The Beginnings of an Information Designer
Since early 2017, I decided to experiment with different mediums of conveying information. I started with hand-drawn infographics with topics that varied from innovation development to lunar new year traditions. I started to look for authority figures in this domain on Twitter and followed them. After a few follows, I found out about Viz for Social Good. Viz for Social Good is an online platform that provides data sets from non-profits to volunteer data viz wiz. Volunteers create beautiful, engaging, informative, and interactive visualizations to tell stories about complex social, environmental, and economical issues.
I recently completed a project with dataset that was released by May Project Gardens. May Project Gardens is a social enterprise based in London, UK. The team tackles issues surrounding food security, obesity, food waste, and youth unemployment. One of their programs, called Hip Hop Gardens, was launched to engage the local community about living healthy, building communities, and developing entrepreneurial skills through the lens of hip hop. The data viz challenge was to create an appealing visualization for donors and sponsors using feedback data from their workshops.
The Iteration Grave
I read through the data set which had feedback from ten workshops. The workshops were categorized by date and I started with ideas on a timeline. I was also limited with my knowledge of data management and data visualization softwares such as R, Tableau, or Power BI. As a result, I stuck with drawing these out by hand and then rendering them with a mix of Photoshop and Illustrator.
I sent this to my friends and was told to scrap it. The text was too tight, it was too dull, and the drawings made no sense whatsoever. There was no clear hierarchy on how to read this. Also, they didn’t even recognize that there was a vine across the page (I don’t blame you if you missed it too). So it was clear that the visual was not clear and not engaging at all.
One of my friends suggested that I create something more along the lines of this. I gave it a shot and I thought it was more interesting to look at than the one before. At this point, I was eager to keep on improving with what I’ve got.
After brainstorming with my friend and staring at this visualization over several days, we thought it would be interesting to do something with food on the table. This meant the visualization would end up being more meaningful as it was more closely related to the values of May Project Gardens. I created a prototype of how it could turn out, and although it looked crude, it was a lot more interesting than the previous iterations.
We both thought iteration 3 might fly, so I went all out and decided to take my own photos for this. I took out my camera, grabbed a step ladder, and cleared out my desk for test shots. It took many shoots for me to get it right. I also did not use a tripod or stabilizer so I had to practice many times to keep the items in focus. I was restricted by the weather and had to wait for cloudy days for soft lighting.
From this point on it was iterations with the copy, typography, layout, and the food on the plate. I added some basic information about May Project Gardens. I was starting to think the title needed some work to be more than what it was.
I showed this to a new friend who had no idea about this work I was doing and they were very, very confused. They had no idea what this was about and what I was trying to achieve. It was also at this point that other volunteers started to submit their work on Twitter; I saw that people had cleverly placed the problem statement which identified the need and would signal why supporting May Project Gardens would benefit urban communities. I realized that I did the classic “focus on the solution and not the problem”.
I really wanted the title to instil hope in the readers about what May Project Gardens work to make a reality. It was important the message is positive and will continue to develop. I used “Growth” to signal process and change.
I got more feedback to develop the copy further and to really set the tone for the visual. I also thought about my audience and decided to use a serif typeface. I thought if the audience was serious about donating funds to support this cause, they would want to read something more traditional, capable, trustworthy, and reliable. Merriweather was the perfect fit as the typeface designed with digital screens in mind.
This typeface really sets the tone. Merriweather has the ability to emulate authority and build trust. The title uses “Empowering” to illustrate that May Project Gardens is really about enabling others through their alternative education models and hands-on learning experiences. The copy was significantly modified to develop a rhythm for the data. I removed one of the stats to give more attention to the remaining three. I also added a call to action at the bottom for readers to support the cause.
During this time, I lost all my files at iteration 6 because I was in the middle of laptop maintenance. So I ended up restarting for the final iteration. Luckily I still had the photos in my camera. All the previous iterations I am posting here was actually downloaded from my chat history with my friends.
I am very satisfied with how this turned out, especially with what I started with. I learned a lot about Photoshop and principles of graphic design in a really short amount of time. I also struggled significantly on simplifying the writing but still providing enough information to not lose the reader. Information design is so interesting because this dynamic exists. It’s about navigating the unknown and making sense of it all.
If you’d also like to develop your skills in data viz, make sure to sign up as a volunteer with Viz For Social Good.
I am aspiring to be an information designer. With no formal background in this field, I am equipped with a combination of skills from design strategy and life sciences.
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