Posted by on July 17, 2018, in Design, Graphics

The rescue story of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave in Thailand captured attention worldwide in recent weeks. This story was fundamentally compelling for the same reasons any as any rescue story — will the boys get out alive? — but the stakes were heightened by the specifics of the situation. It’s a visual, tactile story that shows what graphics can do better than video, photo or text.

The rescue turned out about as well as anyone could have hoped, which makes these graphics a lot more fun than if they were explainers about what went wrong. I’m sure everyone was prepared for that possibility.

The most impressive graphics we see these days are related to elections or Olympics or other planned events, and even unpredictable-but-recurring events like natural disasters have a loose playbook for how to do graphics coverage. The growing prominence of data visualization has also crowded pictorial graphics out of the spotlight, unfairly. These cave graphics are especially great because there is no template, no enormous dataset, no novel chart types — just visual reporting on deadline to help the public understand what made this rescue so difficult.

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Posted by on July 12, 2018, in Delight, Graphics

Pink is a loaded color in design. The association with femaleness is so strong that anything pink — clothing, books, power tools, bar charts — is assumed to be for or about women. For this reason, using pink and blue to represent male and female in graphics is a helpful stereotype for the audience, but also a fraught one, and Lisa Charlotte Rost’s recent post unpacks this in a helpful way.

This is something I’ve discussed with my students a lot, because many of them feel the stereotypical colors are helpful rather than harmful, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over the problem of pink clothing since I have a young daughter and a younger son.

But, amid all this, pink is on the rise in news graphics. This corresponds with brighter palettes overall, compared to five or 10 years ago, and it’s often used with saturated hues like turquoise and lime green that would have seemed outlandish a decade ago. Compared to other trends in graphics, color is mostly independent of what tools and platforms are popular, and in newsrooms it’s not usually limited by a strict brand identity palette the way it is in corporate communications.

Some pink sneaks in as the necessary tint of red, especially in political graphics relying on the red vs. blue symbolism. But sometimes pink is now standing in without any true red present. I’ve also been seeing more purple, from fuchsia and bright violet and dark indigo. It will be interesting to see if there’s more of that in election graphics as a nod to the middle ground between red and blue. It might also be an effect of news design more closely tracking graphic design trends, from Millennial Pink to Pantone’s Ultra Violet.

Sometimes pink gets play when it’s visually related to the topic, like hot dogs, or occasionally as a novelty for a “fun” graphic or lighter topic. Bloomberg deserves credit for persistent use of bright pink, regardless of story topic, and Quartz really leans into the pink-and-blue color scheme (or mauve-and-cerulean) for lots of topics unrelated to gender.

Both Bloomberg and Quartz have used pink to represent gender, and I think this offers another path — pink and blue can be useful gender indicators if that is not pink’s only job. The Wall Street Journal has also done this — pink for women and pink for lots of other things. What’s particularly harmful about using pink to represent female is that is often considered the only proper use, which marginalizes both the color and the people it represents. It’s a bit frustrating that men can use pink to build their quirky designer cred, while women have to be cautious about coming off pink-crazy, but in the end I think it benefits everyone to make pink mainstream. I mean, all of these could work with other colors, but isn’t it great?

Send me other examples of pink at lisalynn@wsu.edu or @lisawaananen. I’d love to hear about any reasons or discussions behind pink if you’ve been involved with that.

Updated July 13: I’ve added some more examples, especially Financial Times charts that deserve special mention because the distinctive light salmon background makes color combinations trickier, and because they’ve also used blue-and-pink for a range of topics. (Rather, oxford-and-claret.)

Posted by on July 6, 2018, in Graphics, Photography

Women Photograph is bringing much-needed attention, and quantification, to the fact that women are underrepresented in photojournalism. One project was tracking the lead photo byline for eight print newspapers every day in 2017. Are there fewer photos published by women? Oh, yes.

That image was shared on Twitter in January to show the results. And I couldn’t resist making it into a chart:

I used the exact same information with the same visual style (colors, fonts, etc.). I also kept the order of publications from the original image, though sorting from highest-to-lowest percentage could be more effective for quick comparisons. The main takeaway here, though, is not ranking the publications or showing small differences, but showing that photos by women are a small fraction of front page photos at all these publications.

The chart doesn’t show anything new to someone who was invested in reading and comprehending the original text. But it’s still striking to see the percentages, and I think this is a case where the chart might bring pause to someone with more casual interest in the issue.

Posted by on May 21, 2016, in Etc.

A couple of days ago Tim Wallace, a cartographer and graphics editor at The New York Times, posted a portion of his academic dissertation on Medium. There’s tons of interesting stuff in there, but unfortunately it’s no longer posted because the part that got the most attention is the little highlighted part way down toward the bottom…

… which is the part explaining why there are, regrettably, no women among the cartographic journalists he interviewed.

medium-highlighted-graf

It’s been a while, but Tim and I were NYT graphics interns at the same time. We worked together on projects like this and this. I find it impossible to believe that Tim and all the men he interviewed were unable to name any women he should interview. Honestly, I don’t know many women who focus on cartographic journalism the way he defines it. But that’s because it’s not my area of emphasis, “not many” is not the same as none, and — most important — the men on his list don’t all focus on cartographic journalism, either.

What I see here is not really just a lack of women. It’s that all these men are similar in other ways, too, like age. These are people like Tim. And it reminded me of another Twitter exchange from the end of last year about the fact that the popular podcast Data Stories did not invite any women to participate in its year-in-review episode:

A portion of the long and fragmented conversation.

A portion of the long and fragmented conversation.

This is the hard part of this argument to articulate — no one wants quotas. No one wants to be the token woman or the token minority. But this is the problem with relying on the first people that come to mind unless you keep very diverse company.

