Best practices in visual communications and infographics are something you can learn – historically this was often by trial and error – today, it’s so much easier to keep up with the latest trends and follow what others are doing.
I thought it would be useful, both for myself and for others, to see what I was producing 10 years ago, whilst I was Graphics Editor at New Scientist. I will also include my freelance work if it’s good, bad or thought-provoking enough.
We are always learning…and so it is important to try new things out.
So enjoy, smile, question, ponder and cringe as I look back.
Good, not so good and not to be seen again.
Summer is swinging into play and, as usual, things seem to be slowing down. Looking at some of this month’s collection of graphics, so has my brain. We have timelines, maps, the recession and a ‘too-bad-to-miss-out’ 3D donut chart comparison! You’ll just have top wait for that one.
Let start with a world map looking at the nuclear world, except this graphic (which fails the colour-blind mode) has no hierarchical text and no real hierarchical graphic elements. My eyes go all over the place. There is a title of sorts although it seems to be trying to hide from the reader.
At the top we have a key to the map but below the map we have another key for the coloured dots! We also have a bomb symbol with a number in but no real explanation of what these are – we can assume they are declared nuclear weapons – but graphics should mean we have to ‘guess’ what we are looking at. Would have been better to incorporate the two together at the top so that we could see what we were looking at before we get to look at the graphic.
We then have an additional bar chart with its own title, but again this is hidden as the text is not that much larger than the body copy! Not a good start…
A much better effort of a graphic showing a portion of the periodic table and where we were in the numbering of the elements. The latest element to be recognised was element 112, Ununbium with others up to 118 Ununoctium, under consideration Nice to see a ‘how to read this graphic’ key explaining what everything means in the table (always a good to thing to add especially in the periodic table). Since then we have accepted these latest events with 118 now being called Oganesson.
A nice little graphic of the surface of the moon and how NASA will scan it, filtering out unsuitable surfaces, to ensure astronauts will only land on flat sites.
Timelines are always difficult to get right as well as interesting. Here we have one looking at mass extinctions since life began 3.8 billion years ago. I quite like this one, I can see that the early extinctions are ‘further’ away and therefore have smaller earth-like icons…getting larger until we get to the future predicted extinctions. There is a nice header and explanatory text and a key at the top explaining that the coloured earths are showing.
A bar chart looking at unemployment and national debt between the UK and the US during the start of the recession. Looking back this should have been a slope graph, as its very hard to see whats going on.
Actually both national debt and unemployment are rising, but can you see that? I cant. But done as a slope then its plain to see. Although I would actually label the lines and not have a keys in the first one.
Lets end with the 3D exploded donut I mentioned at the beginning…I don’t know what to say EXCEPT that we learn all the time and here is a prime example of what NOT TO DO!
I hope you enjoyed that, let’s hope July is a better month in the world of graphics from 2009!.
01 July 2019
A little later than normal, so apologies for that, but here goes. This month we have ‘Swine flu’ , unicellular eukaryotes, bar charts, treemaps, pie charts within donut charts, area charts, the female ‘prostate’ and more.
So we’ll start with a good looking (IMHO) 3D flu virus graphic, looking like its been made of clay but hey! still a nice try. There was much in the media about swine flu at the time and this graphic is a good little explainer with extra nuggets of information explaining the differences between this new strain and previous strains.
Whilst I am in the 3D, realistic-type-graphic mood, let’s have a choanoflagellate graphic! Choanoflagellates are considered to be the closest living relatives of animals. This graphic doesn’t have a header or explanatory text, which I hate about it, and this backs up what I say all the time during workshops – keep a header and text within the graphic- I had to google the article it to find out what was actually going on! It shows how a multicellular animals evolved from a single-celled organism in six major steps. Discuss!
Less 3D more data now. This looks at PTSD and I decided to use squares to show the part to whole differences – probably because I had had enough of pie charts and it fitted the space we had to utilise! Sobering colour scheme as well. Often or not, back then we were given a ‘slot’ in the layout and had to use that space. Pleased with the look of it though.
