Category Archives: Infographic sketches

From idea to final dataviz – EU Drug Markets Report 2019

Last week I posted a link to a project that I completed last year, working in collaboration with EMCDDA and Europol – the EU Drug Markets Report 2019. 

I posted it because the particular graphic that I show in the preview was one of those projects that really changed along the way from initial idea and sketch to the final look. It was a challenging project and one that I sometimes use as an example of the process in my workshops. See the report here.

A comment from Andrew Cunningham (EMCDDA staff), one of the contributors to the report made me think that showing the progression of the design would be interesting for viewers, so here goes.

To put this spread into context, each chapter of the Drug Markets Report concentrates on one drug or range of drugs, so we have Cannabis, Heroin, Cocaine, Synthetics (MDMA, Amphetamine, Methamphetamine) and NPS (New Psychoactive Substances) Each chapter has a main spread graphic, along with its chapter colour, summing up the particular drug and looking at its sources, distribution, price, purity etc around the world as well as across Europe.

We tried to keep to the same format for each drug graphic so that the reader would know what was being shown in each position.  There is a central image surrounded by many data graphics – generally world data on the right and EU data on the left page. I have included the other drug spreads here so you can see what I mean.

With NPS we have a range of drugs that cover many of the other drug categories but in man-made chemical form, so the way the data was collected and needed to be presented was very different. Trying to keep up with the new (sometimes very similar) chemical formulas and drugs is a major task. In our initial discussions the huge number of drugs recorded and monitored by the EU early warning system seemed to be very important and we agreed that this was something that should be shown. For instance in the last year of reporting – 2018 – there were approximately 52 drugs monitored and reported out of a total of about 731 (numbers were not 100% accurate as this stage) reported since 2003 – an interesting thing to visualise as we could also show how many of each category were being monitored. Here are some of the trials showing the 731 drugs and the breakdown of what types they were.

I thought if I use each drug as a dot and make it into a hexagon shape, being of significance in the chemistry of the NPS (benzine ring) that would be a great way to show just how many had been monitored in that time and the proportion that had been reported in the last year. Maybe we could have that as out main image and hang the other data off of that.

Luckily the total number of dots fits quite happily into that hex shape (well almost) and so I tried to lay out some of the remaining data along the same lines as the other spreads. 

I was hoping that we could pull out and highlight some examples of the drugs over the years to help put them into context for the more general reader, ie where was ‘spice’ and when was it notified and what are the data for that etc so I added some dummy copy boxes over the 700 dots.

You can see here that the layout is six column double page spread.

 

As with most projects, discussions between colleagues and myself are an ongoing and vital part of the process. Elements are changed, colours are altered and layouts adjusted…

During some of these discussions it was agreed that the number of seizure cases was really the important piece of information – or it was at least as important as the numbers of the drugs – and so we decided that this should be primary focus of the spread.

I had the data in a small graphic at the top right hand side and so I redesigned the spread using that information as the focus, now hanging the other data, including the dots, from that. The number of drugs was still an important piece of data and so I tried to incorporate that into the new design using 732 dots arranged in different way, firstly in a row…

…then using my preferred hex shape once again. You can see here I tried other chart types including the histogram like chart but we agreed on the area/line chart in simple colours with the hexagon (700+ dots) as a secondary visual although near to the top of the page so that the reader would see the huge numbers before seeing the quantities.

Once we had agreed on the look, it was then time to refine the main chart to add EU and EU+2 data (light and dark blue) plus add the additional information such as highlighting certain drugs and chemical categories as well as other relevant or interesting information. You can see I had started to do this above and below.

The key for the 731 NPS dots was a real problem and that particular element went through many stages to try and get it into a state that was acceptable to everybody and understandable to the reader.

Then it was really down to refinement and adjusting text, layout, positioning, white space and incorporating and editing the new data when we got it until we end up at the final version.

Keeping everybody involved (and sometimes not involved!) updated with the process and what was going on was a big job, but luckily at that stage I could spend time in EMCDDA’s  office which made the process much smoother.

Making sure everybody involved was happy with the information shown, the text and the placement of the visuals is always a big job and these spreads were no exception.

