26 September 2017 – 20 October 2017
The Brief Week 1 — Exploration Week 2 — Concept Presentation Week 3 — Development Week 4 — The Last 10% Final Video Reflection Reading and Viewing
Your brief is to create an imaginative piece of animated infographics, 2min 30secs in length about a topic of your choice (with a focus on storytelling and creativity) that presents complex information quickly and clearly.
Week 1 — Exploration
26 September 2017 – 29 September 2017
Having previewed the brief ahead of time, I knew a little bit about what I was getting into when tutor Gillian sat us down to present it to us. Free from pretense, I’ll just say that I was so excited for this project. From being accustomed to working on very specific group projects with exceedingly short deadlines, the freedom to present whatever information I wanted in any interpretation of motion was everything I felt like I’d been wanting—and simultaneously terrifying. I’ve come to adore constraints and have found that my most “creative” or 11th-hour thinking happens when I have the most constraints.
This constraints thing, of course, is nothing new for design thinking. However, I have had little opportunity to work free from constraints. Riding my initial excitement until lunchtime, I was quietly ignoring the little nagging voice saying, “You have no idea what to do, what do you think you are doing here?” I’ll attribute part of this to being in a new country and surrounded by new people, but part of it was just good old-fashioned ambiguity. As per usual, I made a game plan to attempt to tackle this project effectively. Faced with the wildly large definition of information coupled with the broad capabilities of Adobe After Effects (our selected software for the project), I was going to:
- Prioritize my goals for this project
- Generate a number of topics to pursue
- Stretch my “top” three ideas
- Pick one final subject to run with
- Select a discrete information plan: number/data visualization driven versus explanatory in nature
- Map values onto goals
- Research different types of animation styles
- Craft specific visual language
- Research subject
- Create outline and storyboard
I decided early on that I wanted to raise the stakes of this project above just a cute little infographic animation. With the current state of the world, it was clear to me that I wanted to choose something that addressed an issue of ethical considerations, controversial opinion, or something that made people a little bit uncomfortable to talk about. Broadly speaking, my goals also included presenting the information appropriately to my target audience, practicing my motion graphics and After Effects skills, and work through ambiguity.
I started with a list of (broad) potential topics: global warming; mental health; the electoral college; the bipartisan system; poverty divides; international refugees; the Syrian crisis; tweets from Trump; air quality and pollution; teenage suicide; endangered species; effective altruism; biosecurity; women in tech fields; and drug-related deaths. Somewhat basic subjects, but they all allowed me to take the exploration deeper in order to pinpoint what it was that I wanted to say about it.
The three topics that I took to stretch/briefly explore further were mental health, international refugees, and women in tech fields. I found mental health to be the most interesting to me as I have had a lot of exposure to different angles of it. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s asking why [insert apology from my former three-year-old self to my mother here]. Here a select number of questions I passed along the way:
- Why is mental health an uncomfortable subject for people?
- It seems to be a taboo subject in more formal settings, yet a good number of best friends don’t even discuss it, not all family members (most probably not), seeing a therapist or getting medical help is still kept quiet in most circles
- Why does it affect people differently?
- Chemically or otherwise, it seems that a lot of similar problems manifest very differently in a lot of people
- Why do a lot of things affect people differently?
- Everybody is busy experiencing things differently, that was made abundantly clear in the Hello World project, too
- Why are people different and why are people the same?
- Genetically, we are 99.5% the same and somehow that 0.5% creates a crazy number of differences and beautiful little idiosyncrasies
- What makes us distinctly human?
- What does it mean to be human, what makes something human, how do different qualities of humanity imbue themselves into our practices
- Why do we have insecurities?
- Biological function to fit in?
- Personally, I think I like to pretend that I don’t have as many insecurities as I do, or at least there’s a disconnect between knowing that I have them and rationalizing them into a corner
- Why is it so hard be vulnerable if we all have similar struggles?
