Where words sometimes fail, motion graphics succeed

Infographics are everywhere, covering everything from space missions to internet connectivity to depletion of natural resources to the relative trustworthiness of beards.

They’re so colorful, clean and (sometimes) cute, it’s easy to forget the original purpose of the infographic — to convey complex information. Yes, they can be pretty to look at, but stare at enough infographics (you’ll find thousands here) and it’s apparent that the good ones aren’t just aesthetically pleasing. They’re informative. They’re educational.

And that’s what makes the launch of TED Ed so exciting.

You’re probably familiar with the TED talk format: an esteemed expert in some chosen field is given the stage and a PowerPoint to convey big ideas to an attentive crowd. It’s similar to a college lecture, if every professor was a dynamic speaker and all students bothered to show up for class fully awake.

It would have been easy for TED to keep the same format for its foray into education. Just swap out the business entrepreneur or research scientist for a liberal arts professor and serve. But they’ve taken a different approach, one far more attune to the ways we learn and share on the web.

See for yourself.

This is fantastic, not just because it’s a potentially great repository of content for online courses (though it is). It recognizes that even the best lecture or speech is far more likely to be retained if delivered with visual cues. It’s the infographic come to life in the service of teaching. And the early results are promising.


This is hardly a revolutionary concept. Narrated animations have been used to demonstrate corporate branding strategies, explain the U.S. financial crisis, explore socialist values behind sports leagues, and sell pick-up trucks. As humans we’ve evolved to respond to audio and visual cues far more than written text. The infographic/motion graphics trend capitalizes on the way our brains are wired.

Here’s hoping TED’s example inspires more educators and presenters to harness the power of visuals in support of their lessons. Bullet-pointed slides that replicate the words of the speaker add almost no value to the ideas being expressed. Visuals that reinforce the words commit those ideas to memory.