[This is a guest post by Jessica Suen*, talking about her Redwood City Tide Predictions infographic]
Overview of Project
Tide Predictions (full PDF) is an infographic that, at a quick glance, visually conveys the dynamic wave nature of the Earth’s tides. Focusing on Redwood City’s Wharf 5 in California, Tide Predictions shows comprehensive data for the month of June 2013.
I created this infographic in partial requirement for my BFA in Graphic Design from San Jose State University. The course was taught by Professor Randall Sexton, who has worked at IBM as an art director and has received numerous accolades for his expertise in design.
This infographic design was a continually-changing process; as I laid out the data, I found that I had to go back and tweak design elements such as color, intensity, and contrast to maintain a sense of hierarchy within the data. With so much data to cover (tide heights and times, mean lows and highs, moon phases, amount of daylight/darkness, etc.), I worked to present each data section as clearly and logically as possible.
From start to finish, the process consisted of the following stages:
Planning, stage 1: Finding inspiration, collecting data, and planning data layout
When starting the design, I sat down and wondered how the infographic should “feel” to the viewer. The viewer would likely be a tourist or visitor to the area, and would probably be viewing the infographic to determine the best day and time to visit the wharf for a certain activity. I wanted to design a chart that would visually arrest and attract the viewer, but still function well. I didn’t want a dry chart that would just spit out numbers and times, but at the same time strive to express the raw beauty of the cosmic dynamics that govern the rise and fall of our tides.
In laying out the data, I wanted to start with a radial grid, dashboard-like, to further enforce the smooth wave-like nature of the tide. I felt that a conventional linear graph would be just as functional, but wouldn’t convey the ebb and flow of the tides as dramatically as a dashboard chart would. The roundness of the chart would also perpetuate the cosmic night sky theme I was going for.
Initial Visualization, stage 2: The quick and dirty mock-up
In Stage 2, I began to concoct a rough sketch of what I saw in my mind, but the black background was obviously too dominant. I needed to go lighter, to tone down the background. I also began to fill in information such as moon phases, individual calendar days for June 2013, and the tide height axis up to ten feet. To indicate the amounts of daylight and darkness for each day, I decided to show a visual ray of “light” illuminating the hours between sunrise and sunset for each day.
Progress, stage 3: Fix design problems—both visual and functional
A lighter background with subtle incorporation of cosmic elements seemed to work better. I also felt the need to make the text just a touch bigger, with a bold setting, to hold its own against the strong blue of the background. I chose analogous colors for the tide waves so they would blend and overlap harmoniously.
Completion and final touches, final stage
After incorporating the rest of the data, I laid out the title and other type to fall in the same gridlines as the radial chart. A little more tweaking was done to the type, lines, and tide waves to maintain visual hierarchy and provide better functionality.
A major concern I had was maintaining hierarchy at both macro and micro levels of viewing (from a quick glance to an in-depth examination), but subtle tweaks here and there helped solve this visual problem. For example, I needed to increase the strength of the “sun rays” to hold their own against the tide waves. I also found the need to call out the spring and neap tides in two places on the infographic—on the outside and inside of the half radius—to show their correlations with days of the month and moon phases.
Trying out a complex chart-type infographic for the first time, I worried about visuals overtaking the functionality of the infographic, but found that I was able to downplay that issue by changing intensity, scale, or color of individual elements. Laying out a chart in an unconventional way was a delightful space and problem-solving experience, and I enjoyed taking inspiration from nature for the visuals. I designed with the viewer in mind, and I hope that the final product will deliver the specific experience I chose for the viewer.
Though this project is the last of its type in my run as a student, I plan to assign myself another to hone my visual and problem-solving skills. Such skills are essential in a graphic designer’s toolkit.
If you would like to see other design interpretations of this diagram, please view some of my talented classmates’ work at their respective online portals: Tani Mitsch, Long Cheng, Laurent Nguyen, Kevin Cheong, and Juan Mondragon.
*A member of San Francisco’s chapter of AIGA, Jessica Suen is a graduating senior at San Jose State University finishing her BFA in graphic design. Planning to specialize in branding and identity design, she hopes to join a bustling design firm after she graduates. She believes that design shouldn’t just be visually appealing, but should also have substance and clear functionality. Jessica is currently interning at Personify, a visual branding studio located in Menlo Park, CA.