A new book from graphic guru and School of Visual Arts professor Steven Heller and designer Rick Landers looks at that the process of more than 200 designers, from first sketch to final product. The Infographic Designers Sketchbook is almost exactly what it sounds like. The 350-page tome is essentially a deep dive into the minds of data designers. Heller and Landers have chosen more than 50 designers and asked them to fork over their earliest sketches to give us insights into how they turn a complex set of data into coherent, visually stunning data visualizations. “You see a lot more unbridled, unfettered work when you’re looking at a sketchbook,” says Heller. “You might be looking at a lot of junk, but even that junk tells you something about the artist who is doing it.”
Heller says there are a few through-lines to all good infographics, the first being clarity. The purpose of a data visualization has always been to communicate complex information in a readily digestible way. “You can’t throw curves,” he says. “If you’re going to do something that is complex, like the breakdown of an atomic particle, for example, you have to make it clear.” Clarity is key even in seemingly simple infographics, like Caroline + Young’s Mem:o, an app that visualizes personal data for things like sleep and fitness. The data viz tool uses simple shapes to communicate the various sets of data. This is no coincidence says Heller, adding that our eyes tend to respond to simple geometric forms. “If you start using parallelograms or shapes like that, it may get a little difficult,” he says. “But circle squares and rectangles, those are all forms we adjust our eyes to very quickly.”…
It’s fascinating to go behind the scenes of a designer’s work process, in the way it’s fascinating to flip through another person’s journal or leaf through the papers on their desk. If nothing else, the book is a testament to the sketching process. It shows how designers, and even non-designers, can use a pen and paper to sort through some hairy, complex ideas.
The post has some interesting examples you can look at. This hints at the larger process of interpreting data. If someone just handed you a spreadsheet of data or a few tables with data, it is not an automatic process between that and coming up with the “right” interpretation, whether that be in a written or graphical format. It takes time and skill to present the data in an engaging and informative way.