Graphics and Design is quite possibly the most dreaded class that a news-ed journalism student will take at the University of Illinois (that or Reporting II). I can kind of understand why, but by week 2, I knew that it would soon become my favorite class. In fact, it ended up being one of the very few classes that directly impacted the direction of my life. I worked my butt off in that class, and I’m sure I complained about it pretty regularly, but come the end of the semester, I got the A. I don’t think I’d ever been proud of myself. 

I’m not sure what it was, but information design really appealed to me. It was never something I had really thought about before, but it was fascinating. It was this beautiful balance of presenting so much information with so little mess. It was about displaying what the information “SAYS” not what it’s “ABOUT” and presenting the information hierarchically not categorically — both of which are much easier said than done. 

I could talk about it all day, but that’s not what information design is about; it’s about showing. My first, real, head-first experience in information design was my final project for my class. As a team of over of 30 journalists, ranging from UI freshmen through grad students, we extensively reported on crime on the UI campus and presented it in a uniquely interactive way. The result was was such an amazing experience. It was hard — gosh, it was hard — and we all put in more hours that we ever had on any final project before in our college careers. We stayed in that lab until 3 am and we did it often. We worked through parties we’d much rather had gone to, we worked when we probably should have been studying for our other finals, we worked on Friday nights and Sunday mornings but we wouldn’t have traded it for the world. When the semester ended, I hadn’t had enough. I gathered two other girls equally as crazy as me and we decided to launch an independent study to improve upon the existing site. 

The three of us decided that even though the old CampusCrime won first place in the national Society of Professional Journalist’s Mark of Excellence contest and even though CampusCrime was the featured presentation at the University of Illinois Undergraduate Research Symposium, it wasn’t good enough. We kept finding things we wish we’d done differently and things we wanted to improve upon. So we did. We recruited a new group of students and we produced 2.0. 

Luckily or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), a majority of students out there aren’t forced to take Graphics and Design and thus have never tapped into this fascinating craft. I want to take this time to share a few tools to build your own info graphics — to give back a little bit of the magic that Graphics and Design gave me.

Many Eyes is one of my favorite graphic builders. It’s a really great site that allows users to import their own data sets and create countless visual displays with them. A data set can be anything from a series of words to an extensive spreadsheet. There are a lot of really great graphics that can be created on this site, and there are plenty of really great examples to browse for inspiration. The other really great part about the site is that all the uploaded data sets are public, so you can use any set and create till you’re heart’s content. 

Another new site that I just discovered is called Vizualize. The site imports information from your LinkedIn profile and transforms the data into a resume graphic. Check out my resume here! It’s a really cool site, but lacks a lot of features that could make it great. It’s still in beta though, so I think there’s hope for improvement. 

The possibilities with infographics are endless. They display anything from the distribution of wealth among countries to the placement of my family members at my graduation festivities (as my boyfriend demonstrated so well in the chart below which tracks people, time, weather and locations).

For inspiration, be sure to check out Good. They have a lot of really great infographics (a few crappy ones, but what can you do) that can give you a better idea of the infinite potential of presenting data visually. 

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