One of the great things about being a designer is getting to figure out new and exciting ways to share information with the masses. Whether it's a product launch, a company's rebrand, or oceanic tidal predictions, you have to stay on your toes and figure out how to get people's attention. It can be easy to go overboard with the bells and whistles in this age of technology, and sometimes it is most effective to scale back and appreciate white space for what it is.
This project was an exploration into the creation of an infographic with Adobe Illustrator. I delved into the nitty gritty of the little-known graphing tool to come up with an interesting and appealing visualization of some raw tide prediction data. I pushed myself to come up with a system that could be understood at a glance, but was also somewhat different from what has already been previously made.
The data was collected for June 2015 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. To give the infographic the opportunity to actually be displayed long-term, I chose to look at data for Monterey Bay, California (where my husband and I met; I know, barf). You can view the raw data here, if that's your jam, and to see what I was working with. Additional parameters were to include the phase of the moon for each day, and the sunrise and sunset times. Everything was dropped into Excel was 115+ lines that looked something like this:
When I started trying to figure out what I wanted this beast of a poster to look like, I drew on inspiration from the infographic website Information Is Beautiful. I loved the minimalist preview images that focused solely on color and shape (but you get more detail once you click on them), and I wanted a similar approach for this project. Before I could get to that stage, I had to start with some initial sketches on how I wanted to present the data visually (a selection of which can be seen below).
To create these graphs, an understanding of the tidal data was necessary, including how tides happen and what causes spring and neap tides. I tried to expand on the data as much as possible by interpreting it different ways (i.e. "percentage of daylight in 24 hours" instead of just sunrise and sunset times). With some art direction and guidance, we decided that options two and three were the most interesting, and gave me the opportunity to try both a linear and polar graph. I opened the graph tool in Adobe Illustrator (CS6) and with some minor UX issues and trial and error, figured out how to input the data. I played around with various settings to find what I was going for, and found the tool to be fairly robust when it came to ease of process and minimized the need for manual adjustments.
I'd walk through how I did everything, but I'm guessing there are a ton of actual tutorials out there on how to use the tool that are more comprehensive than what I could write here.
The graphs went through a number of tweaks and although I worked on two designs simultaneously, only one ended up being the final. While sketching out ideas on paper for initial concepts made the most sense, working on a project using exact numerical values went faster once I translated everything into the digital graph in Illustrator. It allowed me to focus on the manipulation of the visual elements without compromising the accuracy of the data.
I knew this project was going to be in print, so I wanted to test out the colors and text sizes based on the printer and paper I was going to be using, as well as ensure it could be read from a few feet away. The printing was done on a wide-format color plotter on satin finish paper. The text and imagery on the page really ran the gamut, so I wanted to feature each section to make sure the final specs were legible. Testing the colors was also crucial because I wanted to ensure that no color was "heavier" than another and that could come down to physical factors like printer and paper selection.
Long story even longer, I'll FINALLY show you the final, and then give a breakdown of some of my design decisions (if you can't decipher them on your own, but who has time for that?)
Let's break down the different aspects of the graph:
- Three vertical bar graphs depicting (1) percentage of daylight, (2) tidal height in feet, (3) percentage of moonlight
- Opted for bar graph for its visual similarity to actual waves in the ocean
- Clean aesthetic allows viewers to focus on the info rather than peripherals
- Read from top to bottom in chronological order (both date and time)
- Colors and textures carefully selected to ensure equal weight in value when printed
- Colorful tidal graph is primary information, while daylight and moon phase are in grayscale to suggest secondary support information
- Horizontal and vertical dotted lines allow readers to group information more easily
- Weight of title text is approximately same weight as bars in tide graph
- Organized for general understanding of relationship between tidal height and moon phase rather than being able to decipher exact numerical data from each line (hint: read the paragraph on spring and neap tides)
The final graph was printed on a wide-format plotter with trimmed dimensions of 13.5" x 35". It ended up being a great exploration into how to use the graphing tool in Illustrator, and will streamline my production of other infographics in the future. It was fun to explore new ways to showcase some potentially-boring data, and I think it'll make a nice, borderline-hipster addition to our home decor.