Design + Personality = Love.

How I came to visualize data using the personality principle

Mindy Faber
Jun 28, 2020 · 6 min read

By Serene Arena, guest writer

Five high school aged youth sit in a recording studio making music.
“Overheard at Spy Hop”

It’s a serious question — have you ever been introduced to a group’s mission and work and loved everything about it? That happened to me recently while working with Convergence Design Lab, a research and learning design studio, while working towards a Civic Media Masters at Columbia College Chicago.

Convergence asked me to layout and design a major two-year evaluation report they had been working on with one of their largest partners. I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from such strategic thinkers, and my brain immediately started turning: How do we turn a scholarly 60-page research report and two years of engagement into something that wider audiences would read and love?

But the answer came during my first meeting with the research team, where I noticed the passion in which they spoke of their partner organization, Spy Hop. As I began to design the report and learn more about them, I also found myself falling in love with Spy Hop for its organizational culture and the incredible work it was doing to amplify youth voice. In approaching how to share that with others, a favorite quote came to mind:

“People don’t fall in love with businesses; they fall in love with personalities.” —Yo Santosa, Creative Entrepreneur

The Spy Hop Team

So, I wondered…how might I use design as a way to share Spy Hop’s personality, so that more people could come to appreciate just how impressive they are? For me, “personality” is the organization’s culture: its voice; its quirks and nuances. Personality is what endears them to their communities and amplifies their good work.

Spy Hop’s personality became my guiding principle throughout the design process, and it would have been difficult for me to portray that spirit and elevate the organization’s presence visually had Convergence not taken the time to get to know the people at Spy Hop. Their dedication and commitment to the organization during the research phase laid the groundwork for my role in designing a visually interpreted report that truly conveyed why Spy Hop’s work is so endeared and loved.

[1] Be playful with numbers, data, and facts.

[2] Show the real and authentic side of the culture of the organization.

[3] Engage the audience in sense-making (help them connect the dots using visual cues, graphics and frameworks).

I used these visualization techniques to economize the use of words when visuals could suffice and also as a chance to showcase the personality of Spy Hop’s unique culture. Here are some examples:

[1] Be playful with numbers, data and facts

Some Fast Facts, a section of the report

When it came to numbers and quantitative data, something every system values, I knew we had a specific opportunity to tell a story about mentors and mentees — a huge component to Spy Hop’s work. An example of this would be the “Fact Facts” section of the report. Information about mentors’ traits and personalities shares equal representation alongside more formal data, like the number of community partnerships. It was important to share it like this because it had been important to them to share it with us in the first place. And it shows how little things that you get to know about others help build relationships and “consequential connections”, an aspect of learning based on the same idea, and something paramount to Spy Hop participants.

[2] Show the real and authentic culture of the organization

A Closer Look is an insert within the larger report

“The Fast Facts” visualize an honesty and authenticity about Spy Hop that can be fun and lighthearted. Throughout the report, we celebrate and highlight their commitment to using media to empower and elevate youth voices, which means not just encouraging self-expression but acknowledging the legitimacy of it. The “Closer Look” example to the left takes a different approach. It shares the stark realness of what youth worry about, as part of a youth-created documentary. As a representation of “what happens when adults get out of the way and make space for youth to talk openly,” I felt that the design, too, then needed to step back and let the work “speak for itself” — which just happens to be the title of the report.

Throughout the report, I use visual cues, graphics and frameworks to connect readers to the message. The minimalist approach in “A Closer Look” above balances the warm and saturated hues employed throughout the report — an intentional choice, being that warm feels welcoming and invites an open and energetic conversation. This felt like the heart of the organization.

[3] Engage the audience in sense-making

The Spy Hop Way model

Convergence’s research led us to building a framework for The Spy Hop Way, visualizing how the organization’s intentional programming informs the various facets of its youth-centered mission, and how they are connected to and inform each other. The model gives audiences insight into the values that drive how and why the organization works as it does. Having The Spy Hop Way helped frame the report’s narrative, both visually and verbally.

The model puts people at Spy Hop’s center, both as staff and participants, so showcasing them and their experiences was our first commitment. We did this most immediately through photography and highlighted quotes. For example, we use an image of Pepe, a Spy Hop film mentor, working with students on how to use gear and frame their shot as the evaluation report’s cover. This photo is also important because it captures what people do best at Spy Hop — collaborate in producing work.

Personal comments from participants show the organization’s value to youth.

And we share youth participants’ direct quotes regarding what they value in their relationship to the organization and with mentors. Hearing from those who are not only directly involved but directly affected by an organization helps to bring into focus what is most important. Their voice is part of the voice of Spy Hop.

Personalities are complex — good design can help make things simpler

So much of what Spy Hop achieves in the youth media space stems from their organizational ethos — their personality. It was important to share this energy and spirit, and represent what makes them different, because ultimately, audiences and communities come to love and appreciate their mission through knowing this personality. Capturing an organization’s culture means first to believe in it, and to take the time to be with it. Without that, Convergence couldn’t have learned what it did, or shared it with the world.

Want to fall in love too? Read Spy Hop’s full evaluation report, The Work Speaks for Itself, here.

Convergence Design Lab

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Convergence Design Lab

Convergence Design Lab is a 100% woman owned, full service research and design agency on a mission to build resilient learning ecosystems. We were born out of the urgent need of our communities to rethink their own learning ecologies through the lens of equity and engagement.

Mindy Faber

Written by

Mindy is the Co-Founder + Executive Director of Convergence Design Lab, an educator, media artist and researcher of youth learning and digital media.

Convergence Design Lab

Convergence Design Lab is a 100% woman owned, full service research and design agency on a mission to build resilient learning ecosystems. We were born out of the urgent need of our communities to rethink their own learning ecologies through the lens of equity and engagement.