What a TV ballgame can teach us about design

This afternoon, the 2021 slate of spring training games started for Major League Baseball. And of course, being the big baseball fan that I am, I took to it like a lion to a steak.

I wasn’t thinking too much about design or layout until I heard Michael Kay of YES mention, “I think our fans will like the new clean design of our scorecard.”

At least that’s what I think he said. It threw me for a loop, because I am enough of a baseball fan that whenever I go to the ballpark, I’ll buy a scorecard and keep score during the game. So when he said “scorecard,” I thought about a pencil and paper in my hand (and, usually, a hot dog or a beer in the other). At that point, I realized that he was referring to the score display in the upper left-hand corner of my TV, as pictured below.

It then occurred to me: “wow! That’s a TON of information contained in that one graphic!” At that point, I felt compelled to write this article.

So, let’s break down just how much information is contained here. (A warning to those of you who don’t know anything about baseball: for most of this article, I am going to “speak baseball.” If you’re not a baseball fan, you’re just going to have to bear with me.)

First, I’ll start with a paragraph as to what information is contained in this graphic. Be forewarned: I am about to inundate you with information.

In the top of the third inning, Toronto leads New York, 3-0. There are runners on first and second, with nobody out. Jansen, the Blue Jays’ number 7 batter in the lineup, is facing Wojciechowski, the Yankee pitcher. Wojciecowski has thrown ten pitches, and has a full (three ball, two strike) count to Jansen.

That’s a lot of information to glean from a single graphic, isn’t it? Let’s break it down.

  • We’ll start with the score. Toronto 3, New York 0. (I’m sure that will please many Yankee haters out there.) The score dominates most of this graphic. I don’t want to say that’s obvious, but it does take up most of the image, and is the largest takeaway.
  • Underneath the score are two names, located under the teams for which they play: Jansen for Toronto, and Wojciechowski for New York. The 7 in front of Jansen represents his spot in the lineup (which would be a number from 1 to 9). “10 P” indicates that Wojciechowski has thrown ten pitches. (Note: since Wojciechowski is an unusually long name, the pitcher’s name and the number of pitches would not ordinarily run into each other like that.)

On the right side of the graphic, we see a couple of smaller graphics.

  • Let’s start with the box containing the shapes. We see three boxes, two of which are blue (and the third is gray), denoting baserunners on first and second base. The boxes represent the bases (going right to left, first, second, and third base). The boxes that are blue indicate that they are occupied by baserunners. If the bases were loaded, all three boxes would be blue; if no one was on base, all three would be gray.
  • Under the boxes representing the bases, there’s a “3” indicating the inning. The arrow (represented by the triangle next to the 3) denotes whether it’s the top or bottom of the inning. Therefore, the arrow pointing up and the “3” indicates that it’s the top of the third inning.
  • Now, let’s look at the “3-2” with the two gray circles underneath. The 3-2 refers to the batter’s count. For those of you who are baseball-challenged, a “count” represents the number of balls and strikes on a hitter. A batter who gets four balls is allowed to go to first base (called a “base on balls” or a “walk”). A batter who gets three strikes is out. So the “count” represents the batter’s status, and is always represented as numbers denoting balls-strikes (2-1, 1-2, 3-2, etc.). Therefore, 3-2 indicates that the batter has three balls and two strikes on him.
  • Finally, the two circles under the count represents the number of outs. Each blue circle represents an out (there are three outs in an inning). That these circles are gray indicates that there are no outs in the inning. (And no outs, with a 3-2 count, and two baserunners are a pretty good indication that the pitcher — Wojciechowski — is in trouble.)

The point is that within a relatively small space, a great deal of information can be gleaned. This concept carries over into many concepts of design, including data visualization and interface design. A person who understands how to read that information can obtain a large amount of information from a well-designed graphic.

Whomever it was that designed this score display definitely knew what (s)he was doing. Kudos to the person who designed it. I think this is a great example of how good design can effectively convey information.

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