A subject matter that is still at the forefront of climate scenarios, and that of rising sea-levels. This graphic looks at low level islands vulnerable to sea rises and particularly the Maldives. A basic map showing the locations and a nice chart below showing the historical variations in sea levels for the Maldives over the 1993-2009 mean. Again, with many of these climate change graphics the changes can be seen quite clearly – in hindsight, I would probably do more with the blue colour of the chart to emphasise the changes – but then again, not changing the colour to make it darker or more intense still shows the change and keeps the graphic more neutral.
An interesting look at the internet of the time with who is using it and for what. I see that spam accounted for 78% of all emails! I wonder what that is now? Streaming was only 8% of traffic back then – will do some research and look at the comparison now. We were also thinking about the make-up of the web looking forward to 2012!
A nice ‘how to read the graphic’ graphic at the top, especially as we had pie charts within the donut charts! And a little time series of maps at the bottom of the spread showing the rise of China. Would be interesting to see what people think of the pie within the donut.
I had to cover many areas of science back then, with biology being one of them. As I trained as a scientific artist, it was always good to get some more artistic graphics every now and again. So here is one looking at the female body and the possibilities of the female prostate gland.
To finish this round up of what I was drawing in May 2009, we have this months look at black holes. With the announcement recently from the Event Horizon team of the first picture of a black hole
I was showing what the radio telescopes around the world would be looking for and how they would synchronised to show the picture above 10 years later! What an achievement!
Enough for this month, lots of 3D work and some good looking graphics as well, so lets see what June brings.
10 June 2019
Graphic 3D, realistic 3D, bar charts in 3D and maps in 3D this month!!! I had obviously got my head around the 3D programme and went all out using (and learning) it. Subjects for this month range from robots to Antarctica.
So lets start with a bit of graphic 3D looking at the latest (at the time) in hear-sensing space telescopes. Quite like this, with its clean style and back and white graphics showing the telescopes. But it’s missing a couple of tricks here – we mention mirror diameter – so maybe the circles could have been to scale and the colours of the circles could have been adjusted to show the wavelengths that the telescopes would be measuring or a scale to show the range – but nice clean graphic overall.
Next up a nice explanation of why we loose the ability to see red as we dive deeper into the ocean. Easy to see that the visible spectrum narrows the deeper we go and with some extra information about the differences between reflectant and fluorescent colour.
Two graphics now from a feature looking at Antarctica’s ice sheets and what we can find out by drilling down 1100 metres and 19 billion years. Would be good to have the title and subhead attached to the map but that was done by art and so not attached! A locator map to start with showing the mass and the ice sheets and where the drilling will be done. I obviously got hold of a high resolution picture and managed to use that. Under the map graphic we have a side view to show the land under the ice.
Moving on to the 3D drill core graphic – again a header and explanatory sub would have been good and allowed us to know what it was all about – I did include a detailed explanation at the bottom of the core explaining what had gone on over 19 million years though. One of the very few reasons to have a double axis on a graphic – depth on one side and the age on the other. Like this one.
Right lets get the 3D map over and done with! I can see what I am trying to do here using the 3d image but just too many elements on the page, too many fighting for prominence and no hierarchy. The cut away of the earth just looks weird – like and upside down heart. Then you have a 3D arrow with shadow and a ‘curtain’ effect that joins the cut-away land to the 3D map…too much wrong with this but enjoy it and use it as something not to do in the future.
Now as the title for the jpg says a ‘Rubbish Table’. 3D gone mad here. Made even worse by the opacity of the colours in the blocks, so that you can’t really see which level you should be looking at – another example of what not to do and why we shouldn’t make 3D bar charts.
Lastly for this month, a robot for climbing on ceilings. Intricate and realistic 3D modelling, including lighting on the 3D graphic element. Text pointing out eh various elements to the robot. On the right hand side we have a graphic animation showing how it moves whilst always keeping 8 of its 16 feet stuck to the ceiling. Quite nice and clear although if this is really for the ceiling, then why haven’t I drawn unit hanging upside down? Answers on a post card!