We got there in the end and I and, hopefully, the team at EMCDDA are happy with the results. Working with a big team is always an involved, complex and sometimes frustrating experience – for them as much as me – but knowing the data and subject matter (they are the experts here), knowing the audience and knowing the reasons for producing the visuals is a vital part of the job and hopefully this knowledge will guide you to a good result.

This happens with every chart and graphic I produce, from the most basic to the complex. Some have more steps and processes, including lots of pencil sketches (which have gone missing here) some less, the process is the same. 

These were just some of the graphics produced for the report. There are many more in the report including timelines, drug processes and more icon-like graphics, so head over to the site and download last years and this years report amongst many more.

A big thank you to Rosemary Martin de Sousa (Head of unit), Andrew Cunningham (who’s idea it was to post this) and everybody involved at EMCDDA and Europol – a real team effort. 

2019 Report here

08 December 2020

Icon design

A couple of before and after for icons that I worked on for ‘The Good Ancestor: How to think long term in a short-term world’ by Roman Krznaric, launched this week.

Showing the ideas that were sketched out after discussions and brainstorming between Roman and myself.

icons for tog of war graphic showing long term and short-term thoughts

final icons for tug of war graphic

icon sketches for deep democracy

final graphic icons for deep democracy graphic

Always good to see how things develop and finalise at the final stage. More to come…

25 July 2020

The Sketching Process

My latest infographic for Scientific American has been released and this month they are making the issue free to read. Go to https://lnkd.in/gVMCHtz to see my graphic looking at Planet Hunting. Always a pleasure to work with Jen Christiansen and Meredith MacGregor.

This month I thought I would share the video of the sketching process I went through after I had read the copy, re-read the copy, doodled and taken notes,  finally asking many questions to Jen and Meredith. At that stage I was pretty certain about what we were all trying to achieve in the graphic.

The graphic and video are below. These show my sketching process and build up to the ‘final sketch before committing to the final drawing completed in Illustrator.

03 June 2020

Timeline and Icon designs

Timeline and icon design

I have been working remotely with the EMCDDA designing graphics for their 25th anniversary. The latest graphic has just been launched looking at the monitoring capabilities and innovation employed to keep up with their remit. I thought I would be interesting to show some earlier sketches showing some steps in the design process and how the icons have been used in the table that follows on…thanks to all the staff.


the final graphic is below with the icons being reused to help the flow of the table.

link is here http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/news/2020/emcdda-preparedness-and-response-fast-moving-drugs-problem

Infographics and Illustrations: How they used to be done…#2

Following on from some of my black and white gardening illustrations here I thought I would also show some of my colour illustrations first produced for New Scientist in 1990!.

The process was very different and everything was hand drawn, or in this case hand drawn and then painted using watercolours onto watercolour paper…registration marks were placed on the paper…

…we then used an acetate overlay to draw on arrows showing water flow – specified to be 60% Cyan for the printer –  plus a front view drawn in ink – to be black. The text was typed and printed from a computer and stuck on this layer using Cow Gum. Registration marks to align with the layer below…

…another layer of acetate was used to show the water flow arrows (60% Cyan) over the top of the black lines black pointers for the text…

…any other particular instructions for the printer were then included on these layers. Only then was it sent off for proofing and printing, sometimes never to be seen until the magazine arrived in the office!

Here is a very bad image (only one I could find) of the printed version from February 1990 along with a hand drawn graphic showing transport costs.

Another example here, showing the same process just as a comparison…

 

Things seem much easier now…or do they?

05 March 2019

 

 

Infographics and Illustrations: How they used to be done…#1

Just an excuse to show some of my old work before the daily use of a Apple Mac was involved.

I was working as a freelancer when this was done and I was involved with the gardening section of the Sunday Times at the time. It was always good to see my illustrations on the back page of the garden section. My contact and gardening expert at the time was Graham Rose.

This was taken from sketches I made of actual gardens in-situ (mostly London based) and then drawn up to scale and design on CS10 paper and Rotring pens, with lots of scraping out of ink blots!. The numbers were glued on using the wonderful Cow Gum.

 

inset to show some of the detail…

One more…

and again, an inset to show the detail.