- How is it that something like a meme, a picture with a bit of text, can evoke such similar and familiar emotions in so many people?
- Why is it difficult to talk about our emotions?
- Why do we try to compartmentalize emotions?
After I took a detour into the topic of emotional health in conversation, I considered the information part of this project, and realized that emotions are extremely difficult to collect data about. Probably due to a mix of the subjective quality of emotions and people’s difficulty to report specific emotions in an efficient, succinct way, there is not a ton of reliably scientific data regarding emotions. I followed this trail back further and decided I wanted to work with one of the most widely recognized emotional frameworks, the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions. The Plutchik Wheel of Emotions is a tool that helps promote emotional literacy—
Information Plan and Value Mapping
Moving forward with the subject of emotional literacy, I knew I’d be working with information that was explanatory in nature rather than a hard, numbers-driven visualization. From my earlier goals, I added three goals: to strengthen people’s emotional literacy by providing them a tool to talk about their emotions; place an objective lens in front of a subject topic in an attempt to make the discussion start more comfortably; and leave viewers with a message that may provide help in the event that they are experiencing extreme emotions.
I looked at a number of animation inspirations, as well, in order to pick and choose details that I thought would be appropriate.
- Cento Lodigiani
- Thibault de Fournas
- 29 Ways to Stay Creative, neat, clean transitions, clean lines, black and white with highlighting colors
I grappled with a number of different visual styles, and found I wanted a balance of techniques that I have already practiced and techniques that I have not. This would allow me to have some sort of skeleton for the project for which I know what I’m doing, and an opportunity to flesh it out with new skills. I wanted to juxtapose a fairly sterile environment in which information is displayed in a text-facing method, then add dashes of color to emphasize the colorful emotions and natural movement within the whole thing. I also had some slides to prep for the concept presentation, so I was able to compress all of my process so far.
Week 2 — Concept Presentation
02 October 2017 – 06 October 2017
Below is a picture of the notes that I received from Gillian after the presentation—just her notes during, as well as a short note reinforcing the objectivity of my project.
Now are my own notes that I’ll expand upon a bit—I want to explore what an object lens means in this context. I briefly thought about going the opposite direction and focusing on one or two of the emotions and attaching a moving experience or story sourced from someone in order to heighten the stakes. The third is just a short note to myself about following up with finding out more about the current landscape regarding mental health in mainstream conversation and how to be mindful of the inherently somewhat confrontational nature of the subject.
Week 3 — Development
09 October 2017 – 13 October 2017
Barthes: Image Music Text, Rhetoric of the Image
- The number of readings of the same lexical unit or lexia (of the same image) varies according to individuals
Moere and Purchase: On the role of design in information visualization
- design = ‘the conception and realization of new things’
- designer = someone ‘who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones’.
- utility (efficiency and effectiveness), soundness, attractiveness
- casual visualization = visualizations that convey ‘increased focus on activities that are less task driven, data sets that are personally meaningful, and built for a wider set of audiences’
- data visualization design as romantic process
- visualization studies = typical academic research activities, that systematic inquiry, the aim of which is to add meaningful and empirically proven insights to a generalized body of knowledge. (Goals = understand, explain, predict)
- visualization practice = visualization activities that are mainly accomplished by commercial enterprises, ranging from large data analytical firms to individual freelance ‘infographic’ designers. (Goal = Sell)
- visualization exploration is similar to design practice in its desire to create workable solutions rather than accumulate knowledge. (Goals = idealistic and visionary)
- Assertions: Visualization design…
- is not an ‘add on’
- is not a black box
- is not an art
- is not engineering
- can be disseminated
- can be learned
- belongs to a wider design community
To greatly compress the data-to-visuals balance, there seems to be an generally appropriate proportion that can be visualized using the Abstract-o-Meter. Too abstract risks compromising the integrity of the data communication while too realistic can be overwhelming and not accessible for an appropriate audience size. However, I do see that there is a good amount of flexibility in the “just right” zone; this of course would be dependent on the goals and audience.