Enough for this look back at 10 years ago. Even I look forward tot next months episode.
1 May 2019
Bar charts, line charts, brains, branes and dinosaurs are amongst the subject matter looking back at March 2009.
Thought I would start off with this bar chart looking at colonies and particularly colonies of corals…but where are they? The header states that cross are some fo the oldest colonies so why didn’t I flag them up!!! If you want the reader to see something in the visual then show me!!!
and please add titles to the graphics as an integral part of the graphic. A great example here…no idea what I am really looking at. A header would really help me…
I seem to have drawn brains many times over the years and so this graphic looking at déja vu seem so familiar!!! and a little basic today. Again a 3D application that took a lot of time to create in the first place and so we ended up using it many times. The shading is atrocious and doesn’t follow the contours of the brain at all! Terrible
A very different type of brane, this time a 3D gravity brane. Quite like the look of this one trying to explain hidden dimensions…but not sure I understand it fully after all this time. 3D Cinema was still the thing to do at the time though.
To end with, a nice graphic graphic . Simple and to the point, How big were some of the biggest dinosaurs, compared to an Elephant, a Giraffe and Man? Improvements easily doe to this but saved a purpose back then.
That’s it for this month. Hopefully April 2009 will be a little more exciting or have some graphics that I can hate or love with conviction.
03 April 2019
Will follow very soon, but I am attending Malofiej infographic summit and so the update may be delayed a couple of days…come back soon though.
Vaping, time, good, bad and just creepy faces graphics in this month’s look back on what I was producing in February 2009.
A simple 3D graphic showing how an electronic cigarette would work. How vaping has come along since then!
Sometimes the simple ones are the best. A line graph with upper and lower estimated values (not done often back then!), looking at the costs of eliminating HIV in South Africa.
Next up we have some creepy looking faces plotted as a scatter plot asking the question ‘Have you got the look?’ – a good title and a nice way to show whether the particular face looks dominant, trustworthy, or not…creepy!
A nice one, even after 10 years. Lots of information explaining the feasibilities of geo-engineering technologies along with a good way of portraying the effectiveness, costs and readiness as a graphic key-like element. Was still loving Cinema4D at the time! Would put the key at the top to help with the flow and understanding.
Googling this now I see that either it started a trend, this was done in 2009! or many of us were thinking along the same lines! Nice to see the variations though
Not a nice one. A brief history of timekeeping…so why not do it as a watch? Well, you can see why! Many time scales, some at the top then the inner ring on the watch is 1600 to 1899…then the outer ring is 1900 to 2010 – a bad idea then OR a reasonable idea but not very well executed and too much time spent not eh details rather than the data/important information and dates. Timelines are always notoriously difficult to do differently though.
And to finish off this months look back, we’ll stay with one of the big subjects (if not biggest) of the moment i.e. climate. A double page looking at the world at 4°C warmer and what would have to change. Again, the key at the top would be better and of course, the colour scheme of reds, greens and yellows would be atrocious for anybody with a red/green colour problem!!! But hey, I know better now and should have known back then!!!
Thank you for looking. More next month.
Always happy to hear comments and suggestions
2 March 2019
2008 left us with lots of photoshop filters being used along with importing of Cinema4D files, all put together before outputting to Illustrator for final changes.
As we are in the depths of winter I thought I would start off with a graphic showing sunlight shining through the Pantheon’s oculus and lighting up the front courtyard. Would have liked to have seen a calendar of sorts and maybe a compass, nice, simple explanatory graphic.
I often see double-axis charts and wonder why they are not easier to read, so here is one of my not easy to read charts. A colour coded axis would have helped, and I wish I had used better colours! Black and dark red!!! At least the headline also wonders if cause or coincidence are involved, which is always the case with using double axis.
If you include statements or questions in the graphic header then show me where to look to see or discover the answer in the actual visual! This fails on so many levels. Where is the halfway mark and which are the developing countries? Plus, do I really need so many nuclear symbols?
A simple look at aircraft wing efficiency. Again simple and clean. Not sure how many winglets are made from shape-memory alloy but at least the technology has improved efficiency nowadays.
