Data mural process

The data mural we designed was, in the words of Colin Ware, a “single-frame narrative.” It did not have to deal with information flow across multiple panels, and the complex and agonizing layout and continuity concerns described in the Segel & Heer article. We seem to have skipped over many of the most challenging aspects of narrative design by choosing to portray snapshots of data rather than a process that has a beginning and end.

It’s not that we didn’t try to tell stories of change over time; we wanted to show the growth of FFF, its impact in the community, and the flow of food from sources to sinks. But we did this by overlaying information into a single image, rather than trying to represent different states with arrows or other flow control tools. For example, we overlaid increasing widths of the central trunk of the road-tree to show the flow of food increasing over the years.

I thought this was appropriate for a few reasons: 1) because we were trying to convey a symbolic message more than to explain the details of a technical process, which might have been done more clearly with panels, arrows, etc., and 2) (much more wishy-washily) because dividing up our space with barriers or blanks seemed out of line with the themes of togetherness/community/cyclic-ness we were trying to cultivate. Our goal did not have to explicitly include simplicity/good pedagogy, since we picked a pretty small set of data to represent, and the process we were representing was also not a complicated one. Therefore, we could pack information quite densely into the space allotted to us without fearing confusion or loss of our audience, and make a single image meant to spin out all of the desired cognitive threads in our viewers.

We ended up focusing most of our energies on integrating symbols with each other in an intuitive and evocative way, working at least one level of abstraction up from the actual creation of symbols; designing symbols is a hard problem in itself, and we had limited time and artistic skills. For a few-hour design exercise, I thought we did a good job of creating an image that conveys positive and pertinent messages at all levels of viewer attention; the tree in a circle, visible at a glance, evokes sustainability; the trucks traveling up the tree trunk convey succinctly what the organization does; and the people benefiting from the tree (picking fruit, playing in its branches) evoke community.

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