Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A new generation of infographics designers?

This semester I am teaching my Infographics class to 16 University of Miami undergraduate students. We began in the middle of January and they have already turned in their first non-graded exercises. They downloaded the data from this map by the Guardian and designed static graphs and maps with Adobe Illustrator.

The results, as you can see on the left, are far from perfect —notice that I scribbled with a pencil on some of them during the review session,— but I think that they are quite impressive anyway: None of those students had any infographics experience four weeks ago —and the end of the semester is almost three months ahead of us!

To complete the assignment, students went through the three steps that I usually recommend to anybody who wishes to learn how to create infographics and visualizations, which I explain in The Functional Art:

1. Get used to reading published graphics attentively. Try to identify what they do well and not so well. In this case, the original map only encoded poverty rates, but if you click on the states you will find other interesting figures, such as median incomes and percentage of people who lack health insurance. The students felt that much more could be done with those numbers: In the current interactive, it is not possible to compare states, rank them, or relate the variables with one another.

2. Make sketches that address the challenges identified in step one. Does the original graphic help answer basic questions (which state shows the worst poverty rate, in which regions lack of health insurance is more prevalent, etc.)? If not, how can we rebuild it? You can draw those sketches by hand or using software, it doesn't really matter.

3. Redesign the graphic.

(Download the syllabus for the class and learn more about how I teach it. Visit our Journalism and Interactive Media programs.)