Carbon scrubbing was the the future technology that was being looked at in 2009, so a complex graphic looking at three ways of scrubbing CO2. Lots of information in both 3D realistic looking form and 2D graphic explanatory form.
Two graphics looking at peddling across the Atlantic in a fish-like submarine. The hook we had for this was ‘sub-human’. The first one showing how the machine would propel itself – nice technical drawing type grid effect on blue. The second graphic is really just an excuse to show what we could do with Cinema 4D and filled a double page spread with text around it. It could do with some movement effects on the fin though. Ted Ciamillo went on to develop the monofin!
I see a change in headline style over these few graphics so maybe we are beginning to update the style guide? Will see if it persists in next months graphics…
01 Feb 2019
The final month for 2008. The final issue of the year was always a double issue, which meant fewer graphics (normally) but some more festive and fun ones if we could.
So for December 2008, we have off-grid electricity, cosmology, wine tasting, present packaging, and the world’s first computer from 65BC.
So, lets start with a donut chart. Yes, we all like to moan about these, but I do use them when appropriate. So an example of when not to use them – a bar would have made it much easier to see the data and the differences, plus the colours are atrocious!!!! No coherence, nothing to let me know why that segment is red or that one purple…bad
A graphic that I am slightly happier with here. Cinema4D put to good use showing renewable tech within a household…nice!
Some cosmology now. I remember this as something that took a lot of explaining to me, and much gnashing of teeth, to get the concept across. It’s a subject matter that I go back to many times in my career…and am still revisiting now. Quite nice and helps to expain the details int he story.
A reminder that in 2008 we were looking at the costs of mobile phones and text messaging…well before 4G and wifi was really accessible to everybody easily.
A good attempt at showing this overlap between the reproductive years of mothers across species. Can think of a few better graphic choices now to show this overlap…but not a bad start
Let’s look at a couple of graphics from the Christmas issue. The first is a bit of Christmas maths using mince pie and Christmas pudding icons (or chart junk, depending on how you look at it) to show how to pack things in the most efficient and smallest parcel size. The second, one of my favorite subjects, wine. Can you make your cheap plonk taste better or more palatable by zapping it with electricity?…
…apparently so by zapping it with 600V/cm for 3 minutes!. Don’t think I’ll bother… but nice glass illustrations and I like the star ratings. I do think the voltage symbols are too large and overshadow the results stars. 3D rules in 2008!
Hope you enjoyed the last one for this year. Happy holidays and I look forward to sharing more in 2019…cheers
Looking through the images, November was obviously a slow month. Subject matters range from creepiness, through energy, to relativity…
A little bar chart type thing that is trying to show our perception of creepiness when comparing different creatures – from spiders to butterflies. I like the fact that that it was split into the different creatures but feel that little icons would be of more help, rather than having to look at a key all the time.
Keeping with the natural world, a 3D ‘star wars’ type chronological chart looking at the evolution of flowering plants. Quite like this. I was trying to get the feeling of going back in time (which is always a problem when looking at our Earth’s history, and the fact that the images are trying to look like fossils!
Still in its infancy, we look and explain what reCAPTCHA is all about. A reasonable piece of explanatory visual storytelling, explaining what goes on in the process. Think I missed a trick with the coloured bars at the bottom – 83.5% vs 99.1% – as they could have been done to scale to give more of a visual cue.
HIV testing. Have included this graphic as a good example, in my opinion, of how not to do something. There seems to be many ways that this could have been done in a way that would help me to take on board the information. It is done chronologically but the key is redundant as I could have put the text next to the section it refers to. There are countries mentioned so it could have included something map-like to help. Lots of numbers mentioned that could have been visualised, male and female mentioned plus the colour scheme doesn’t work for red/green colour deficiency…so there you go…lots of room for improvement!
Can maths reproduce Einstein’s relativity? More gratuitous use of Cinema 4D, (and why not?) in trying to portray and explain Relativity…enjoy this one and see if you can understand it (answers on a postcard please…)
More next month for the run up to Christmas…
Looking back at what I was producing in October 2008.