- When Infographics Go Bad
- Spectating as certain circles develop their own rules outside of academia
- Most Ugly & Useless Infographics
- Some poorer at communicating data but still beautiful
- Best (and Worst) Practices for Infographics
- Interesting comment on visualization practice, i.e. visualization for the purpose of sales
Rather than storyboarding a lot of text, I did some research and then condensed my notes into concise lines of text that I would include in my final animation. For one, I’ve never been a big storyboarder as I’m much more of a list-maker (and really bad at drawing people, which is something I got a little better at in my Visual Storytelling course). I included animation notes within the selected text lines, and made adjustments as I went alone. My game plan looked like this:
From there, I was back to adjusting keyframes, ordering layers, and pre-comping.
Week 4 — The Last 10%
16 October 2017 – 20 October 2017
Rough Cut Crit
Having the opportunity to present our work up until that point was incredibly helpful because it made me feel like I was going somewhere. After the seminar in week three, I was getting caught up in the concepts behind categorizing and mixing emotions and spent a good amount of time exploring things rather than animating. I also let myself get a little caught up in coding my new personal portfolio website, but it was definitely time to get to work in earnest on this project. I had about 0:35 for the rough cut crit, which seemed to be in line with what other people had, and I’ve included my notes from crit with Gillian and my peers below:
I chose not to use a voiceover because I wanted it to be able to be watched with no sound (as I do frequently on media sites like Facebook, Instagram), and I didn’t want there to be an accessibility divide i.e. I didn’t want captions to clutter the purposefully clean aesthetic. I’ve also made the choice to not include sound at all because I want it to be just solely the visual information. Information includes auditory input, and I would prefer that people do not fixate on sound effects or a backtrack so that they may consider the information at hand in completion.
Again and again, I remind myself to be intentional with every choice that I make. It’s easy enough for me to get in the “zone” of a project and end up making decisions based off of arbitrary elements that “fit” within the project, e.g. a typeface already in use, but I took a small step back and made sure that I had reasons for every choice and transition. Courier New is used for things that are academic or more removed in tone, while League Spartan is used for things relating directly to or deal with the emotions and the appropriate messaging for the video.
The Last 10%
By Wednesday, I had the entire video finished. I wanted to practice doing something to the brief, so I made my video exactly 2:30. (In case I ever do a video for the Super Bowl or something, right? Every second counts and costs.) I then went back through essentially every single frame and refined the animations to make sure that they were smooth and seemed natural. I also stitched all of my compositions together with their own transitions and animations to make the entire thing seamless. Being it Wednesday afternoon right now, I think I’m going to let it sit overnight and come back to it tomorrow with fresh eyes. I’ll do final animation and frame tweaks, as well as export it tomorrow, giving myself well over 24 hours to have an .mp4.
Something about motion graphics is so rewarding. I think that for me, manipulating something at such a macro level and getting to watch it all come together is everything. The possibilities alone are essentially endless and therefore so entertaining (see below).
Technically, this project was a good study in After Effects. I became quite adept at the different shortcuts, precomposing things, and making animations look smooth. Though I had previously used After Effects for a few projects at UW, I had never created such a complex animation from scratch. I learned and practiced doing the bulk of the drawing in Illustrator and importing .ai files into AE in order to move complex illustrations. While my animation piece could be seen as fairly simple—it’s mostly black text with colored effects—I think that the movement was so time consuming that it’s entirely justified.
Conceptually, this project challenged me to examine what it is that I consider to be information, and what happens when you attach a qualifying prefix such as “moving” to it. I found that my initial confidence in my understanding of information was rightfully halved, and I really enjoyed engaging in the discussion around what makes up information—and learning different information from watching everybody else’s works. I’m not entirely sure that I could define information as I try to understand it even now, but I’ve at least got a better idea of the range of forms that information can take. I’d be quite interested in exploring this farther in a less structured way, just to see what I could make of it. I’d also speculate that fairly soon, we will be encountering kinds of information that we didn’t know could exist.
