet on your resume, and if not, why are you doing it? With resumes going visual, you will need to think in terms of visual accomplishments. Brazen Careerist (my company) just launched a visual self-assessment tool that combines thousands of details about your activity on Facebook and LinkedIn to show a simple graphic of your strengths and weaknesses as a job candidate.
7. Use photos with more intention. The number of photos we take is incredible. And I’m starting to think that the next generation will laugh at how many photos we have taken. What is the point? Who will look at them all?
At some point, when we are just clicking to click—with no visual intention—then the photo serves to put a wall between us and the experience rather than a window.
What are you doing behind the lens all the time? Raise the bar for yourself; allow only good photos. Melissa forced me to learn about good photos when she started taking them for my blog. Her photos are fantastic. Which served to show me how bad my own were. So she gave me lessons, and she edited. She rejects 90% of the photos I send her. But I learn a lot that way. See the photo at the top? I took 20 photos in the art gallery to get one good one.
But for most of us, photos are a good entry point to the next version of the Internet. Because if you force yourself to publish only good photos, you force yourself to think more about images and what they communicate to the viewer. It’s the first step in transitioning your career to the visual Internet.