We have Anyons, brain regions, landfill breakdowns, search engine history, and cancer drugs.
So let’s start off with a bit of gratuitous 3D work and some physics that I find hard to work out – I obviously understood it at the time! In physics, an anyon is a type of quasiparticle that occurs only in two-dimensional systems, so therefore I drew it in 3D
The human brain and its complex regions linked with exceptional talents. I used this model of the brain which we originally made in Strata, many times. Again that grey background so common in 2008!
Quite like this use of 3D. What goes into a landfill site? Look at the proportion of paper…would be interested to see this data now. This one based on data from a site in Sweden. A stacked bar chart would have worked as well but wouldn’t have had the truck and the gulls flying around at the top to put it into context.
How things have changed! A table/timeline of the history of search engines up to 2008, including the launch of Google
And to finish off with this month, a double-page graphic looking at cancer and its target-specific drugs. Lots of work went into this, getting the look, feel, accuracy and layout working with the text around it
Thank you for looking, comments always welcome. Looking forward to seeing what I came up with next month from November 2008
September flew by and we are now into October and so time to look at what I was producing ten years ago.
This month we have sea-level rises, genetic make-up, Hubble’s repair mission and a look at a the popularity of a podcast.
Can’t work out why the chart, or indeed the population numbers, are in the order they are! Ordering on a chart is important so what was I thinking, plus missing a big opportunity to show the population exposed to the sea-level rise
Small multiple pie charts..never thought I would say that in a positive way – but think these work quite well…comments please.
3D effects still a popular thing to include in graphics! The early days of podcasting and we were wondering if they would take off in popularity
An effective graphic looking at what was to be replaced or repaired on the then, upcoming Hubble space telescope repair mission
And to end with, a simple, clear, history of Earth. Could probably do with a ‘Earth starts here’ pointer but hey…
August always seems like a quiet period with summer holidays but I have found some good and bad infographic examples from way back in 2008. This month I was visualising sleep patterns, sea surface temperatures (again!) and the Large Hadron Collider.
The spelling of Rythms in the headline obviously got through the system back then! Graphic looking at the body’s circadian rhythm – simple and clean. You can’t go wrong with a 24-hour clock look.
3D blocks and cutting the y-axis…obviously trying something new AND trying to fit it all into the space I had been allocated once I had produced the chart – not the best way to proceed.
A good try but a few things that should be done more effectively. Lines on both the PDO and the Global temperature in the first graphic, are too bold and overpowering. The key could be better with temperature next to the right-hand axis, for instance. The bottom graphic showing AMO index is trying to show correlations between the data but again it needs more refined lines and colours, I am also looking for more details for the rainfall and hurricanes lines – what are the scales here?
I still like this one. A full-page graphic telling the story of the LHC, where it is located, the size of it and what it does. I made the model in Cinema4D, rendering it there, before bringing it into photoshop and then ultimately into Illustrator to pull everything together. It was always a struggle negotiating a full-page graphic within the constraints of a weekly magazine with the editors wanting to fill the pages with words rather than visuals, but I obviously put up a good fight here and won. I am still pleased with how it looks 10 years on. The line chart at the bottom follows the story of the experiments through time from 2008 to the future.
Even a simple bar chart can always be improved. I should have made the flying data more prominent, as it is mentioned in the headline (make the others grey, for instance). Do we need the y-axis and the data points? In this instance I should have deleted the axis and just gone with the data as numbers on the graphic…
Let’s see what September 2008 holds…
Looking back at what I was producing from July 2008, we have an evolutionary fishy missing link, tidal power generators, chemical elements and the Big Bang, bird migration, and a dodgy looking baby illustration.
Quite like the absurdity of what these fish look like front on – simple, clear graphics. Song reference in the headline!
Using Cinema4D, Photoshop, and Illustrator to try and show how energy could be generated using tidal currents. Annotations really help the storytelling here, adding additional text to help the understanding.
