#FXdebates Infographics, by Mother Volcano

The inside scoop of a corporate infographic project, from briefing to publishing.

March 19, 2013  |  CATEGORIES: Featured, Guest Posts, News

[This is a guest post by Eduardo Barbosa*, founder of Mother Volcano, telling us about the creative process behind the #FXdebates Infographics ]

 

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THE BRIEF

Saxo Bank approached us with a desire for a new level of engagement with their audience: popular infographics. In their words, “the infographics were aimed at sparking discussions in our community around selected topics.” Being able to “explain some rather complex concepts in a simple way that people can understand” they could reach a wider audience and increase the chances of a real and effective engagement.

They became an important part of Saxo’s marketing strategy: “by creating fun designs we were able to generate interest and build traffic through social media simply by allowing people to share the content”.

According to the client, “there is a real thirst for creative marketing in the UK and infographics can be a very useful marketing tool to differentiate yourselves from the competition”.

Engagement and brand promotion were key points.

GETTING STARTED

We started from scratch. It was a recently assembled team, a new project and the first time infographics of this kind were being made by Saxo.

Everyone was highly motivated, the possibilities endless and many, many ideas were spinning around. It was spirit that you want to find at the onset of any project. There was a lot of curiosity and expectation over what it could come out of an illustration centered studio such as Mother Volcano. Knowing that this kind of job is usually taken on by hardline graphic designers and agencies we felt the pressure a bit but we were confident on our background as graphic designers and shared the belief that the core skill was the ability to translate concepts into effective and fun images and metaphors. Then we had to look into many other different requirements and had a brand to give expression to. However, as put by Saxo, “the biggest challenge we found was trying to provide a clear message in the infographic.”

A blank slate and a relative virginity on the subject posed pressing questions ahead of all of us that we had to answer one after the other: What is the point that we want to make? How make a storytelling for it? What data is needed? How to present it? How to bring everything together?

Telling a good story is already a challenge let alone telling one with numbers.

TACKLING IT

An infographic is a highly collaborative work, more so than any other type of work we use to do – that’s something we have found. The interdependencies between data and design are so many that a small change on one side affects the other, just like a cat’s cradle. Good communication between teams and negotiation between data and design was needed to get somewhere. Involving all the team members, each with its own perspective and insight, coupled with generous amounts of space and time for exploration of ideas was a strategy that proved fruitful – the first infographics done carry a lot of iteration behind them.

During this exploratory stage we found out that, as illustrators, the best tool we had at our disposal was drawing. Through quick and relentless sketching we were able to cover a lot of conceptual ground, stimulate creative thinking in all the team, test ideas and above all enable storytelling. We believe in the power of sketching and we feel that it played an important role. Storytelling was something we realised to be the corner stone of the whole process. Once we work it out everything else seemed to fall in the right place.

Storytelling was the first answer.

THE DATA, THE STORY AND THE DESIGN. A LOVE TRIANGLE.

Finding the story was half of the problem solved. We are left with the data and the design.
To create a balanced and happy relationship between the 3 it’s… complicated! Like in a love triangle setup many plots can unfold in each infographic: Design is in love with the Story but Data shows that the Story is lying (Design gives up broken hearted); Data is in an unhappy relationship with Design until the day the Story comes around leading to divorce; Design is both flirting with Data and the Story and ends up alone because he doesn’t want commitment. However, we found out that every time the Data and the Story were high on heels we were on the way for a happy ending.

So, this is what we learnt to aim for first: aligning the data and the story.

This proved crucial for a successful infographic. We were lucky to count on Saxo’s side with a great expertise in dealing with the marrow of an infographic: Data.

PICTURING IT OUT

Illustration is probably the most immediate expression of a storytelling and we have found it to be powerful tool in tying everything together.

It provided a kind of script or score that all the elements could sing along to. Thus, kicking the infographic off with sketches not only made everything more fun for everyone but also made sense – it provided a context and a sense of direction. The fact that the title of the infographic often was inspired by the illustration like in “Debt Heavyweights” or “Made in UK” is revealing.

Also, the illustration can play different roles in an infographic.

In the ‘Beggar Thy Neighbour’ the illustration makes the subject easier to grasp. Captures the essence of a complex state of affairs by representing the stalemate resulting from reciprocal actions aimed at devaluating each own currencies.

On other instances illustration can play a different, more functional role. For example, in “Debt Heavyweights” the illustration rather than explaining a concept is more concerned about helping you read the data. With just a glance you can immediately understand how well each country is dealing with its debt burden, something that otherwise would take you a little more time and reading effort to get.

DATA NEEDS DESIGN TOO.

Sourcing, analyzing and preparing the data is a job in itself and a considerable one for that matter, requiring as much skill and talent as any other stage of the process.

Whether data needs to be sourced to support a story or be analysed to find a story in it, it is subject to many operations. We learnt that there are many dimensions and angles to data. Having a clear story beforehand helps tremendously not only because it helps to know what is it that we are looking for but also inform us on how to frame the data and which angle to choose. It came to us as being a little like photography where your subject is a jungle of data. If you go too close you lose sense of what is it that you looking at or if you step back too far you won’t be able to distinguish what matters. Avoiding distortion was always an important consideration when scaling, sampling, splitting, choosing, shifting data and so on. After all being true to the data is something it can never be compromised without damage to the credibility of the infographic and whoever it is publishing it.

DOES IT FIT?

Compare, spot, associate, discern, relate, follow, connect, search, scan, focus, get an overview, etc.. Seeing and reading although we are not too conscious about it is made of many little, instinctive mental operations that can be hindered by either a design that doesn’t respect the data or data that is not properly prepared for a certain layout.

After sorting out the data it was time to display it in the layout. Getting the balance right was done, evaluation after evaluation, by chopping off what was not relevant and reorganizing the layout. Design defined the parameters for a comfortable and efective reading. Choice of chart, grids, scale, visual hierarchy and so on where the design constraints that data had to fit in order to be legible and effective.

Again, a lot of care had to be taken to avoid distortions and remain truthful.

MOVING FORWARD

Having found an effective process, learnt how to avoid the pitfalls, we were able to lay down a solid framework that enabled a high publishing rate.

However, this is an ongoing project with no end in sight and it is important that the infographics keep the readers engaged in fun learning. That’s why we’re careful that the infographics will keep being fresh, original and compelling. We are always looking out for opportunities to add a little special extra on each infographic and this way catch the attention of the readers in what our client has to say.

We believe that an infographic is good when the reader is able to learn something new from it and will come back more than once to view it. Enlighten and delight is a maxim we have used to remind us of the highest purpose of an infographic.

 

Debt Heavyweights, infographic by Mother Volcano

( infographic: Mother Volcano | Saxo Bank)

 

Beggar thy neighbour, infographic by Mother Volcano

( infographic: Mother Volcano | Saxo Bank)

 

Made in the UK, infographic by Mother Volcano

( infographic: Mother Volcano | Saxo Bank)

 

Quantitative Easing, infographic by Mother Volcano

( infographic: Mother Volcano | Saxo Bank)

 

*Eduardo Barbosa is the founder of Mother Volcano, a forward thinking illustration studio that believes in visual storytelling as a driving force in multidisciplinary, interactive and innovative projects while still loving the good old print and the hand-made.

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