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Vox: Visually Explaining the News

There is a lot of news out there. It is coming at us from so many directions, with so many views, and usually with a lot of intensity. Therefore, it is easy to kind of start dismissing all of it. But as conscientious citizens of society, we really should be trying to understand a good chunk of it. But then let’s say you do start paying attention. But then maybe you don’t actually understand what you’re hearing. Don’t be embarrassed. If you were an expert in everything, well you would be annoying for starters…haha What is happening in our world, country, state, city…well it can get a little tangled.

As a visual designer, I often find my job is to untangle complicated messages or situations and communicate it in a way that is less arduous on the audience. Making sure that I anticipate some of the communication pitfalls and build bridges for my audience that they can leap across to a better understanding. In the end, hopefully enriching their lives. Seems like that could be helpful in a couple of areas (news, insurance, banking, etc) of our lives, right?

So what if there was a news outlet that took that understanding of news and combined it with design and storytelling? That is where you will find Vox.com. They have popped up on my radar a couple times over the last year, each time to a resounding feeling of delight. But when I watched a video on gun violence that trotted out the data in a way that was so easy to understand, my little design heart knew I had found something special.

Stance on gun control in the United States aside for the moment…the best thing about this video? It’s so simple. There are literally black and white printouts, a red sharpie, and a voice over. So why does this work? Well, there are a couple reasons.

The first is that it is indeed simple. Good and clear design does not require it have a ton of bells, whistles, and shiny bits. It’s actually usually the exact opposite. When I was recently guest lecturing on visual design principles (specifically around presentations) to a group of Ph.D students in the sciences, I dropped the truth bomb that always gets everyone talking: Design starts in black and white. If you can’t explain it through these simple terms, adding colors, display type faces, or even motion is not going to help you reach your audience.  This video is already talking about a possibly confusing topic. Why add to the confusion by ill-placed design decisions?

The second reason is that the visuals are there to support the narration. Visuals can certainly stand on their own, but usually there is some well-written accompanying text so that the visuals make sense. When you hear someone speak, you’re there to hear new and interesting information through their particular lens view of the world. I rarely show up to a presentation to see someone’s awesome slides. I just need the visuals to support that narration and not distract from it.

The last reason why this video rocks is because of a very small detail that you might not detect the first watch through. She actually makes a mistake and misspells something. But she quickly scratches it out and keeps going. Pure gold. We are human. Talking about human things. It’s okay to be human. That show of human error that could have easily been edited out made me all the more ready to listen to what she had to say.

Vox is a news outlet that offers standard written news stories, video stories showcasing data, maps + data, and even card stacks for those of us that need to ingest news quickly and keep running through their day. We learned awhile ago that there is more than one way to interact with the news. Just look at The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Humor can go a long way in engaging an audience on topics that aren’t always easy to understand or pleasant, but still very important. The same can be said about data and human-to-human discussions.

Vox.com Offerings

With all news outlets, the information presented should always be taken with a grain of salt. No matter how enlightened you are, there is bias within each of us. News outlets are no different. But at least this is another version to review and try out. It beats being talked at in 30-second sound bites. Check Vox.com today!

 

Want to see more? This video discusses designing figures for communication and an age-old argument that I still end up discussing on a regular basis.

The inspiration of watching process.

I grew up watching Bob Ross on PBS practically every day during the 1980s. He was an artist that literally completed a painting in an hour and it was just him standing with his canvas, his palette of colors and his brushes. That’s it. No fancy backdrops, no guest speakers, no background music. The show was entirely about Bob, his ability to paint “happy trees,” and create something from nothing. It was about his soothing voice as he tutted through his process. (Watch a full episode here).

PBS Remix-Happy Painter

PBS was on to something, maybe without even knowing it. People are fascinated with how something arrives from nothing. Now, you can’t throw a stick without seeing a tv show about building a tree house or learning how a potato chip is made. But sometimes I just want to see pure process again. The endless interviews usually drive me a bit batty and force me to change the channel. But sometimes I get lucky and come across a fantastic illustrator who knows how to put a process video together.

Camille Rose Garcia, is an illustrator based out of LA. Influenced by her Mexican activist filmmaker father and a muralist/painter mother Camille became interested in creating narrative and wasteland fairytales with a style all her own. Her work always seems to be a study in contrasts. Her style allows for the creepy and the beautiful to mix, and at times still retain that Disney-like polish that is applied to many classic fairytales these days.

Camille Rose Garcia: Snow White

What’s even better is that she has created a video that shows her illustration process and it’s nothing short of fantastic! Between the polka music in the background, her use of a hoof ink pot, and her actual illustration techniques, it is no wonder I have watched this video close to six times already. It may not be the same as Bob Ross, but really, what is? hehe Enjoy!

Inspiration is the key to a happy creative!

Designers are collectors. Whether you have actual flat files full of ephemera or you wear the newest piece of technology, we collect the things that inspire us. Even the most minimalist designer will have a few key pieces on their walls that are highlighted to really let them shine. I personally have many inspirations that range from vintage fabrics from the 1920s (where do you think I get my color palettes?) to educational charts and books. I know other designers that collect bottle caps, match books, comic books, magazine spreads, vintage cameras, sewing patterns, maps, and the list goes on. Anything can be inspiring to the right person.

Vintage 1930s Fabric

We also get a charge out of seeing what other designers are doing and what they’re interested in. Designers are inherently curious folks. We can’t help ourselves. The only upside to critiques in school was that we got to see what everyone else was doing! So when I was researching designers for an upcoming book project, I happened to come across Andrea D’Aquino, a woman that resists titles such as designer, illustrator, art director, but instead tries to exist between.

Her work is EXCEPTIONAL. Between her new rendition of Alice in Wonderland and the Moroccan-inspired backdrops she created for Anthropologie, I didn’t know where to start first. Needless to say, I was on her site for about an hour, pouring over her work. Her work is definitely mixed-media, with each piece pictorially telling a narrative that is so simple, you know it took her a fair amount of time to tell such a nuanced story. Each time you view her work, you can always find something new that you most likely missed the first time. This is why her work is perfect to keep coming back to for inspiration.

Alice in Wonderland: Andrea D'Aquino (Alice in Wonderland. Copyright Andrea D’Aquino)

Anthropologie: Moroccan Series (Andrea D'Aquino)

Anthropologie: Moroccan Series (Andrea D'Aquino)(Anthropologie: Moroccan Series. Copyright Andrea D’Aquino)

So who knows when the influence of this inspiration will strike, but it never hurts to keep the coffers full! Want to see more? Check out Andrea D’Aquino’s full site here.  What inspires you? Share it in the comments section below!