A terrible pun in the header. We were trying with ‘sticky’, ‘funny’ titles at the time. Not sure they work but at least we had an explanatory sub-head! Too many colours…my eyes go everywhere at the same time… urgh! Slope graph would be better…
Gratuitous use of the ‘drop-shadow’ effect, a much-overused effect of the time! Missed the obvious by not colouring up the bird silhouettes in the same colour as the tracks and because of that we had to use a key! On the plus side, it does show the long ranges these birds cover, but again text on the graphic could have cut the sub-head text.
Have produced so many graphics based around the Big Bang over the years. The sheer scale, time-wise, is always a problem. Log scales are always a useful vehicle. Not sure this works, or indeed, actually shows what I was trying to…there will be many more to come in this series, so will be interesting to see what I did.
And finally for this months look back…
A look at the benefits of breastfeeding over formula milk. Good use of the coloured text in the sub-head that correlates with the coloured text in the graphic. Think the alignment of the text boxes and therefore the lines going all over the graphic is the best way. Would certainly try softening up the rigid approach here! The baby graphic is a bit off-putting to me. Don’t know what it is but would certainly try making the internal organs less ‘real’ or not so blood red. Would also draw the baby in a more realistic and ‘alive’ state!
Enough for this month, lets see what August 2008 brings
Opioid abuse, how a pitcher plant captures its prey, a warmer planet in the past and the food drain. Some good, some bad again this month.
A simple filled line graph using the design of New Scientist at the time.
Still like this graphic showing how a pitcher plant uses various ways to catch its prey. Illustrator, photoshop and a picture used together to explain how it works. We liked catchy headers in 2008!
Not sure I would use a rainbow colour scheme today..divergent or sequential would work just as well if not better.
Three graphics from a feature. Not much to say about the first one. What was I thinking about in the second one! Certainly shouldn’t have used a double axis as the timeline is not consistent!!! The third one is quite interesting but not sure the 3D blocks show the data particularly well. The data should be much more prominent and less made of the ‘lovely’ icons.
Climate change, Autism, Mars and the rise of data tagging.
Back in 2008 we were wondering just how high global temperatures would go, with 3-4°C being the most likely. A simple chart that would benefit from no background colour (but had to fit in with magazine style).
We were looking at how to mitigate carbon emissions, looking at carbon sequestration as a viable option. Lots of photoshop as well as illustrator use here. Trying to show the differences using bubble size but really achieving the effect – obviously spending too much time on the 3D image and not so much on the actual data which is interesting. Combining these two elements with data from the subhead would be good.
With NASA’s Mars Pheonix lander about to descend to the surface (it landed on 25 May 2008) I looked at Mars’ ice caps. Illustration using illustrator, photoshop as well as official photographs.
Another timeline, this time comparing Earth history to Mars. Clean and simple. Fitting in text on a timeline is always a compromise.
Interesting use of red and dark red flags! I can see what I was trying to show here, but not really a graphic, more of a fancy list.
Using circles to compare numbers is always problematic. At least in this instance, there is a marked difference. Wonder what the 3 million number would be now – but the web was still in its infancy back in 2008.
Timelines, photoshop bevels, 3D work, Global warming, US election and more from April 2008.
Producing timelines for a science magazine is always something that is required frequently. ‘How can you make it look different from the last time?’ I was often asked. Fitting all the information into a small space was always a problem. A very basis timeline here looking at what is known about antimatter. Not my best!
An attempt to show the flow of carbon credits and the emerging carbon market. The arrows were trying to show the amount of the flow by using the width of lines but that 3D chart at the bottom! Wouldn’t do that again.
Not sure how much this would change if done today! Still using drop shadows!
A look at the 2000 US presidential elections and how the voting in Florida helped George W. Bush to victory.
Context and science in a flow chart, showing the methods, and dangers of producing methamphetamine. A clean, easy to follow graphic. Lots of Cinema4D use here!
Not sure about the colours used here. Would have been easier to read without the key at the top – would annotate the lines now! and speaking of the line chart, I’m sure that a histogram would be a better way fo showing it.
Sea creatures, nanotubes, quantum theory, the rise of blogging and more from March 2008
These from February 2008