This isn’t unique to news graphics, or news in general. (Alas, Gay Talese.) And it’s been written about so many times before — this is the problem of relying on who you know. We all tend to hang out with people like ourselves, because it’s easy and enjoyable. The most discouraging type of sexism I’ve witnessed professionally has nothing to do with men demeaning or underestimating women; it’s about young men who would rather hang out with dudes like themselves.

Getting to know people unlike yourself is a skill. It takes practice. Some lucky people are naturally great at this and lots of folks are forced to learn this skill because the people they’re forced to interact with — their teachers, bosses, mentors — are people unlike themselves. The way things are now, only (white) men can get through professional life without getting to know people unlike themselves. If you have never been forced by circumstance to learn this skill, you have to force yourself.

I think this case rankled people primarily because of the glib phrasing — a well-intentioned acknowledgment comes off as “someone else can fix that.” If you can’t think of any women with a particular expertise, some of that is systemic, sure. But that doesn’t make you powerless. It’s not an acceptable excuse. These aren’t new ideas, but I hope they can be reminders to all of us that we are part of the system and it’s on us to fix this in all the small ways possible:

Mentor young women. A lot of guys avoid taking a particular interest in young, female colleagues for fear of appearing creepy or too interested. But if you are a young woman entering a largely male field or workplace, this can feel like many of your potential mentors are avoiding you. So I want to say: Stop being all chummy with the male intern if you’d feel weird about acting that way with the female intern! But the real point is that it’s a nice perk if you consider your colleagues friends, but it’s not required. You don’t have to be totally comfortable with someone on a personal basis in order to champion their work and career.

Seek out voices unlike your own. This isn’t just men vs. women. We also have a tendency to stick with people who went to the same schools as we did, or work in the same cities, or have similar lifestyles or political views. And that’s fine if you’re having a dinner party, but way too self-limiting for pretty much anything else, especially professional work. Waiting to do this until you need to write an article or organize a conference is what makes it artificial.

Ask: “Who else should I talk to?” This is a fundamental question journalists are taught to ask in every interview, and it works beyond journalism. This is how you find the people you don’t yet know. And if the people you interview can’t name anyone you don’t already know, that doesn’t mean you’re done — it just means you’re not the only one who needs to take a hard look around to see who you’re missing.

I hope Tim will decide to continue his original plan of publishing parts of his research. In the meantime, or as a companion piece, I’d recommend the three-part CityLab series Laura Bliss wrote earlier this year about the women who contributed to North American cartography over the past three centuries. One of the women featured, Emma Hart Willard, had the idea that teaching geography should begin local, with the area familiar to the student, and then expand out to the larger picture. I imagine she would have been pretty delighted by what’s possible with interactive maps today.

Posted by on April 13, 2016, in Data, Etc.

spokesman-marijuana-sales

It’s always a good thing to put big numbers in context — unless you choose a context that misrepresents what’s actually happening. Case in point: The Spokesman-Review published a story this week that’s essentially about how much recreational marijuana was sold in Spokane County in 2015. People bought about $43 million of marijuana, which on its own is a meaningless number. So what can we compare it to?

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Posted by on March 15, 2016, in Design, Graphics

At this point the red-and-blue color scheme for election results maps is so expected that it’s unavoidable. But the primaries are more interesting. The field of candidates keeps narrowing, but here’s a snapshot of the colors used by a handful of news organizations to represent each candidate on live results maps on March 15, 2015:

Links to each results page: NYT, WSJ, WaPo, Guardian, LAT, AP, HuffPo, CNN

Links to results pages with maps: NYT, WSJ, WaPo, Guardian, LAT, AP, HuffPo, CNN

It’s interesting to see how many news organizations try to stick to red-like colors for Republicans and blue-like colors for Democrats. With a few exceptions, each party’s frontrunner typically gets the hue most commonly associated with the party, which is probably a good call if you want people to be able to tell which party is represented at a glance.

Posted by on December 10, 2015, in Photography

If you mention Washington State University outside of Washington state, it’s common to get a response like, “Oh, I love Seattle! But do you get tired of all the rain?” And you have to say, “Actually, WSU is just eight miles from Idaho, haha, etc. etc.” But, honestly, I couldn’t tell you off-hand how the University of Arizona campus compares to Arizona State’s. Rivalries are built around differences that seem paramount to those involved and invisible to those who aren’t.

Which is why this photo published in the Inlander — a good alt-weekly and my former employer — is not just unfortunate, but a little cringeworthy.

1210inlanderphoto

The large photo accompanying the news lead on Washington State University is actually from the University of Washington campus. (This mistake has been made before, notably in the Bookie planner debacle of 2014.)

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Posted by on August 18, 2015, in Design, Photography

Image grid with photos from the WSU campus for a Facebook cover photo.

Image grids are a great way to display multiple photos in a clean, organized way. They’re especially useful as promotional or featured images to use on social media if a single photo doesn’t fully represent the story. An easy way to make image grids in Photoshop is with clipping masks, because it makes it simple to reuse a standard template, switch out photos and make adjustments like cropping and color correction without opening each photo separately. Here’s a demonstration:

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Posted by on April 29, 2015, in Advice for Journalists, Etc.

A gem from this great Washington Post interview with Susan Orlean:

“I also think if you’ve got writer’s block, you don’t have writer’s block. You have reporter’s block. You only are having trouble writing because you don’t actually yet know what you’re trying to say, and that usually means you don’t have enough information. That’s the signal to walk away from the keyboard, think about what it is that you don’t really know yet, and go do that reporting.”

Of course, sometimes you can have too much information and still not know what you’re trying to say, and for that opposite (but not contradictory) problem it’s always worth returning to this John McPhee essay on structure.