Reading and Viewing
- TreeHugger: Think Infographics are New? At London’s Transport Museum, They Date Back to the 1920sA brief history of early infographics commissioned for London’s public transportation system, this short article shows some really cool vintage graphics. I noted that the one about the vessel required for the number of people is almost identical to ones being used in Seattle to promote public transportation. Upon a quick internet search, I found that this graphic has been repeated by many, and understandably so. It’s visually striking, but still hasn’t caused a huge flood to public transportation. I am reminded that everything is a remix.
- PlusOne AmsterdamI watched their 2017 Showreel and was delighted by the animation. It reminded me of the basic animation foundations I’d learned in my Colors + Composition class at UW, and reaffirmed my love for good animation. I really want to get better at it, because I really love how final products turn out. It’s this moment where it all looks so cool to me and so difficult to execute that I get the most excited because it means I have so much to learn!!
- Lemonly: Case StudiesI checked out Smart Content for World Travelers, and watched the Floria for Mariott video. The material design looked really put together, and I thought the color scheme went well. Mixing real images with almost-flat design can be a challenge, and while I think that they made it work, it’s probably not the method I would have chosen (not that I could tell you offhand what that would be, mind you).
- ISO Design: Sir Chris Hoy: How to Win Gold – TV titles and graphicsHaha! I couldn’t actually access the video or find it easily elsewhere, but the frames look rad. It was nice to be able to read about the process, a bit, as well.
- Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell: Why Black Holes Could Delete The Universe – The Information ParadoxI love Kurzgesagt—I’ve been watching these videos for a long time, and have been curiously watching the animation style change as his team grows. While I realize this video is also about information, it’s a meta-observational tool as the animation style is one that I quite like as well. Animating only certain parts of a scene presumably drawn in vector software like Illustrator is a beautiful way to create striking graphics with full scenes and emphasize certain parts. The details are always delightful, as well. As for the content, I was enraptured. I’m afraid I barely paid attention to the animation technique the first time through because things like Hawking radiation and the information paradox are so fascinating.
- Getty Museum: How to Make a Visual PoemA short and well-organized video providing examples of how to use paper as a physical medium for relaying language—things such as changing typography and cutting up words, overlaying words onto images, etc. It was a cool look at and reminder about how letters, words, colors, and so many more things influence how we perceive things.
- Kinetic: 5 Takeaways from Infographics at the Rubin MuseumThe five takeaways are: know that looks matter; be wary of data overload; use with caution!; levity, as in, engage your audience; the future is infographics. It referenced an infographic, a wind map of the USA, that I remember my Informatics 201 class covered as pilots were attempting to use it to plan their flights. (That should not have been used for that purpose, lol.)
- MovieTitles: Saul Bass title sequence – Anatomy of a murder (1959)
- Look Around You: Brain
- David McCandlessThis website was both an inspiration for a simple personal website, as well as a reminder that infographics don’t have to be about some mega-important, sexy topic! I spend probably ten minutes looking at the cooking oils one, and who sits down and is like, “You know what I’m gonna do today? I’m gonna make an infographic about cooking oils!” But he did, and I read it for an embarrassingly long time. It made me realize that sometimes the most quotidian things are the most useful to examine more closely.
- TED Talks: David McCandless, The Beauty of Data Visualization
- Edward Tufte
- Visual.ly Community: Visual Content Gallery
- Flowing Data: Projects
- Carreras, G. (2013). Philographics: Big Ideas in Simple Shapes. The Netherlands: Bis Publishers.
- McCandless, D. (2010). Information is Beautiful. London: HarperCollins Publishers.
- McCandless, D. (2014). Knowledge is Beautiful. London: HarperCollins Publishers.
- Tufte, Edward, R. (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. USA: Graphics Press.