Best practices for ThingLink, Pt. II

ThingLink is a wonderful thing. Easy interactive graphics, easily embeddable multimedia. But it’s frequently misused, usually because it’s employed for a “wow” factor, rather than as something that makes sense or really adds value to the user.

I’ve seen a lot of bad ThingLinks. Here’s another in the list of best practices that I’ve developed (the first installment is here).

Lesson 2: The underlying structure is what’s important. 

Interactivity is awesome. Research shows that readers like to play with stuff online. But it only really adds value if it makes something even more effective. This is the old programmer’s chestnut of “garbage in, garbage out.” Having something that’s graphically sound and easy to navigate before we add an interactive layer makes for a better user experience.

Here’s a good example of how to do it from the Arizona Daily Star. It’s an interactive layer on top of a graphic that ran before a University of Arizona football game. The graphic itself is common enough before a football game — who’s opposing who on each side of the line of scrimmage.

[thinglink http://www.thinglink.com/scene/303326264272355328]

What makes this work is that it’s built on strong principals of user design: There’s chatter that’s defined by a hierarchy of type. There’s contrasting colors for each team and the players are in consistent positions.  There’s a source line and a credit line, both of which speak to credibility. The interactive points are placed in a consistent position. The visual design is workmanlike, but that’s the point. What’s under the interactive layer is what’s important to the reader. The interactive layer just helps.

Here’s my guideline for what a good ThingLink infographic should have (this isn’t always the case, when it comes to photos with stuff embedded in them):

1. A headline in subject-object-verb format

2. Chatter that provides context to the user and links the graphic to whatever is around it.

3. A source line and a credit line. Both of these speak to credibility issues.

4. A lack of dependence on the interactive elements to tell the story.