Breathing New Life into Old Ideas: From the Soviets to McCandless

[Editor’s Note: The  following post was originally published by and is syndicated with permission by our sister site, GameAccess.]

exhibitIn a recent trip to the ESOMAR 3D conference in Miami, I took some time to visit the Wolfsonian Museum. As well as being a brilliant collection of artwork, sculpture and post-modern advertising, they have a library on their lower floor which displays some very old published books and postcards from as far back as 1935 with prints of the earliest examples of infographics I have ever seen.

“In the Soviet Union, striking, easily comprehensible statistical graphics were used to reach largely illiterate and a linguistically diverse public. Soviet officials mass-produced postcards and other printed materials with visually arresting statistics to claim and propagandize the success of their drive to industrialize the country and provide proof of the inevitable victory of socialism over capitalism”

Previous to ESOMAR 3D, at the Congress in Amsterdam, one of the Keynote speakers was David McCandless, (author of Information is Beautiful and now also with Kantar media) who told us that data is the new s/oil. By and large, I think  most delegates sat in agreement and were completely fascinated and inspired by his talk. He showed us a string of his infographics which displayed data on anything from political party agendas to ‘what’s more popular than sex?’. But, as we can see from the Wolfsonian Museums Archive in Miami, it seems that infographics have been around for so long that many there in the Museum will soon be classified antiques.

When I heard David speak, I thought many things, but the first two were a) this dude needs a hair cut and b) that he was a genius, which may have affected his hair growth as noted in ‘a’. Anyone who can marry creativity with functionality and business acumen has my vote. I was so inspired by David so much that I hired a David all for myself. David is our ‘Information/Research guy’ and will be doing infographics for our customers.  “How great would it be,” I thought “If we could hire someone who was purely for research on  research and creating infographics as part of the feedback after projects. So instead of presenting clients with pages and pages of Excel and PowerPoint, they could have an infographic which represented all key findings and actions to take. They would love us for us! At last data clients could understand!”

Our David at R.T.G began by creating a moving infographic of the Gamification industrywhich in 24 hours received 890 views. Something tells me that had this been a document of statistics and text instead, it may not have been quite so popular.

It is interesting to me that the Wolfonsian describes the use of infographics to help illiterate people understand information. Not that McCandless has been in any way inadvertantly calling us all illiterate, but he, like Edward Tufte, have highlighted that actually there is a lot that we don’t understand when it comes to data because it is not clear enough for us to understand.  We are illiterate perhaps in our impatience to understand something.

Today, I am personally using infographics to understand anything from how all Market Research companies are connected and their sizes to understanding thegamification industry. But I know now that none of this is new.

At least the Soviets were smart enough (if I can say that) to put infographics to ‘productive’ use in the political sphere. The Soviets used infographics for propaganda and so what if our Governments used infographics to help us understand the benefits of recycling for example? Or our household bills year on year? Or even how our child is spending their time in education?  Or what about where our taxes and council tax goes on to?

One bank in the U.K uses an online donut chart to help their customers visuallyunderstand where their spend is going which I believe is a great first move to helping people handle their finances. Let’s face it, manually writing down what you spend everyday whether on paper or in Excel is just too much work. Even then,  it doesn’t get you any closer to understanding what you spend your money on because it is not in a format we understand.

The resuscitation of old methods into the modern world got me thinking a lot about gamification. Humans using games to understand more about ourselves and each other is nothing new really, especially since McDonald’s has been using games to engage consumers since I was born.

The Volkswagen Fun Theory videos have been used to describe how making something otherwise deemed as a ‘chore’ can become exciting. They have videos on YouTube which show gamification being used for anything, from climbing the piano stairs to engaging people in recycling by adding arcade mechanics to bottle banks to reducing the speeds of cars of motorways. However, what many people have not noticed is that the fun in fun theory was created by a brand – Volkswagen. They used Gamification to engage audiences in their brand by creating this ‘Fun Theory’ competition which asked people to come up with ideas on how to make boring  things more fun. The winners got to have their idea on the VW website and YouTube. Therefore, VW gamified us without us even realizing it. They made the public think about gamification as part of their own gamification plan.

So even though playing games is nothing new, we have collectively given games new life and even a name – ‘Gamification’ didn’t exist before 2010 but here it is and has woken us all now with bright sparks of ideas.


About Betty Adamou

Betty Adamou is the founder of Research Through Gaming (R.T.G.), which can be found at She is also the editor of

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