More to come in #2 with watercolours, Tomatoes, overlays, CMYK markups, and a Nautilus…

26 February 2019

 

 

From sketch to infographic

I always sketch my ideas to help me to understand the subject matter, to come up with concepts and ideas for the visuals, and to be able to look back and see what my thoughts and ideas were. Here are a few from a recent commission from Scientific American, published in the November 2018 issue on the subject of gravitational lensing.

     

 

  

 

18 December 2018

Global Carbon Budget 2016 – updated infographic

I recently had the opportunity to work again with Corinne Le Quere of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research on updating an important graphic on the global carbon budget.

I worked on this last year and it was proposed to update the graphic to keep with the original style. Updating the data and storytelling between the signing of the Paris agreement last year and the Marrakesh plan of action this year. The graphic was launched at the Marrakesh COP22 conference on climate change.

Here’s 2016 version…

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-10-42-41

plus last years version as a comparison

Global Carbon Budget 2015

Global Carbon Budget 2015

06 Dec 2016

 

Hand-drawn and painted early work

I have just ventured into the loft of our house (not been up there for ages) and discovered a couple of my old portfolios covered in dust, and so decided to have a look…it brings back many great memories.

I trained as a medical, botanical and scientific illustrator and because of my background I often talk about the importance of sketching ideas and thoughts before diving into any infographic and, I suppose, this is one of the reasons that I think this way. 

lifeonearth2

but thought I should back it up with some more very early infographics and illustrations. All hand painted watercolours and pencil work and some using the trusty Rotring pens and CS10 paper.

weeds guide

Poster: A Guide to Lawn Weeds. Watercolour

weedsdetail

Detail of Daisy. Watercolour

dragonfly

Dragonfly nymph. Pencil

dolphin skull

Skull of toothed Whales. Rotring Pen

I may add more as I find them and if I think they are worth posting
Thanks

Improving your own graphics

It’s always good to see innovation when it comes to data visualisation and infographics. We never stop learning and therefore looking and seeing what others are doing is a great way to learn and improve out own standards.

We should all be looking at what others are doing from all over the world every day. We can gain insights into how  styles are changing and what the thought processes of others in the field are by looking at what has been done. I find it’s also good to wonder how I would have done anything differently to help me understand it better or easier.

This is one from last week posted by Ipsos MORI looking at the reactions to Brexit across Europe as well as a few other countries outside of the EU.

Nothing fundamentally wrong with the graphic. I could see that, as the header says, Spain is top when looking at whether they thought the decision was wrong or right for Britain. But looking more closely, and especially trying to compare those who thought it wrong to those who thought it was right, I found it hard to work out, because of the use of the stacked chart.
I wasn’t the only one who was thinking along these lines – a couple of us had a discussion about this on twitter!

I also felt the dark grey was rather off-putting as the colours used were of similar intensity.

So I had a go at it myself to see if I could make it easier for me to compare wrong with right.

I haven’t included all the numbers but I have put the ‘Don’t knows’ in the middle of the ‘Wrong’ and the ‘Right’. This allows me to see, more easily, the proportion who think it was the wrong decision AND the proportion who think it was the right decision. Making it easy to compare the two figures and therefore the majority decision. I also made the grey “Don’t know’ a lighter, less intrusive, grey colour to make the separation easier to see.

The text that accompanied the tweet was ‘Was Brexit right or wrong for Britain? Only majority of Russians say right’ , which is fine, but it’s difficult to see that in the original, whereas my version makes it clearer that Russia is the only country that has a majority that thought it was the right decision

There are other ways of showing the data as there are in many instances, such as this but this version excludes the ‘Don’t know’ data

We can all learn and so re-imagining or adjusting works by others is a great way of learning. I advise you all to go and have a try. Many thanks to ipsosMori for ‘supplying’ this one for me.

What do you think?

Added 10 August. Hannah Williams Ipsos MORI’s Creative Director and I discussed this yesterday after which, I have to add (and agree with her, here) that as with most polling questions, the ‘Don’t know’s are as important as the ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ or Yes and No’s. So my second attempt is really not relevant.

As with all stacked bars charts, actually trying to compare a specific element across a range of categories, will always be a compromised because of the stacking  of the bars.

Thanks

15 August 2016