One of the first things that struck me when I joined the ONS back in May was the organisational obsession with the concept of the ‘infographic‘.
They had found almost universal support amongst our statistical teams as a format for improving the communication of our outputs and had been pretty well received by users. The media in particular seemed to be fans which reinforced the popularity of the infographics internally.
There were concerns though. There was a lack of common understanding of what made up an ‘infographic’ with some of our outputs leaning more towards the ‘digital poster’ (in some cases even an ‘infaux-graphic’) and there was certainly some bending of the brand guidance and a devotion to a certain, popular infographic format (the looonnng thin version) to the detriment of any other others. Also the requirement for an infographic was becoming the default whether the stats provided a particular strong visual story or not.
One of the things ONS is rightly proud of is our highly regarded ‘Data Visualisation Centre’, led by Alan Smith. This team produces a number of brilliant interactive data visualisations every year and also leads a course for members of the Government Statistical Service (the most popular course offered) delving in to the methodology of data visualisation. Ensuring any visualisations carrying the ONS logo are accurate is a key aspect of their work and so infographics needed to meet these standards as well.
I decided early on that I really needed to get a handle of this aspect of my job. The thing is I am no designer and lack the methodological know how to really to make a difference.
That said like the ad used to say “I know a man who can.”
Robin Richards runs a studio in Bristol where he specialises in data visualisation and infographic work. He has worked for a lot of big firms in the digital space (including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare) as well as elsewhere and I decided to bring him in to help our design team come up with some internal guidelines (and supporting resources) to help focus our infographic work and really to clarify our thinking and processes as much as the brand stuff.
Robin worked with Nick our Head of Design to come up with what I think are an extremely useful set of guidelines that are already having an impact on our team (as I write this I am listening to an infographic sketching session taking place behind me.) I am not going to say they are perfect and I am sure there will be further iterations in the months to come but having done my share of research around this topic I think the guys have produced a document that stands up against anything out there.
The one thing that is lacking is a HTML version of the guidelines – probably a mis-step on my part given we are a digital team!
You can download the Infographic Guidelines v1.0 here though and we welcome your feedback.