Monday, March 06, 2017

How to make infographics – a workshop by Delayed Gratification

“What’s an infographic?” my colleagues asked me last Thursday as I was packing up to leave. At the time, it wasn’t a question I knew how to answer without resorting to a Google image search, but, now, having attended a workshop on how to make them taught by none other than the masters of infographics themselves, Delayed Gratification.

First off, I should stress that the workshop ticket was a gift from my husband, and wasn’t something I would normally have gone to.

I’d initially thought this wouldn’t have any relevance for me in terms of what I do at work or even on a personal level. I’m not a designer by any stretch of the imagination, and I can’t draw for nuts. But that, intriguingly enough, wasn’t what this workshop was about.
Making Infographics
Infographics – short for information graphics – are visual representations of complex data presented in a way so that it can be understood quickly. It’s a way of storytelling, of conveying interesting facts or pieces of information in a visual and logical way.

How do you go about making one? You need to answer these questions:
1. What is the story you want to tell?
Sometimes, the only way to know if there is a story to be told is to get the data first, and to interrogate it, by cutting it various ways to see if anything interesting or unusual stands out. Are there outliers? Things which you wouldn’t expect given stereotypes? Look out for these and start building your story. Make sure it has a point.
2. What is the best way to illustrate this?
Do you want to put forward one point? Several? The kind of information you want to put across will dictate the best way of presentation. There are different ways of presenting information, and this workshop covered the five main ways of presenting information, and which purposes they worked best for. For instance, putting forward a lone key fact would probably be served best by an illustrative structure, while, showing regional facts might be better structured as a map.

The Ideas Process
The workshop was very interactive, with participants having to discuss in groups of two (the class was about 20 people). Instead, it was more to do with the art of storytelling, of conveying interesting facts or pieces of information in a visual and logical way. It covered the five main types of visualisation and which were best suited to certain kinds of data, and also looked briefly at combinations of these types.The various questions posed included, what makes a good story, and what question would you want to pose to others if you could ask any question at all? And, of course, the last task of the workshop was to imagine an infographic we wanted to present, assuming the data existed.

This was not an easy question to answer, and I didn’t think I would have too many ideas to contribute.

So we just talked it out. Sometimes I would say, well, our assumption is that this group of people would have the same political leanings… but, what if they didn’t? Our assumption could be wrong, and therein lies the story. And we’d end up kicking that idea about a little bit more, and, voila, a possibly viable idea was born.

In the end, we had four or five partially-formed ideas while others had one fully-formed one. Whether they were partial or completely formed wasn’t the point, but the fact that we had interesting ideas despite our initial hesitation was not to be sniffed at.

While it wasn’t a clear objective of the workshop – if at all – I did come away with a renewed sense of confidence in my own creative abilities. I’ve learnt that it is possible for me to come up with good ideas – or the germ of an idea at least – by talking it out with others, and jotting things down on paper just so that I can see them better.

The End of The Night
Amongst all of this, I came away with questions which weren’t raised or touched on in the workshop, but which occurred to me as being natural offshoots of the discussions we had. Would I prefer making attention-grabbing, eye-catching infographic, or one in which people took things away and remembered them even months or years later?  What makes things memorable? Sometimes, when listening to a good storyteller, we all take away different things. I might remember key facts, another person might remember the mode of delivery while yet another might remember the journey on which we were taken.

On the way home, I took a few photos of my surroundings – as I am wont to do. While making some minor edits (cropping, zooming in, etc.) so that I could post to Instagram, it occurred to me that photography and infographics are not so very different. There is an art to it and – thanks to smartphones – it is now possible to take many, many photos to see if what you see is also just as interesting as a photo as opposed to real life. Similarly, it’s like looking at a data set to see if the story you want to tell can indeed be told, or if it’s only there in your mind’s eye.

Another similarity between the two is that it’s the interesting flaws that make a photo stand out, in the same way an interesting, unexpected detail makes a story more memorable. In the case of the photo, a taxi zoomed past me and made its way into my photo, streaking across the scene I was trying to photograph. Yet, when I examined the photos later, it turned out that the one with the accidental taxi looked far more dynamic than the one when the road was clear.

Timing... or A Series of Coincidences

I’m glad my husband decided to take a bit of a risk and register me for this workshop. I don’t think I would have come away with all these ideas and thoughts otherwise.

There’s also an element of good timing as well; if I hadn’t been taking the day after off, I certainly wouldn’t have stayed up trying my hardest to capture it in a blog post written hours after the workshop and would instead have gone to bed.

If it weren’t for the fact that Lent had just begun, I perhaps wouldn’t have been in as good a mood and have as open a mind as I have today.

If I hadn’t come across NYU Stern Professor of Finance Aswath Damodaran’s new book on how storytelling and numbers have to come together in corporate finance just a few weeks back, or indeed was fortunate enough to have been given a free ticket to the geekiest event I have ever attended which led me to think more about presentation of information, I might not have been thinking about all of this!

And, last but not least, if I hadn’t run into someone working at Delayed Gratification who, like me, had responded to a plea for food tasters on Twitter, I would never have found out about the magazine, and, consequently, neither would have my husband.If nothing else, the workshop made me think and analyse things quite a bit. I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to put my new-found knowledge to work, so watch this space!

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