To voice or not to voice: that is the question

One of the ongoing debates we have with clients is whether to use voiceovers  (v/o) in animated infographics. It’s a fundamental design decision, and one that needs to be taken right at the start of the process. It drives almost every other design decision.

So here’s a quick overview of some of the things you should think about. (btw – this isn’t a post about the subtleties of how to use combinations of multimedia. Have a look at Mayer’s work if you’re interested in this).

Why base your project on v/o?

Firstly, it’s easy. We tend to think in terms of a flow of spoken words, so producing a v/o script, particularly when working with clients, can come naturally. And as users’ attention spans gets shorter and shorter, a voice can draw them in effectively, hold their attention and, through setting an appropriate emotional tone, provide a depth and sophistication to the story and the overall experience.

Why no v/o?

Clients often shy away from v/o because of perceived cost, and this is certainly an issue. But just occasionally, having v/o makes the design process a bit easier and you can actually cut your budget, in spite of the extra costs of the v/o artist and the recording. Where costs often do spiral though is in selecting and managing your artists. I’ve had clients spend weeks select the wrong person who then takes a day to record what was supposed to take an hour.

Then there’s a bunch of more technical issues around noise (do your users have adequate speakers and can they play the infographic at work?) and accessibility (will those with hearing problems be able to use your infographic?). This kind of thing means you might have to use text on screen anyway.

Why base your project around text?

Text only animations can be more flexible and allow the designer more scope for creative exploration. Have a look at this animation (for Motherpipe) as an example. It starts with a bold statement: “the internet is free”, but then adds “people think…” which changes the meaning completely. In this animation (for Planet First) the text “green jobs” highlights the subject, then is “bumped” across the screen to become the sentence “more and more people want green jobs”. It’s simple but effective, and a v/o couldn’t do it. And of course not having a v/o means that sound effects and music can have more impact and are easier to manage.

Why not base your project around text?

Although designing a text-based animation can be more creative, it can also take a long time to build in the subtlety. Then once it’s done, apparently minor changes can have unexpected knock-on effects. In fact clients often assume that as there’s no v/o, it’s actually easier to make changes. So a simple change from something like “This works” to “We know this works well” can break a design concept, unbalance the screen and add substantial design and development time.

Our opinion? I think we’re marginally in favour of test only animations, but as in all things, we’re driven by the needs of our clients and their target audience.