publication date: Mar 19, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
They're colourful, they're trendy and they pack a punch when
it comes to presenting data. I'm talking about infographics - those wonderful
illustrations that, at their best, turn dense paragraphs of numeric information
into memorable pictures.
Communications VP Kerry
into that new visual world with its 2011 community
checkup report, Calgary's Vital Signs
Community foundations use the Vital Signs process to measure the vitality of
their communities, identify significant trends and assign grades in areas they
consider critical to quality of life. As you can imagine, a Vital Signs report
is all about data.
"The indicators are often the pithy pieces - our energy
footprint for example," Longpré
says. "In previous Vital Signs reports, we were producing them in paragraph
blocks, which were a bit daunting. The grades created conversation, but the
indicators were a lot to plough through."
One infographic =
With such a data-heavy report, one of the Foundation's goals
was to make it feel accessible and readable. To accomplish that, Longpré needed
a new way to present the facts. Juice
, a Calgary company, introduced the idea of infographics. Though
they're a quicker way to present data, she says, they take longer than a
written report to develop.
"Within each issue area, there were four or five indicators,"
she explains, "so we were able to choose those in each area that lent themselves
to infographics. Each one presents what would be three paragraphs of
information. It was a huge amount of work for Juice."
Individual infographics had to tell the true story about a
key issue area. "That's where we sometimes struggled as to how pertinent or
expressive each of the infographics was," Longpré reveals.
Take, for example, this infographic highlighting Calgary's
youth unemployment rate against the background of a Slurpee cup, and stacking
it up against other years, the national and provincial rates, and overall
"A number in our group thought it was perhaps condescending
to youth, too simple," she explains.
"Yet a number felt it was terrific. The
debate raged. I was one who did think it was fun and used well."
Fortunately the Foundation works regularly with a wide range
of youth stakeholders. Longpré ran that graphic past them. When they didn't
feel insulted, the infographic stayed in the report.
Picturing a trend
This one presents a simple concept: the declining ratio
between wage earners and retirees, shown by a dwindling number of briefcases
beside the wheeled suitcase that represents the retiree.
And this excerpt from the "Financial Well-Being" infographic
shows several indicators: a comparison of Calgary's poverty rates in two
different years with the national average, a comparison of Calgary's property
tax and utility charges with the lowest and highest in Canada, and a stack of
median family incomes that readily shows how Calgary compares with national and
provincial rates, while also demonstrating Calgary's decline between 2008 and
Next week: Hear from the designer about the high potential of infographics, the ethics of their use, and how to get started on a low budget.
the entire report at http://www.thecalgaryfoundation.org/documents/FINALVITALSIGNS2011-WEB.pdf.