Week 2: Charts, numbers, and popularity

3:41 am by Heather Billings. Filed under: Information Design

After last week’s insanity (“like taking sips from a fire hose,” as an old mentor used to say), this week…well, this week was insane too. It was a different kind, though: I spent most of this week creating graphics for print, something I’ve never done before. I’ll have a few coming out this coming week, too, but here’s the first.

I will admit to a bit of fluster when I was told to make a “two-column graphic.” Illustrator, which I am weaker with than Photoshop, does not have a “two-columns’ width” option. Hannah helpfully provided me a reference sheet that broke down how wide columns were, dependent upon how many legs you wanted, in…something that was not pixels.

Thus, I learned about pica notation. I also had to figure out what a “leg” was in newsprint, and then, frantically at the end, realize I’d created the whole thing in RGB instead of CMYK. Enlightenment!

I never realized before doing this how much design actually goes into creating a “simple” bar graph. Sure, I realized there were color and font choices, but working with Hannah on spacing, labelling and positioning gave me a deep appreciation for her eye for detail.

There were two things that disappointed me about this project. One, I was told that if I had ideas about how to make the graph interactive, I could try them out and we’d use them if they were good. I spent so much time creating the base graphic that I never got to try out interactivity. (Even something simple, like being able in this graphic to choose which income bracket, if any, you wanted to see stats for, would have helped unclutter the page.)

The second thing was that I thought I had a better handle on the Post’s CMS than I did. Friday night, I was unable to get all of the components of the story together, forcing me to lean on other members of the staff even more than I do already. They’re quite graceful about helping me, but I hate making them do extra work just because I overestimated my capability for Methode.

However, this week I also got just a little more comfortable acting on my own ideas. I got to pitch ideas for a summer project, a couple of which were received with enthusiasm despite my immense nervousness. I’ve never liked pitching stories — does anyone? — but this was a whole new level. A tip: Don’t ever actually admit your nervous to your editor, as I mistakenly blurted at the end. I learned years ago, while showing horses, that if I admitted my nervousness, I got more nervous. Consequently, instead of memorizing my pattern, I’d focus on how tense I was. If instead, when people asked how I was, I replied that I was excited, I rode with less tension and a clearer head. (I still could never remember my number, though.) I’ve noticed the same applies to public speaking. Yet I allowed myself to get worked up about this, and as a result, I think I came off much less professional than I would have liked.

But she liked a few of my ideas and I’m going to get to pursue them. So it’s a win in the end.

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