[This a guest post by ixtract, detailing their infographic calendar project]
“God created time, the devil created calendars,” as the Austrian-American chemist Erwin Chargaff once wrote. But here of course that’s not entirely true, since the ixtract calendar you find beneath was created by us! And in this case, if anything, the devil is in the details.
So ixtract proudly presents its freshly published calendar beginning with April 2013 and ending with March 2014. We tell seasonal stories for each month of one whole year. Our process started with an investigative research of all topics and finished with a visual transformation full of passion for details and diverse graphic styles.
Making of “ixtract calendar”
The most challenging hurdle trying to build our first infographic calendar, was already the first step and miles before we started designing the charts: It was just quite difficult to find 12 appealing sets of data containing at least 30 individual aspects or parts. As it is quite easy to search for the Top 10 of everything or even the top 15 of something, it seemed nearly impossible to find the top 31 of maybe car manufacturers and three or four indexes of their production. And if you finally detect some 30 values in the end, they are usually rather inconsistent and lack some 20 percent of important data. For the temperatures in January e.g. we found 20 values measured over a 30 years period and 10 values averaging a 10 years period. Usually you can‘t compare all of these in one chart. On the other hand our main focus was set to show a convincing graphic and not the best research as we are a specialized infographic design agency.
The second challenge was our goal to illustrate our own logo in a way it corresponds with the specific issue of the month on every page. The whole project dispatched over 1500 hours of work and during some months we thought it would never be possible to finish it some day.
First idea: A forest surrounding the ixtract logo to resemble the seasons was quickly discarded. It did not really meet our expectations. The Cover should be simple and quick to understand.
In a second attempt, we just inverted our first idea and got our final rendering with trees shaping the arrow. If you have a closer look at it you can even see the smaller shadows during summer time and the longer shadow casting in winter.
January – Time series and comparable measured data
Visualizing over 100 values on a single printed page is always an ambitious task to get it comparable and understandable in the same way. Even the research for consistent time series of measured data is sometimes difficult as mentioned in the introduction: Free online data have to be validated as well as requested data sets have to be merged into a comprehensible accumulation of temperatures.
And it‘s so important to finish research completely, before collecting ideas for a later design as it depends mainly on the specific dataset you got.
Really everything depends on the data: Did your research aggregate very vivid and diverging values or just a flat, linear appearance and what do you want to show with your graphic? Flat and linear is not just boring, especially when you wouldn’t have expected that nothing changed in the end!
So each set of data has it‘s own little universe which is now important to discover with your graphic. Especially for January many different looks for this chart were generated, before we thought we would touch the best representation of what we wanted to show: Coldness is often just a matter of subjective feeling. If you have a Look at Europe the hottest temperatures in January in some countries are the coldest temperatures in some other countries of our continent at the same time.
February – Circular system in outer space
How do you present such a wide-spreading data set as international satellite quantity in a proper and understandable way? Some satellites are used only for the army, some are only for governmental affairs and some others are only commercial and some are for all of these usages.
After some trials we tried to handle this unwieldy dataset and after hours of brainstorming we decided to visualize it in the most intuitive way we could have found within seconds (but actually didn’t ..): circular paths around planet earth – a very similar look to the natural composition of satellites in outer space. In the end a proper view and a quite fancy artwork, by the way!
March – Green Mobility
As an infographic designer sometimes you have to enforce special calculations. Just to get the clue out of different indexes you found for a specific topic. For this evaluation e.g. we used two different data sources: the sales figures were extracted from public statistics, the energy classification was researched from the website www.gruenskala.de.
Each auto brand calculation was performed in an own spreadsheet considering all of its individual major car types.
This way you get a new combination and appearance of the existing data – which is much more condense and significant than all of the distinct values before. Maybe you would think twice before buying a new car now…
April – The percent humankind
You always have to feedback yourself: is it really the right and best way to present the data at hand? First we only showed the absolute increase of humans in each country – but dimensions of population were to different between countries so we had insuperable problems to show all values in the same scale.
So we converted the graphs from representing the absolute to the percentage increase. Now the circle charts are still showing the absolute values, but the graph connecting the two circles shows growth of population in a comparable and striking way!
May – Football
Sport tells lots of stories: especially in football they are partly incredible impressive – or even incredible funny! But a funny illustration is not at hand with one glance. It takes some rounds of feedback to get the proper scenes for all of the different football records. So for Gerd Müller e.g. we started with a kind of portrait in the beginning to end up with a Snapshot with legs as he was famous especially for his muscle-bound stand.
June – Let the sunshine…
Information always surrounds us. So we decided to show this visualized data in a very figurative way and not in a common, businesslike 2D style. We always try to combine 3D illustration techniques with 2D illustrator Design in a very natural, appealing way.
Here we created the map of Germany by means of pathways of people in an open air bath and their colored towels show the average temperature in June at the city they‘re located at. Now you can really fell the hot sun burning on your head while studying the information about German city records. It’s summer time!
The building of a building yard: every page of the ixtract calendar has a special topic, picked up by the logo design. It means a lot of designing rounds to create a complete new scene, which supports the basic information on the page with an introducing illustration. And after all it should not compete against these charts, too, but emphasize the issue the chart is dealing with.
August – High score in history
Young and successful – many of the most sold video games were created in the very last years. But what about “Tetris“ or “Duck Hunt“? Still in pleasant memories they are part of our top-31-ranking and so we choose a arcade game like style to honor this all time classics in video games.
September – Big City Life
Computing power for the detail: 3D graphics are still not only a on-click-artwork process. For such a large forest e.g the 3D-project had to be split into 2 individual scenes, of which the woods alone had to be calculated by 4 computers at once as computing power still reaches its limits with the lighting and rendering of 50000 trees. In a second step, the resulting images had to be composed back together in 2D. Further adjustments were made on brightness and color of the trees to get a consistent background for the 2D charts. This process saved valuable time over re-rendering the whole scene over and over again.
Let’s design some manifest information! Why should we abstract the look of books with the possibility to create a realistic appearing nerds-library? At the moment he‘s not at his desk but maybe crawling around to search some old archived books within the smaller desks out of sight.
Do you know which elements mix up to human being? Here we go but remember it’s still not quite easy to find the right look: The proper appearance for elements can prove to be quiet challenging. While the physical state at a certain temperature seems to be the least of the problems, contamination with other materials is fairly common in pictures we had to use for reference. In 3D texturing the fundament is always a reliable picture gallery which is not easy to research.
How to read music without notes: highlighting the different melodies of the most popular Christmas songs in a very abstract graphical way. Benefits of this unusual representation are easy understanding even for unmusical people and also the possible comparison between the melody courses of the chosen Christmas songs.
And don‘t forget about the Logo. Again we tried to accompany the graphs with an illustrative scenery. So we build our logo-streak with all possible home entertainment loud speakers while the shape of the letters is built up by thousands of different electronic devices storing millions of song libraries. And the dot at the end is simply the basis for all these electronic equipment: A good old gramophone.
*ixtract is an infographic design agency based in Berlin, Germany, developing works with newspapers, magazines and in the emerging field of visual PR. Visit the website for more information and samples of their work.